Italy Magazine Blog Awards 2014~ It’s Time to Vote!

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Today is a special day for me and I must share my good news with you. Timelessitaly has just been shortlisted on the 2014 Italy Magazine Blog Awards! I am thrilled beyond belief and so thankful. I have been nominated for two categories ~ Best Art & Culture Blog and Best Travel Blog. Please take a look by clicking on each one and check out the amazing blogs in the running. If you think my blog is the cat’s meow, please vote for me. I would so appreciate your support!

DSC00556My great love for Italy wouldn’t be the same without your encouraging feedback. Italy is a treasure trove of endless surprises. There is nothing I enjoy more than to bring you along with me to share in the adventure. I love your responses!

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The Italy Magazine Blog Awards voting will end February 27, 2015. Winners will be announced on March 3, 2015. You can find me, timelessitaly, under Best Art & Culture Blog and Best Travel Blog. Just click on these links.

Amore e apprezzamento a tutti voi!~ love and appreciation to all of you!

Lady of the house looking through her open window

 

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.

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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.

Happy Tummies, Great Company!
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.

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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

Elegant Villas of the Italian Riviera

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Artistically painted building, some typically referred to as Trompe L’Oeil 

While driving along the Italian Riviera between Genoa to the north and Portovenere to the south, I was greatly entertained and delighted by the brightly painted villas along the way. Typical of the area, many are dressed in colorful window embellishments, curlicues, and even some with painted on shutters. Pastel colors dominated the coastline and were lovingly as well as artistically kept in immaculate condition.

Jump inside and take a drive with me on a lovely day along the Italian Riviera.

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Beautifully painted buildings stand on a flower enhanced turn around in Chiavari

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Top of a clock tower impeccably painted and creatively adorned

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Stately villa on the way to Portofino

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Imagine the view this villa must have as it faces out toward the sparkling Mediterranean

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Earth, sea and sky…and lovely villas create elegance

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Most of the villas sit high above the Mediterranean on terraced property of fruit groves and gardens.

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Intoxicating view of the village below

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Iron rod balconies welcome views of the Mediterranean and the terraced landscape. Love those tall green shutters. At least these appear to be real and not painted on as some shutters are.

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Even the villas put their laundry out to dry. It is a very common sight on the Italian Riviera

This Riviera di Levante, (“the coast of the rising sun”), another name for this part of the Riviera, is an experience that i’ve found a joy to relive. Pastels, artwork, terraced hillsides of olives, fruits and vines, and intoxicating ocean views all weave together a very pleasant place to linger.

If you have enjoyed this colorful escape to one of Italy’s beautiful landscapes, please like below and pass it on for someone else to enjoy:)

Why Rome, You Ask ~ Come See For Yourself

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Amazing Rome. There is no one like you….Sounds like the beginnings of a song. But Rome demands its place as the Eternal City with all of its multi dimensional aspects of life over thousands of years. She has an old yet elegant presence about her that is difficult to ignore. And for those who are willing to let her take them on a journey through the depths of her soul and afterward rise up again to meet Rome of today, you will be in for an unforgettable experience.

Follow along as I introduce you to some of my favorites…

Fine dining from the rooftop of the Hotel Raphael near the Pantheon is an intoxicating experience. The terrace is multi-level and the views of Rome from all around are magnificent. I love watching the sun set over the city as I drink a glass of wine and see how many monuments I can recognize.

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The Italians know how to make delicious food, which is not a surprise. I love pasta and the way it is served with a special touch. It is never smothered in sauce but instead embellished with a delicate herbed olive oil or light wine sauce. This pasta below had chunks of white sea bass that was tender, mild and disappeared in no time.

I must also give the Italians my hearty approval on good pours of wine in the glass. The house wines in Rome are always very good. Most are locally produced. Frascati, grown in vineyards around Rome, is a common white wine that is served in Roman restaurants.

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Desserts don’t take a backseat to the main dishes. This pistachio gelato was a work of art. As a city known for its outstanding architectural designs and centuries old famous fresco paintings, this should be no surprise.
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Sometimes it’s just fun to enjoy a simple gelato while walking the streets of Rome and taking in the sights. My quota is one, sometimes two gelati a day.DSC00297The old Jewish Ghetto is one of my favorite landmarks to explore. Outdoor cafes offer kosher food, some with recipes used centuries ago.
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Carciofi alla giudia (Jewish style artichokes) are a specialty in the Jewish Ghetto. Deep fried and served in a crispy layer, they are delicious. The outer leaves taste like potato chips. Battered and fried pumpkin flowers are also very popular and, unlike the Carciofi, they are tender and delicate.
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Markets at Campo dei Fiori are a lot of fun to shop. Produce is bright and freshly picked.
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Outdoor cafes are everywhere in Rome. It’s obvious that food and socializing are very important to the Italian lifestyle.
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Ask anyone where to find good coffee and they will direct you to Sant’Eustachio il caffe. There you will generally see a line of people waiting. Established in 1938, it is only steps away from the Pantheon. This is the only coffee in Rome roasted by wood and not fossil fuel. All of the coffee is roasted on the premise. I was fortunate and found an outdoor table to seat myself while I sipped my coffee.
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The Protestant Cemetery (Cimitero dei Protestanti) is in the Testaccio neighborhood. I found this place to be immensely interesting. It is very green and well-kept, with sculptures and statues over graves. Here is a famous one called the Angel of Grief, sculpted in 1894 by William Story to be the gravestone for the artist and his wife.
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Trastevere is Rome’s nightlife central. It comes alive with cafes and street music, vendors and whirligigs that light up the night sky. Delicious smells of food coming from eateries as I pass by mixed with the lively chatter of people enjoying time together brings a festive feel to it all. I love to linger here and experience the charming ambience of this ancient part of Rome.

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Fountains are everywhere, from the old famous ones in Piazza Navona to small expressions outside of buildings. This one caught my attention in passing. Water trickled down from underneath while turtles balance along the edge, encouraged by the men below.

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Walking the back streets of Rome can bring many delightful surprises. As I rounded a corner, this is what I saw. Someone had an amazing green thumb. I couldn’t begin to imaging the amount of work and attention that went into keeping it all so green and healthy.DSC01550
As I put these photos together, I began to feel that old familiar tug again. Of course, it is Rome demanding my presence once more. There is so much more to see, so much that you could never imagine, she whispers to me. Will I succumb? Probably….in time.

Buttery Gnocchi and Boar Sauce Pappardelle, Anyone?

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We hit a goldmine….of delicious and authentic Italian food, that is. My blog tour group, This Is Your Time, had just arrived at Trattoria La Grotta for lunch. We had previously toured the famous Orvieto Cathedral with its striking Luca Signorelli frescoes that spanned over the gothic interior of one chapel. It seemed only right to turn down the old cobbled street Via Luca Signorelli after we left the cathedral. And there we found our memorable Trattoria.

“A Stone’s Throw from the Cathedral of Orvieto and the dizzying Clock Tower, you will find our local housed inside a former stable, furnished in a simple style trattorias…”

Franco, the proprietor, met us at the front door dressed in a crisp red checkered shirt and white apron that almost touched the ground. With warm handshakes, he quickly took us inside and sat us at a table that accommodated our entire group.

IMG_0922The interior was a cellar-like space with intriguing yet subtle Picasso-esque murals on the walls. We learned that Franco had operated his trattoria here for nearly 30 years, with a steady American clientele as well as a local following.

Proud yet gracious, Franco described some of the dishes on the menu. His knowledge of local Italian wines was superb, and we took him up on his recommendations. The red wine was delicious and a perfect match for our meal choices.

The menu items feature grilled meats, pasta and fresh vegetables featuring the traditional flavors of Umbria. Most all of the ingredients, from homemade pasta to extra virgin olive oil, were locally grown or made. Gluten free options are possible if discussed with the staff.
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We were served a mouth-watering plate of steak bites. It was sauced just right, tender and succulent. Before long, a large serving of chicken with local olives arrived. Spiced perfectly, not a piece was left over.
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During our meal, Franco shared the history of his trattoria and the people over the years who had graced his tables. He brought out several photos to share from his beloved collection and passed them around the table. He had a story to tell about each one. Among them was a photo of his lovely wife. With soft eyes, he spoke tenderly of his strong love for her.
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Franco and his staff soon brought more plates of food. We were beginning to feel full but found the room to squeeze in pappardelle with wild boar sauce and buttery gnocchi.
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His staff was all smiles. Personable and friendly, we felt extremely well taken care of.
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The chef made a quick appearance at our request. We gave her a round of applause and praised her culinary skills.
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We said our goodbyes to Franco and promised we would revisit him one day soon. As we walked up the street to our next destination, our hearts and tummies were warmed by a joyful contentment that is not easy to find. It was simply the result of a personal touch, authenticity and warm regards from a proprietor and staff who valued quality and professionalism. Signorelli would be proud.

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A Particular Day in the Green Heart of Italy

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Umbria Action L. Trasimeno

Federico, Fabrizio, Helena and myself get ready to start the hike to the Orsini Farm. Lake Trasimeno in the background.

When was the last time you were greeted on a hike by a noisy band of geese? Like a royal round of trumpets, a herd of white geese announced our arrival at the Orsini Farm in Umbria. Piercing blue eyes sized us up and down as they waddled by. These guardians of the gate made sure the Orsini family and those in the vicinity were keenly aware of our presence.

Earlier that morning, my blog tour group, This Is Your Time, met our guide Fabrizio at a trailhead near Lake Trasimeno in Umbria. He works with Umbria Action, an outdoor adventure team designed to introduce the best back roads experiences of the region. Programs range from hiking, rafting, free flying, canyoning and biking just to name a few. Wine, food and cultural tours are designed for the individual or a group by guides who thoroughly know the land and are enthusiastic about sharing it.

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Fabrizio with Linnea Malmberg, one of our blog tour organizers

We met our tour guide Fabrizio, soft-spoken and very knowledgable about the area. He took us on a trek through open fields and groves of tall green trees with lovely views of Lake Trasimeno. Along the way, he pointed out the various types of plants native to the area. Prickly pear cactus grew in mounds with bright red buds. Fabrizio proved to be an excellent guide who answered our questions with a lot of patience.

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We follow Fabrizio up the trail above Lake Trasimeno

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Prickly Pear Cactus along the path almost ready to bloom

We passed charming old villas lined with Cypress trees. The air was fresh and clean with only a hint of a breeze. I felt like I had just stepped into one of my favorite Italy scenes. All was peaceful and quiet except for the crunch of our shoes on gravel and quips of conversations shared between us.
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We arrived at the Azienda Agraria Orsini farm, our destination for lunch and a farm tour. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a photo of our welcoming team of noisy white geese with piercing blue eyes, but trust me, they were there!

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The family garden and Lake Trasimeno in the background

As we approached the house, two baby goats skipped playfully out from under the shaded patio followed by a couple of quacking ducks. Perky and nimble, we laughed as the baby goats pirouetted around our group. Soon puppies began to wiggle from underneath the old rock and mortar farm-house. We were highly entertained by these little members of the Orsini family.
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The Orsini Agriturismo is a small-scale, family run operation, all sowing and harvesting is done by hand including fagiolina beans, grapes for wine, and olives for olive oil. The fagiolina beans are native to the area and had nearly died out of existence. Thanks to Flavio Orsini, the family has worked hard to cultivate them and once again bring them back to the meal table near and abroad.

A visit to the Orsini Farm means “spending a few hours immersed in a simple atmosphere of nature and colors that represent the great beauty of the hills of Lake Trasimeno.” We were introduced to the traditional local cuisine as well as the old authentic  techniques of production.

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Krista and Helena, two blog tour members, adore one of the puppies

Flavio Orsini is the family patriarch and president of Umbria’s Slow Food Movement. The Slow Food Movement is basically everything fast food is not. For example, Slow Food is all about preserving indigenous varieties of plant and animal food sources. It is also the promotion of local culinary traditions and local foods as well as preserving the local food products along with the lore and preparation. Organizing small-scale processing is very important in bringing about a complete cultural experience.

Flavio took us on a farm tour and gave us a demonstration of how he shells the fagiolina beans that he harvests on his property. Afterwards, the bean shells were carried to the goat pen and dropped over the fence. Nothing goes to waste. This is one of the major themes of the Slow Food idea.

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Flavio Orsini brings a bottle out to feed one of the sheep

Lunch was a long wooden table with plates of various traditional crostini. Carafes of full-bodied red wine provided a wonderful tasting experience. Fabrizio and Paola, both from Umbria Action, joined us at the table. Our view was the beautiful and serene Lake Trasimeno.

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Fabrizio and Paola from Umbria Action sit at the head of our lunch table

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Delicious crostini on our plates and the beautiful view of Lake Trasimeno

Paola could no longer resist and picked up one of the scampering puppies. They enjoyed a nose to nose moment of puppy love.

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Paola from Umbria Action plays with a pup

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Our baby goats soon tire and find a warm spot to rest

After lunch and the farm tour, we said good-bye to Flavio and his family. We had places to go and things to see before nightfall. But we found ourselves lingering too long. The Orsini Farm was a beautiful oasis in a world spinning out of control. Nature worked side by side with man in perfect rhythm. It was all good and right. And very hard to leave behind.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly about Italian “Spaghetti” Westerns

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“You never had a rope around your neck. Well, I’m going to tell you something. When that rope starts to pull tight, you can feel the Devil bite your a**.” 

The plot is nasty: Mexican bandit Tuco (the Ugly, played by Eli Wallach) has a bounty on his head for numerous crimes. He befriends quiet and mysterious Blondie (the Good, played by Clint Eastwood) who turns him in for reward money which they split after Blondie saves him from hanging at the last-minute. Angel Eyes (the Bad, played by Lee Van Cleef) gets wind of a hidden chest of gold owned by a confederate soldier. He sets off to find it in a dusty wasteland of whitewashed villages, mangy dogs and wailing winds.

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Those Mexican bandits are unmerciful!

Considered the most popular of the Spaghetti Westerns filmed in the 1960s, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) is the final movie of the “Dollars” trilogy, which began with A Fistful of Dollars in 1964 followed by For a Few Dollars More in 1965. I’m sure many of you remember the unusual musical compositions played throughout the movies. Clint Eastwood, clothed in a Mexican serape, typically sizes up a situation with precarious eyes.

Clint Eastwood in A Fistful of Dollars

Clint Eastwood in A Fistful of Dollars

Most Spaghetti Westerns, also called Western all’Italiana (Italian-Style Western) became highly popular in the 1960’s and were produced, directed and performed mostly by  Italians. Filming took place in various parts of Italy as well as Spain. The term Spaghetti Western derived from foreign critics who believed they were inferior to American Westerns as typically lower budget. However, many were authentic with admirable artistic workmanship.

It was Italian producer Sergio Leone who created the look and technique that made these movies a huge success. In traditional westerns, the characters appeared impeccably dressed and had clearly drawn moral standards even down to those wearing white hats and those with black ones. Sergio Leone changed all of that to produce players with a strong deviant element, loners who were sadistic, grungy, and brutally self-serving. Relationships revolved around power. No one was essentially ‘good.’

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Characterized by more action than their American western counterparts, the dialogue is typically sparse while music is used to create mood and drama. In other words, there is less talk and more action. Revenge, anti-heroes, psychopathic villains, fierce family loyalty, greed and sadistic acts make up the main thrust. Mexican bandits are loud and sadistic, and names are unusual. Instead of names like Will Kane or Roy Rogers, the characters often have names like Ringo, Django, Johnny Oro or Sutata. Further evidence of Italian influence is the overall Catholic genre in the movies.

Italian actor Aldo Giuffre

Italian actor Aldo Giuffre in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Outdoor scenes of the higher budget movies were often shot in Andalusia, Spain and near Madrid. In Italy, the area around Rome was often used. Filming for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly began at the Cinecittà studio in Rome.

All three movies were scored by Italian musician and conductor Ennio Morricone. Known as a versatile, prolific and influential film composer, he embellished the “Dollars” trilogy with an emotional punctuation that lead to its great success. In his compositions, he used the trumpet, the harp and electric guitar while adding a whistle, cracking whip and gunshots. The resulting harmony helped propel these movies to great success.

* The Good, the Bad and the Ugly ~ 2 minute clip of movie highlights with Ennio Morricone’s theme song.

Ristorante Orazio, an Oasis Among the Ruins of Rome

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Porta Latina The delicate white arch of the Porta Latina cut into the ancient Aurelian Wall, resembling the entrance to a sepulcher. All appeared shady and quiet within, contrasting sharply with the sounds and activities of modern life. Late morning sunlight played on the treetops, warming the earth and casting shade over the road ahead. I stepped forward and passed under the archway to begin my walk down the Via Latina. I discovered a world from another time, far different from the one I knew.

The long narrow road was lined with large shade trees. No sidewalks existed. The only sounds were the flutter and chirp of birds in the trees and an occasional car passing by. Known as the “archaeological walk,” the Via Latina was a popular place for villas and funerary monuments in early Rome. Its beginnings go back to the 8th century BC. It served as a trading route between Rome and the ports of Brindisi on the Adriatic and Pozzuoli on the Tyrrhenian Sea.

My stroll took me past the 5th century Church of S. Giovanni and the Tomb of the Scipios. Toward the end of the road it touched the Via Sebastiano, which is actually a section of the Via Appia, renamed because of the S. Sebastiano catacombs.

As I came almost to the end of Via Latina, I noticed a stunning villa set up from the road. It looked stately and inviting. Over the entry threshold were the words, Ristorante Orazio. I had found one of Rome’s oldest restaurants.

Standing on Via Latina in front of Ristorante Orazio

Ristorante Orazio on Via Latina 

I was hungry and eager to explore, so I stepped up through the threshold and onto the gravelled garden area. I admired the neatly trimmed shrubs and clay pots of flowers and palms. My steps made a soft crunch across the gravel as I made my way toward the restaurant entrance.

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Pleasant gardens outside the Ristorante Orazio

The waiter had not discovered me yet as I approached him. I was soon warmly greeted and taken to a seat on the covered terrace.
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As I looked the menu over, I noticed a plate of appetizers that had just arrived at the neighboring table. Cured meats, cheeses, tomatoes, bruschetta, fresh figs, and a carafe of great looking wine.

My waiter returned with a bottle of Frascati Cantina Villafranca 2013 DOC. As he poured a glass for me, I noticed the pale yellow wine shimmer and pick up prisms of color from my surroundings. Smooth and refreshing, it was the perfect summer wine

When I first arrived, I was the only one on the patio. After fifteen minutes, a rush of diners began to fill the empty tables. The tablecloths were neat and crisp, with vases of fresh cut flowers.

IMG_2353I ordered a seafood salad and fresh Sea Bass. It was a hard decision. I almost chose the Veal Scallopini Limone, but the Sea Bass won. I was not disappointed. The salad was a tasty cool mixture of clams, muscles, fish and octopus with a touch of lemon. The sea bass soon arrived at my table in one whole fish. I watched as my waiter expertly discarded the head and bones, laying it open and dousing it with a good amount of extra virgin olive oil.

My fresh Sea Bass arrives

The fresh Sea Bass arrived and my attentive waiter did a superb job of fixing my dish.

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Sea Bass cooked to perfection

Tender, flaky and flavorful, I consumed the entire fish. The liberal splash of olive oil was the perfect touch, enhancing the fragrance and texture.

Sunday lunch is when the locals fill the restaurant. Three to four generation families come to enjoy a long and leisurely meal together. Groups of sharply dressed elderly ladies and priests with relatives are a common sight as well. Authentic Roman cuisine and professional service is what brings them to Ristorante Orazio. The waiters are from the old school, exhibiting sharp manners and a keen focus.

 

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Only a 15 to 20 minute walk from the Colosseum, the Ristorante Orazio is a great place to relax and escape the pace of the city center for a time. The large green expanse of lawn and gardens surrounding the restaurant is cool and refreshing. From the antipasti all the way to the digestive, it is a place to take your time and enjoy the quality and elegance of old Rome.

 

In the Olive Grove with Italy’s Orsini Family

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Paola stands to the far right as her husband Paolo addressed our group

Paola Orsini (far right) and her husband Paolo (center) addresses our group when we first arrive.

Paola Orsini is a woman who orchestrates her booming olive oil business with finesse. She is the third generation to own the Orsini olive farm located just 70 miles south of Rome. With the help of her husband Paolo, they have developed an Extra Virgin Olive Oil that has earned the highest of points and awards within the olive oil industry.

It all began with her great-aunt Olivia, an elderly maid, when she acquired the olive farm with an old mill at the end of the 19th century. The farm is located in Priverno, in the Lepini Mountain basin. Most of the 4,000 olive trees are over 200 years old. They are interspersed with almond and citric trees on 123 acres. Olives are harvested between October and December.

The Orsini family has witnessed the sacrifices of many a family member in its time. Paola’s great-grandfather was a chemist, but traded his dream of owning a pharmacy for running the family olive mill. It was Eduoardo, Paola’s father, who continued the farming of the olives and gave up his plans to become a lawyer. However, all good things come to those who wait, and this is one great example. Today, the consistent quality of their extra virgin olive oil is superb and continues to remain in high demand.

The Orsini Family Homestead

The Orsini Family Homestead

My travel group, This Is Your Time, received a warm greeting from Paola and her husband when we first arrived. Afterward, we enjoyed a tour around the olive groves with Paolo. The late morning air was fresh with an earthy scent. As we gathered around Paolo to learn about the Itrana olive, exclusively grown on the farm, we noticed the trees were heavy with fruit.  Harvest time was soon to begin. The Orsini family have made a commitment to use organic farming, saying no to chemical fertilizer, genetically modified organisms, pesticides and forcing plant growth. They have converted the common cultivation into a biological agriculture, since environment protection is very important to them.

Paolo explains the harvesting the olives in the grove

Paolo explains the harvesting the olives in the grove

Harvest each year brings about 200,000 kg of olives, which produces 26,000 liters of oil. The Organic Itrana Extra Virgin Olive Oil by Azienda Biological Orsini (name of the farm) has consistently won multiple awards at major international olive oil competitions. They are ranked among the very top EVOO’s of the world as listed in major olive oil guides and publications. Ercole Olivario, the oldest and most prestigious olive oil competition in Italy, awarded Orsini Extra Virgin Olive Oil first place in its medium fruity category. This in itself is a high achievement.

The oil has been described as organic, intense limpid yellow, rich in aromas of medium ripe tomatoes, apples and rosemary. Its taste as a whole is harmonious with notes of bitterness and spiciness. It is typically paired with bluefish, roasted mushrooms, boiled octopus, broccoli soup and aged cheese. I can attest to its delicious taste and fragrance from our farm sampling.

Bumpy dirt road runs through the olive grove

Bumpy dirt road through the olive grove

View of the Lepini mountains from an old building on the farm

View of the Lepini mountains from an old building on the farm

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After our tour, we followed Paolo into the old olive press barn where we met up with Paola once more. A large assortment of traditional cuisine was spread out on the long wooden table. Bowls of tasty olives, sliced prosciutto, small brine onions, and roast pork encased in a thin crispy shell decked the table. Of course, there was plenty of olive oil and bread. We sat together with the family and enjoyed a bountiful meal over engaging conversations.

Paola with Danilo Mastracco from  Slow Food Terracina enjoy a moment together in front of the dinner table. Notice the huge clay pot at the far left. These were used to store olive oil at one time.

Paola with Danilo Mastracco from Slow Food Terracina enjoy a moment together in front of the dinner table. Notice the huge clay pot at the far left. These were used to store olive oil at one time.

The huge fireplace against the far wall brought visions to my mind’s eye of flaming logs casting a glow onto a festive winter dinner, while shadows of merrymaking danced across the walls and laughter accompanied the clinking of glasses. The meal was a restful respite from walking the orchards.

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Paola and her husband display a great passion for the land. As stewards of this family business, they are following in the footsteps of their parents and grandparents. Their great care combined with the perfect climate, the high quality trees and meticulous hand harvest all contribute to bring about an exceptional product.
Orsini Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Olive oil steams out of the processor at the Orsini olive mill. Products can be bought at delicatessens, specialty shops or online**

Orvieto’s Dynamic Underground Wine Library

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Slow Food Wine

Bottle of locally grown wine from the library inside Il Palazzo del Gusto. The Slow Food emblem can be seen as a snail in the background

Underneath the former medieval convent of San Giovanni in Orvieto lies the regional wine library of Umbria, containing over 120 different labels of the best locally grown wines. Displays line the walls along caves and tunnels that have been dug out of tufa rock from as far back as the Etruscan era.  All are listed as DOCG, DOC, and IGT wines grown from the areas most prestigious vines. Touch screens accompany several wine displays, packed with information to acquaint yourself with the featured wine. Sixteen different wines can be sampled from automatic dispensers.

Il Palazzo del Gusto, the Palace of Taste, is more than wine. As part of the Slow Food experience, it is a cultural association that promotes the local artisans, farmers and traditional cuisine through regional events such as wine tastings, farmers markets and taste workshops. Slow Food is Italy’s alternative to fast food.

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Sign outside the Palazzo del Gusto in Orvieto

Italy’s Slow Food movement began in 1986 by Carlo Petrini, a food writer living in Rome. He launched a local protest to resist the opening of the first McDonald’s in Italy located near the Spanish Steps. Although there are other McDonald’s in Italy, you won’t see familiar chains such as Starbucks. The Italian culture resists the values and concepts of these institutions.

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Outside the former convent of San Giovanni

Slow Food aims to promote centuries-old traditions of gastronomy and local farming. Tourists want to understand the culture, so restaurants open their doors in an effort to show them how their products are produced. It opposes globalization (food grown in another country), and industrial food production.

The Palazzo del Gusto in Orvieto is committed to preserving the local traditions of food and wine in the region of Umbria. Food education and training courses are conducted along with tasting, craft and art events. The restored cellars contain a kitchen for the purpose of training professional chefs as well as amateur tourists in the art of traditional Umbrian cooking.

Inside the cellar of the convent, there is seating around small tables. Slow Food supporters share their thoughts concerning the relationship between the small local producers and chefs in local restaurants. Many strive to keep the local cuisine and wine available to tourists as an important factor of the total tourism experience.

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We are given tastes of the local wine in one of the cellars

Wine tours grant an education in all phases of wine production, including tasting along with the local cuisine. This provides an opportunity to meet the small producers in Italy and to experience the centuries-old tastes of the region.

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We are introduced to the concept of Slow Food, beginning with the wines of the region

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Local farmers share their products with us including pasta, crackers, jams, honey and biscuits

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After a series of wine tastings, people start to loosen up!
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In a world gone crazy over fast food that lacks nutrition from freshly grown ingredients as well as the absence of taste from traditional recipes prepared with care, Il Palazzo del Gusto is an anchor of hope. Come for a guided visit inside the Palazzo and discover the real essence of Italy for yourself.
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*For more information, contact Il Palazzo del Gusto at http://www.ilpalazzodelgusto.it

Will You Travel To Italy With Me This Year?

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Susan on Ponza

With my travel blog tour group on Ponza Island

A New Year is upon us! Do you have any travel plans? Half of the fun is planning a trip even though it may be a way off into the future. In the meantime, you pinch pennies and read everything you can about your destination. Most likely, you will have a map on your desk with routes marked and towns circled.

When I went to Italy for the first time 13 years ago, I never dreamed i’d become so caught up in a fascination for a country. As a result, I began this blog as a way to share my passion with others who dream of Italy like I do. And here you are!

I am delighted with your faithful companionship that has inspired me along the way to new discoveries and experiences. When I am in Italy, I think of you and seek ways to capture the essence and flavors that I know you would love. I hope you have enjoyed the journey with me as much as I have cherished the opportunity to be your Italy guide.

As many of you know, this last September I was invited to be part of a blog tour group called This Is Your Time. We traveled through parts of Umbria, Terracina in Lazio, Ponza and Ventotene Islands. It was a time of discovery for everyone, an opportunity to see and experience the real Italy through the eyes of those we met along the way.

Susan in Ponza

Boating around Ponza Island to explore the caves and grottos along the coastline

Each of us in the group had one thing in common ~ A love for Italy and a passion to learn and share it with others. Together we spent an exciting 10 day adventure that forged many new friendships.

Susan at Lake Tirasema

Hiking with my friend Krista near Lake Trasimeno in Umbria

When I returned home, I held my new grandson with delight and thankfulness. I had turned down an offer to be a part of the blog tour last June because of the possibility of his birth. He did not come during that time but we welcomed him a few weeks later. Since I had missed the June tour, I was thrilled to be invited again in September.

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My new little grandson Paxton…the love of my life!

If I had one wish for all of you this coming new year, it would be this. That you find great joy and peace. One thing I have discovered in all my travels is that happiness isn’t found where you physically are ~ although it may be breathtaking ~ but among those you love. I pray you will surround yourselves with them. This old cliche may be redundant but possesses deep truth ~There is no place like home.

Felice Anno Nuovo ai miei amici! (Happy New Year my friends!)

With Love,

Susan

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