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Evening View of Modica Sicily

Evening View of Modica Sicily

Modica. A city of intense beauty, part souk, part Renaissance fantasy, a mosaic of buildings reflecting an equally diverse populace.

Over the course of many years of travel to Sicily, I have stayed in Modica numerous times. In this post I will share some of the little known treasures – and some well known – in a Sicilian city I have come to love.

Some orientation will help you understanding the geography and cultural diversity of the city. Modica Basso is located in the center of Modica’s valley. Despite the destruction caused by the devastating earthquake in 1693 (which destroyed the greater part of eastern Sicily), the city has survived and restored its Sicilian Baroque splendor.

Sicilian Baroque? This is a style of architecture established in this area of Sicily after the 1693 earthquake. Known for fantastic sculptures in the facades of buildings and churches, it has come to symbolize a unique style particular to this geographic area of the island.

Until 1902, there were numerous bridges across the river Modicano, formed by two rivers called the Pozzo dei Pruni and the Janni Mauro. After a disastrous flood that same year, the city redirected the river through culverts beneath what is now called the Corso Umberto I, the city’s main thoroughfare. Shops abound along this road offering everything from jewelry to clothing to restaurants.

Over the course of centuries, Modica Alta was established above the city’s valley. It is here that one of the most beautiful churches in Italy is located. (See “Churches” below). This is a residential area of the city offering few shopping options. The views, however, from the high point above the city are spectacular.

Churches:

San Giorgio Modica

San Giorgio Modica

The Cathedral of San Giorgio: Located on the steep hillside above the lower city, this is one of the most striking examples of Sicilian Baroque in Sicily. The facade was rebuilt after the earthquake of 1693, and the results are spectacular. One of the island’s first meridians, a means of tracing the seasons by the position of the sun on the floor of the cathedral, crosses in front of the main altar. It was in 1895, that the mathematician Armando Perinio received permission from the church to install the meridian.

The rays of sunlight that pierces the high windows of the interior, particularly in the afternoon, create prisms of light on the surface of huge white interior marble column; an evocative sense of the spiritual in a spiritual place.

The Cathedral of San Pietro: Older than San Giorgio, this was the diocesan church of the city until factions formed around Modica Alta and Modica Basso. The  ensuing divisions ended in their being two patron saints of the city – San Giorgio for the upper city and Saint Peter for the lower city. The statues of the twelve saints that stand along both sides of the entrance stairway to the church are beautiful, as is the interior of this historic church.

Saints Entrance San Pietro Modica

Saints Entrance San Pietro Modica

San Niccolo Inferiore: It was in the late 1960’s, when a car repair garage was being renovated, that the workers opened up a cave that had been used by early (4th Century A.D.) Christians as a place of worship. Located almost directly across the street from one of Italy’s premier chocolatiers (see Chocolate below), you have to ring a bell to enter this little known treasure in the heart of the city. Once you ring the bell, a warden leans out of a window above you, descends and opens the cave for you. The walls retain remnants of fourth and fifth century frescoes created by the artists of the day, gorgeous in their simplicity, moving in their beauty.

Frescoes Chiesa Rupestre San Niccolo Inferiore  Modica

Frescoes
Chiesa Rupestre San Niccolo Inferiore
Modica

Chocolate in Modica:

Chocolate Assortment Bonajuto Modica

Chocolate Assortment
Bonajuto Modica

You can find few chocolatiers in Italy that can match the history of Bonajuto (bon-aye-u’-toe) in Modica Basso. Established in 1880 by Francesco Bonajuto, the recipes used in this workshop date to the time of Spanish occupation on the island. The grainy texture of the chocolate,(they do not allow the sugar to dissolve completely)  mixed with ingredients as diverse as red pepper or lemon, are a delight. Guided visits are possible at Bonajuto. See below under “IF YOU GO” for further details.

Day Trips

There are numerous options open to visitors who choose Modica as the base for their visit to this part of Sicily. Easily reached are the other famous Sicilian baroque cities of Scicli, Noto and Ragusa. Lovely small fishing villages dot the southeastern coast and offer quiet (except in July and August!) respite from the cities.

A longer day trip can take visitors to the extraordinary Valley of the Temples near the southern town of Agrigento. (A future post will discuss the Valley in great detail).

On many evenings, I have walked up to the piazza above the Hotel Palazzo Failla – see “Hotels” below (not for the feint of heart!) and looked out over the valley of Modica. Despite the occasional group of local youths who gather as young people are wont to do, the timelessness of the buildings, the rugged beauty of the architecture and the long sifted light of sunset evoke a different time, a different era, a different Italy.

No matter where your travels take you during time in Sicily, visit Modica. You will not be disappointed.

IF YOU GO:

Hotels:

Entrance Palazzo Failla Hotel Modica

Entrance
Palazzo Failla Hotel
Modica

Absolutely and without question, the Palazzo Failla in Modica Alta. The Failla family opened this lovely hotel in their family palazzo. The resultant restoration is gorgeous; the master bedroom, replete with original floor tiles from the Sicilian ceramic city of Caltagirone, are one of the many options for guests. In 2008, the family opened a dependance across the road from the original hotel where suites that include every modern convenience (Spa tubs, steam showers for example) are available. There are two restaurants in the hotel – the Gazza Ladra and La Locanda del Colonnello. The Gazza is one of the finest restaurants in Italy and the Locanda offers more typical Sicilian fare. Both are excellent places to eat in the city.

In closing I must write that the Failla family has cared for many of my company’s clients over the years. Their extraordinary service would be difficult to match in the highest luxury level hotels across Italy. Truly a wonderful place to stay during your explorations of southern Sicily.

Via Blandini, 5 – 97015 Modica (RG)

Tel: +39.0932.941.059

Restaurants:

Osteria dei Sapori Perduti

In addition to the two restaurants listed in the Hotel Palazzo Failla, I also strongly encourage you to enjoy a meal (or meals!) at the

Osteria dei Sapori Perduti - Modica

Osteria dei Sapori Perduti – Modica

Osteria dei Sapori Perduti. This is a treasure of a place to enjoy a fabulous meal in Sicily. The recipes are generations old, traditional in every sense. The translation of the Osteria’s name (The Osteria of Lost Flavors) is not quite accurate as the flavors, rediscovered in traditional recipes, are unforgettable. This is a very affordable place and the service is matched by the owner’s dedication to satisfying even the most discriminating palate.

Corso Umberto I, 228, 97015 Modica, Sicily, Italy

Tel: +39.0932.944.247

Pizzeria Smile

Pizzeria Smile? Yes. A short walk from the Palazzo Failla in Modica Alta is this wonderful pizzeria. After long days of travel and visiting across this part of Sicily, the pizzeria offers simple and flavorful fare served in a very plain atmosphere. Weather permitting, the dining rooms open to the street and absent the occasional motos that rip past the restaurant, the cool evening breezes are a welcome respite from the heat of summer and welcome cool in the autumn and spring.

Via G. Marconi, 17

Tel: +39.0932.946.666

Churches:

San Giorgio and San Pietro: 10:00AM until 6:00PM except Sundays. Sunday 1:00PM – 5:00PM. The schedule for masses are posted on the doors and interior entrances to the churches.

San Niccolo Inferiore: Via Rimaldi, 1. Tel: +39.331.740.3045. Hours vary by request. You must ring the bell at the entrance to the site to gain entrance with no reservation. If you wish to set up a time to visit, call the Italian cell phone listed in this summary and make an appointment. This is a place with no formal hours, absent 10:00AM to 5:00PM. It is catch as catch can, but well worth the effort!

 
 

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Bargello View from Uffizi Firenze

Museo Nazionale del Bargello Florence – View from Uffizi Gallery

On an early spring day in 1475, a young girl sat on a stool in the workshop of the Italian master, Andrea del Verrocchio.  A fresh bouquet of wildflowers had been given to her just before she sat in the master’s studio.

Born Andrea di Michele di Francesco de’ Cioni, Verrocchio was well known in the halls of Medici power in Florence during the early Renaissance. His study of this particular young girl rests on a stand in what is now called the Sale Verrocchio  – a small second floor gallery in the Bargello Museum in Florence.

The question that, even today, occupies the minds of many art critics and historians about Verrochio’s bust of that Tuscan girl is “Who created the bust of Dama col Mazzolino?”

Museo del Bargello, in the heart of Florence’s Medieval city center, seems an austere and perplexing location for yet another extraordinary collection of art. This was the seat of the Podesta, the Chief magistrate of the city for centuries and the place of execution for nearly an equal number of years.  Bargello’s imposing crenelated tower, which competes in scale with its nearby neighbor the Badia Fiorentina (Abbey of Florence),  pierces the skyline of the city.

To climb the long exterior staircase of the courtyard is to literally rise above Michelangelo (a collection of Buonarotti’s works occupies the ground floor gallery) and arrive in the the midst of invaluable art patronage: Donatello’s David, the gallery of the Della Robbia workshops, and much more.

DSC_4210

Main Stairway Bargello Florence

Many visitors to the Bargello are, by the time they arrive at the Sale Verrocchio (The Verrocchio Room), too tired to pay much attention to the beauty of the works contained therein. The late afternoon sun shimmers through the wave-aged windows as noise rises from the streets below and on top of fatigue, the heat often erodes interest. My advice? Take a break and study, in particular, this singular cinnamon-hued marble masterpiece.

Dama col Mazzolino

Dama col Mazzolino

Now, the mystery.

One of Verrocchio’s students was a young man from the village of Vinci, one Leonardo. Verrocchio also worked with Perugino, Botticelli and Ghirlandaio – an incredible collection of the best artists of the day.

As art historians have studied the young woman, a number of experts began to doubt that only Verrocchio, and perhaps not Verrocchio at all, carved the bust. On several of Leonardo’s works there is a nearly identical style to the hands he painted.

Here are some examples, next to the Damma Col Mazzolino.

Verrochio Hands

Damma Col Mazzolino
Hand Study
Verrocchio 1475

Lady With An Ermine Da Vincie 1489-1490

Hands-Lady with an Ermine-DaVinci 1490

Note the striking similarity in the position of the hands. The elongated stretch of the fingers are nearly identical. One additional remarkable note about the resemblance of Da Vinci and Verrocchio’s work are from Da Vinci’s most famous fresco, Il Cenacolo, the Last Supper in the refectory of Santa Maria della Grazie Convent in Milan.

During a recent visit to that Convent, I noticed the hands of St. Phillip, who stands three disciples to the left of Christ in Da Vinci’s fresco.

Última_Cena_-_Da_Vinci_5

Hands of Phillipus
Il Cenocolo, Da Vinci

Note, again, the nearly identical position of the saint’s right hand in this fresco to the hands in the works detailed above. Was it simply coincidence that these similarities exist? Many art historians and critics believe that if Leonard did not actually carve the hands (at a minimum) on the young girl holding flowers, Verrocchio’s influence on Da Vinci’s style was both remarkable and deep.

Such, perhaps, is the ‘science’ of art. While technologically advanced equipment can assess the age and condition of works of men and women, the true gift of the artist is in the mystery of their vision. Whether you agree with the discourse on these works of art, I believe those who take the time to study them will come to more deeply understand the effect of the Florentine masters, and their studios, on their students.

My vision, when I study the young Tuscan girl in that small gallery in Florence, is of a young Leonardo, fired by talent and desire, absorbing and learning from every mark of his master’s chisel, every stroke of paint on canvas. Da Vinci’s contemporaries, like Perugino and Ghirlandaio, were at hand to watch, sketch and stare in wonder at the creative energy so perfectly expressed by their teacher. Each of Verrocchio’s pupils learned to create their own work, while paying homage to the genius of the man who taught them.

I will conclude this post with two images. One by Verrocchio, discussed in this blog, and the other by one of Verrocchio’s students.

Yet another opportunity to compare and consider the comparative work of masters: Verrocchio and . . ?

AII58286Girl - by Verrocchio Studen

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When you have had the opportunity to explore and experience Pisa, I recommend heading to the sea.

Marina di Pisa Panorama

The Arno River, which divides the city of Pisa, empties into the Mediterranean Sea at the small village of Marina di Pisa. You follow signs out of the city for Marina to Pisa, Mare (the sea) or Tirrenia and you will find yourself driving along the final kilometers of the Arno.

Sycamore trees shade the entire distance of the Lungarno Gabrielle D’Annuzzio, the road that traces the south side of the river between Pisa and the sea. These trees have lined this narrow road since I was a child. My father often drove our family on this same road to visit our landlord and his family in Pisa or to head further on to Pontadera and Florence. In the days before the superhighway that now connects Pisa and Florence, this was one of the main roads connecting those cities.

On fall days, when the leaves scatter across the road and a golden curtain of season’s ending  fill the air, the memories of my early years in Italy are particularly clear.

Marina di Pisa

As you enter Marina di Pisa (about ten minutes from the outskirts of Pisa) you will see a parking area and some old fishing stalls on your right.

Pull over, park, get out of the car and walk to the water. Large alabaster stones cut from nearby quarries (including Carrara-the quarry made

Fishing Hut – Marina di Pisa

famous by Michelangelo) line the bank of the river. As you look north, you will see some fishing huts on stilts, their nets hung from large poles above the water.

On clear days from this quiet parking area you can see north up the coast toward the Cinque Terre (the Five Lands). The long arc of the coastline invites further exploration and the desire to walk along the sea (read on) strengthens.

The town of Marina is Pisa is a very small and unassuming place. One main road leads you through the town to a sharp curve to the south. It is from the city front park you can see south along the coast to the port city of Livorno. If you have time, I recommend leaving the main road and exploring the side streets of the town.

Laundry hangs from balconies, a few dogs amble down dusty, quiet streets and a few locals peer inquiringly from their front doors. This is a place that seems straight from a 1950’s Italian film; only during the months of July and August is it filled with daily or seasonal visitors who desire the sun and sea. During the other months of the year, the town folds up on itself and just exists as do so many village across Italy.

Many excellent seafood restaurants line the ‘beach’ as you head south along the coast. I use the word beach a bit loosely , as visitors literally lay out on huge boulders brought in to protect the sea front. There are stretches of level beach, yet even those are stone. If you plan to spend time getting some sun and sea, bring thick towels and plenty of padding!

Tirrenia, Beach View

Our family was fortunate to live in this small village during my father’s military assignment at the port of Livorno. My brother and I attended the school at US Military Base at Camp Darby. We shopped in the stores, ate in many of the restaurants and actually stayed in a hotel along the main road when we first arrived.

There are plenty of ‘private beach clubs’ along the road as you drive into Tirrenia. You are welcome to approach any of them if you desire a more private beach experience; be aware, however, that these places all charge fees since they provide a place to change clothes, umbrellas and beach chairs.

The town is becoming more popular for the summer season visitor. Private villas abound on the eastern side of the main road, and a short trip to view some of them is well worth the time.

You can continue on the road that parallels the beach all the way to the port city of Livorno. My next blog will be all about that interesting city.

Via del Terreno
Marina di Pisa

IF YOU GO:

The closest cities, to use the train system, are Pisa or Livorno. Both have regular service to Florence. From either train station you can take a bus, or if you prefer you can take a taxi. Negotiate the rate with the driver before you leave the station and before you get in the taxi!

Average fares between Livorno Centrale and these villages is Euro 40 each direction. Between Pisa Centrale Station and the villages, Euro 45 each direction.

Marina di Pisa

Restaurants:

Oltremare

Via Repubblica Pisana, 7/8

Oltremare, Marina di Pisa

Marina di Pisa, (PI) Italy

Tel: 050.353.86 or cell number +39.393.788.4775

I’ve eaten here a few times. A VERY informal place with exceptional seafood. Often crowded, so I go either early for dinner. The latter you go, the busier this place is during season. Call ahead to make sure that the restaurant is open if you want to eat here off season, especially November through April.

Ristorante da Gino

Via Curzolari,2
56128 Marina di Pisa (PI)

Tel: 050.354.08

I’ve eaten here twice. It is a pretty pricey place, but in exchange for the prices you get one heck of a meal. This is Tripadvisors #1 rated restaurant in Marina di Pisa. Make reservations for certain – and you will enjoy a great meal.

Hotels in Marina di Pisa

You are only twelve to fifteen minutes from the center of Pisa from this village. If you wish to find very inexpensive accommodations along the sea while exploring the city of Pisa, Marina di Pisa offers some alternatives for you to consider.

Do not expect luxury AT ALL in this small village. These two hotels offer acceptable accommodations, but please – again – do not expect big city comforts. This is a small fishing/seaside village, after all! Please use the links below to go directly to the property’s web site.

Hotel Manzi, Marina di Pisa

Hotel Manzi (Three Star)

The place offers the simplest possible accommodations, while keeping clean and safe. Run by an amicable Marina di Pisa family.

Hotel Manzi

Via Repubblica Pisana (Lungomare) , 25

56013 Marina di Pisa (Pisa) Italy

Tel:

Hotel Boboba Il Villaggio (Three Star)

This place is like Disney World on Italian steroids. Water park, close to beach, huge pool. Accommodations are mostly apartment like spaces. Clean and safe.

Hotel Boboba Il Villaggio

Via Litoranea 7, 56013 Marina di Pisa, Pisa, Italy

A bit more upscale than the Manzi.

Tirrenia

Restaurants

Ristorante Martini

This family owned restaurant, in the same family for generations, offers up flavorful fresh seafood at modest prices. In high season, I recommend

Ristorante Martini, Interior, Tirrenia

reservations in advance. Season in Tirrenia runs from mid June to early September.

Ristorante Martini

Via dell’Edera, 16 Tirrenia

56018 – (PI) Italy

Tel: +39.05.0 37.592

Ristorante lo Squalo

Located just off the south side of the main traffic circle, this unassuming place is near a gas station, of all things. Don’t be fooled by all of that. Specialties include shark (Squalo) and other fresh and beautifully prepared seafood.

Ristorante lo Squalo (No Web Site)

Via delle Rose, 1

56128 Tirrenia (PI), Italy

Tel: +39.050.373.05

Hotels

Grand Hotel Continental

Grand Hotel Continental, Tirrenia

As it name implies, this is a large, convention style hotel located directly on the beach. Close to the main traffic circle in town, it has a loggia full of shops – everything from magazines to gelato. Large private beach areas are reserved for guests, complete with umbrellas and beach chairs. Room rates average Euro 110.00 per room per night.

Grand Hotel Continental

Largo Belvedere, 26

56128 Tirrenia (PI)  – Italy

Tel: +39.050.37031

EuroHotel Tirrenia

Located very close to the main traffic circle in Tirrenia, this is an old stand-by. Do not expect fancy or a lot of frills, but the location and cleanliness of the rooms – added to the rates which are between Euro 36.00 for a single to Euro 67.00 for a large double – make it a very attractive choice.

Eurohotel, Tirrenia

V.le del Tirreno 217 Tirrenia

Tel: +39.05.033.028

Hotel Florida, Tirrenia

Located about 300 meters  from the main traffic circle, this lovely small hotel offers very affordable rates, between Euro 40.00 and Euro 60.00 per room per night, with very good service. Guests can access many of the private beach clubs (remember, you can enter – just pay for the day and you can use the facilities) easily from the hotel.

Hotel Florida, Tirrenia

Viale del Tirreno 227

56128 Tirrenia – Pisa, Italy
Tel:  +39.05.037.236

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Isola S. Giulio
Lago Orta

It is a dream, this island illuminated by ocher lights amidst a golden hazed sunset. Alpine born breezes carry the scent of jasmine and lemon blossoms. As if the lakes of northern Italy could hold no more surprises, you discover Lago Orta.

Lago Maggiore, east of Orta, is by far the larger lake. With over 150 miles of shoreline, Maggiore dwarfs the twenty-one miles of this lake’s lovely shores.

In the midst of Orta’s crystal clear waters is the island of San Giulio. It was in the 5th Century that the local patron saint, Julius of Novara, was buried on the island. Subsequent improvements to the island were made between the 6th and 19th centuries, most notably the seminary built at the end of the 12th Century. A castle was also constructed on the island at the beginning of the 13th Century.

In 1844, a convent was built on the ruins of the medieval fortress. It is in that same building where the Sisters of the Monastero Mater Ecclesiae, Convent of the Mother Church, now reside and work. In cooperation with the association of the arts in Florence, these sisters repair priceless tapestries. Well after sunset, a number of them carry their completed work down to the water’s edge where the  tapestry is lovingly transferred to a small boat and, from thence, to a truck on the mainland. The Sisters usually pick up yet another aged tapestry for repair.

To watch their small boat surreptitiously float across the midnight blue lake, a small lantern hung from the bow of their boat, is nothing short of breathtaking. It is, as well, an unusual gift to catch a glimpse of a white robed Sister during the day as she makes her way among the corridors and small bridges that cross the encircling paths of the island. They are phantoms from our imagination in a place of indescribable peace.

The Sisters also tend to the task of maintaining the reverence of the island. In the latter part of the 19th Century, they created two pathways –  the Way of Silence and the Way of Meditation. Depending on the direction you circle the convent buildings, you are greeted with signs which encourage you to stop and meditate on place and silence.

An examples “If you can be yourself, you are everything.”

Another reads as a poem.

Ascolta il silenzio
Ascolta l`acqua, il vento, i tuoi passi
Il silenzio è il linguaggio dell`amore
Il silenzio è musica e armonia

Listen to the silence
Listen to the water, the wind, your steps
Silence is the language of the love
Silence is music and harmony

Some of the frescoes on the main pillars of the Basilica’s nave are etched with notes made by members of ancient religious communities. Inscriptions as mundane as the weather, jealousies between Brothers and thoughts about their faith cover many of these treasures of Renaissance art. As visitors take time to study the labor of generations, all are reminded of those whose humanness reflects our own.

When your visit to the island is completed, you can retreat to the small village of Orta San Giulio. The medieval lanes of the town are little changed over the centuries. The Renaissance Town Hall dominates the main square, small though it may be, and the quiet of the tiny piazza is only interrupted by the occasional arrival of the parking area’s shuttle. (See “If You Go” below for information about parking and access to the village square).

I admit a strong preference for staying along the shores of Lago Orta. This is a treasure still not well known by visitors, a retreat for those seeking anonymity and escape from the tourist crowds. Far from cities, away from the madness of trains and buses, cars and ferries, this is a place to treasure for its uniqueness, a place special and apart even in the midst of Italy’s northern lake region.

IF YOU GO:

Lago Orta is easily reached by car from Lago Maggiore in about forty-five minutes. Best train connections from Milano Centrale Station are to the city of Gozzano, locate at the southern end of the lake. You can take a bus or taxi from the Gozzano train station to the ferry landing where you can purchase a ticket for travel on the lake.

Ferries on Lago Orta operate on a regular schedule throughout the day.  A wonderful way to pass time here is to take the ferry around the entire lake-only an hour’s trip. Gorgeous lake side villas and small towns dot the shores and hillsides.

For schedules of the ferries on the lake, go to www.navigazionelagodorta.it

Visits to the Basilica and pathways of the island of San Giulio (visitors are not allowed in the convent at any time) are possible from 9:30AM – 12:15PM and from 4:00PM – 5:45PM. These hours are strictly enforced as the Basilica is used by the Sisters who live on the island for their services. Photographs without flash are frowned upon, but permitted.

NOTE: If you are driving, you must park above the village. There are shuttle trains that will carry you into the village center of Orta San Giulio. Once you ride through the perilously narrow lanes to get to the main square in the city, you will understand why you have to park way from the village center!

Places to Stay:

Hotel San Rocco

Residence La Casa Sul Lago

Also, check out the many apartments for rent around the lake. If you are staying for longer than a few days, these are exceptional options especially if you rent in a town where there is direct ferry service on the lake.

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When I travel in the Lake Region, my preferred ‘base’ is the small Lago Maggiore village of Stresa. Strung along the western shore of the lake, it offers gorgeous views, reasonable prices and  easy access to the entire lake region of  Italy.

For accommodation (and I have stayed at all of these hotels over the course of years traveling in Italy), I recommend the following short list:

PLACES TO STAY: STRESA/BORROMOEAN ISLANDS

Hotel Regina Palace: Luxury along the lake. Lovely hotel, completed modernized and renovated with easy access to the lake and ferry building. Not as pricey as the Grand Hotel des Isles Borromees down the street and rooms and service are nearly equal. The Charleston Restaurant, located on property serves good food, though I recommend eating in one of the places listed below!

Hotel Italie et Suisse: This is a very clean and comfortable hotel directly on the lake side Piazza Marconi in central Stresa. The three star service is exceptional, the rooms simple and very clean. The views from the lake side rooms, with small balcony, are breathtaking. The breakfast buffet is excellent and the price for the lake region can hardly be beat. This place is a winner.

Hotel Verbano, Isola Superiore dei Pescatori: If your preference is to enjoy the quiet on one of the Borromeo islands, this is one of two choices I recommend. Located at the southern end of the island, some of the rooms have views of the villa on Isola Bella, others offer views over the lake toward Switzerland or the western shore of the lake. This is a hotel with atmosphere; don’t read that as old and musty. It has a feeling of comfort that is reinforced by the service of the owners and staff. There is also a restaurant on property, with a terrace on the lake. Lovely in the evening. Remember that the only way to get to the mainland after the regular ferry schedule is by private launch.

Hotel Belvedere and Restaurant, Isola Superiore dei Pescatori: This is my other favorite option on the island. Located on the north end, this property, which includes a marvelous restaurant, has views north toward Switzerland and the lakeside city of Intra. Rooms are very clean and comfortable. Don’t expect a lot of frills, but the experience of a peaceful island evening makes this is another great choice.

PLACES TO EAT, LAGO MAGGIORE/STRESA

The restaurants and osterias listed here are those I have eaten in many times. I recommend these based on personal experience. They all offer a balance of fair prices, great food, excellent service and memorable meals.

Stresa:

Osteria degli Amici: Located above the main square in the village of Stresa, the menu offers a wide variety of meat and seafood dishes. This is not a fancy place in any way, yet the atmosphere, the energy of the staff and the wonderful food make you forget all about the small ‘stuff’. I’ve had many different meals here over the years – all excellent.

Via Bolongaro Anna Maria 31  28838 Stresa Province of Verbano-Cusio-Ossola, Italy

Tel: 0323 30453 (Reservations recommended but not required)

Carmela, Owner
Pizzeria Mama Mia

Pizzeria Mama Mia: Who can pass up a pizzeria named “Mama Mia”. The family brought their creative cooking skills from Sicily and the Naples area, birthplaces of great seafood and pizza in that order! Carmela, the owner, is a joy to meet and the attentive and well timed service is always exceptional. Can’t tell you have many wonderful meals I have enjoyed on the terrace in the warm weather, and in the welcoming warmth of their lovely dining room in the winter. Go!

Via Principe Tomaso 11, 28838 Stresa, Italy

Tel: 0323 30124 (Reservations strongly advised!)

Verbania:

Osteria Castello, Verbania

Osteria del Castello, Verbania: This one is a ways from Stresa. You can reach the town of Vebania on many of the ferries that run to the Borromeo Islands and continue north along the lake. The ferry trip from Stresa to Verbania takes about an hour. This small, lovely, romantic Osteria offers an exceptional wine list. Located in a very small piazza, but not far at all from the boat landing/ferry building, the staff always provide very good service and excellent light fare. Best at lunch or, if you are staying near Verbania this is a wonderful place for a drink before or after any meal.

(To reach this Osteria: After you exit the ferry, turn RIGHT and walk along the tree lined lake side walkway. At the FIRST crosswalk on your LEFT, carefully cross the road. Turn LEFT and you will very quickly see a bookstore ahead of you. To the LEFT of this very good bookstore is a small covered alleyway. Walk through that alleyway and you will see the Osteria del Castello directly ahead. Enjoy!)

Piazza Castello, 9  Province of Verbano-Cusio-Ossola, Italy

Tel: 0323 516579

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Located in the Veneto region west of Venice, the city of Vicenza is a confection of marble balustrades, exquisite architecture and luxuriant hillsides. Within the confines of the medieval walls, little evidence remains of the intense bombing raids that nearly destroyed the city during World War II. Now, pleasant wide boulevards and huge piazzas fill with locals during the evening walk, the passeggiata. This is one of Italy’s wealthiest cities, thanks to both a silk trade born in the renaissance along with a burgeoning gold jewelry trade. Designer light fixtures illuminate shop windows along the Corso Andrea Palladio. In the Piazza dei Signori, Vicenza’s main square, the elegant Palladian Basilica lines one side of a sparkling white marble square. This is a lovely, peaceful city.

Vicenza is located an easy one hour train ride west of Venice. If you are traveling by car between Milan and Venice, I highly recommend at least a one night visit to this gorgeous city.

We explore Vicenza during our Northern Italy Tours. While one day might seem sufficient, it is barely enough time to grasp the remarkable history of a city once tied to La Serenissima, Venice. Numerous navigable waterways once connected the trade of Venice directly with Vicenza. Wealthy merchants began building their country homes between city and sea. Italy’s most famous architect of the period, Andrea Palladio (1508 – 1580), literally built his reputation stone by stone in the hills and along the river near Vicenza.

(A brief mention that Vicenza is now home to a large US Military / NATO base. Without special and appropriate permission, you cannot visit the base, nor should city visitors attempt in any way to photograph the grounds.)

Our guide, Roberta Parlato, (www.robertaparlato.com) is a native with sun streaked blond hair, clear blue eyes and an energy that belies the seeming peace of the city. The enthusiasm she feels for the city and its history is evident. She offers a wide array of tours across the entire Veneto region. We always enjoy our time with her.

Our day in the city begins at the Piazza G. Matteotti, a lovely square that fronts the Palazzo Chiericati, one of Palladio’s masterpieces. The building is now one of the city’s Civic Museums. (www.museicivicivicenza.it/). Roberta leads our small group through the garden of the Teatro Olimpico(www.teatrolimpicovicenza.it/), to the theater entrance. The Teatro, built between 1580 and 1585, is the first such building in the world constructed entirely of masonry. The performance season offers a plethora of options for those interested.

The design of the theater is full of “trompe d’oeil”, tricks of the eye. Despite the stage’s restrictive dimensions, it appears that we are looking into a city square off of which six separate streets fade in the distance. Truly remarkable.

After visiting the Teatro, we enjoy a lovely lunch of tramezzini, small flavorful sandwiches. The Bar Opera, located  outside the gates of the theater garden, (it-it.facebook.com/pages/OPERA-food-drinks/43623236530) offer delicious and fairly priced meals served in the shade of a gorgeous 16th century loggia. Accompanied by a spritz (white wine mixed with sparkling water), the light lunch is a perfect break during our day.

We take taxis for the easy ten minute transfer to the Villa Valmarana ai Nani. (www.villavalmarana.com/en). Located above the aptly named Valley of Silence, it is a gorgeous villa in a tranquil setting.

Francesco Muttoni built the villa in 1720.  The Palazzina (small palace/villa) and the Foresteria (building originally used as a greenhouse and limonaia) contain frescoes by Giambattista and Giandomenico Tiepolo on the interior walls. The paintings reflect an array of diverse activities, some focused on local farming of the time, others presenting visions of distant lands. The villa decorations are gorgeous and Roberta details some of the most notable frescoes during our visit.

From the Villa Valmarana, we negotiate a narrow, rough, path downhill to one of the most famous Palladian villas in the world, La Rotonda ( www.villalarotonda.it/) Sited on the top of a hill overlooking the city, the villa’s exterior displays the colonnaded style for which Palladio is so famous. His designs influenced buildings as diverse as the US Capital, the White House and Jefferson’s Monticello. His approach to architecture strongly influenced Inigo Jones in London, as well. The villa’s main room is cavernous. Frescoes cover the walls. Views across the city and countryside further underscore the perfect building site for this gorgeous villa.

We bid farewell to our guide, Roberta, and head to our preferred hotel, the Relais Santa Corona. (www.relaissantacorona.it/hotel_eng.html). Relais Santa Corona Vicenza

Located on the Contra’ Santa Corona, named for the nearby Church, the hotel is one of the few located within the city walls. We find that the hotel’s location offers easy access to the city, making for less tiring explorations. Rooms at this very new Relais are large, modern, extremely clean and very comfortable. The staff is  accommodating, the breakfast buffet more than sufficient.

For dinner, we recommend clients eat at Malvasia, (www.facebook.com/pages/MALVASIA-IL-RISTORANTE/109028052465997) a fabulous restaurant located a five minute walk from the hotel. Meals of traditional Veneto cuisine, supplemented by more typical Italian dishes, are all prepared with a focus on the freshest ingredients.  On Tuesday evenings, jazz enlivens the venue.

Antico Guelfo (www.anticoguelfo.it) is also one of my favorites. Located along the Contra’ Pedemuro San Biagio, it offers modern, clean interiors and a creative menu at very fair prices. The Guelfo is also an easy five minute walk from the hotel.

Should your time in Italy include a visit to the Veneto region, make a point to stop and enjoy yet one more unique experience in bella Italia!

IF YOU GO:

www.private-italy.com

TOURIST INFO:

www.vicenzae.org/eng

VICENZA/VENETO GUIDE:

Roberta Parlato

www.robertaparlato.com

THEATERS AND MUSEUMS:

Civic Museums

www.museicivicivicenza.it/

Olympic Theater

www.teatrolimpicovicenza.it/

Tickets: Euro 8.50 per person

The Teatro is open from 9.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. (last admission: 4.30 p.m.) Tuesday to Sunday (closed on Mondays).

FOOD:

Caffe/Bar Opera

it-it.facebook.com/pages/OPERA-food-drinks/43623236530

Piazza Giacomo Matteotti, 8

36100 Vicenza

Restaurant Malvasia

Contrà delle Morette, 5

Tel: 0444 543704

www.facebook.com/pages/MALVASIA-IL-RISTORANTE/109028052465997

Antico Guelfo

Contra’ Pedemuro San Biagio, 92

tel 0444 547897

www.anticoguelfo.it

VILLAS:

Villa Valmarana

www.villavalmarana.com/en

Open March 10 – November 4 (2012 Calendar Year). Tuesdays through Sundays only. Note: Closed Mondays.

10:00 a.m. to 12:30m p.m. and 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Tickets: Euro 9.00 per person

Villa La Rotonda

www.villalarotonda.it/

Open 14 March to 5 November (2012 Calendar)

Open every day of the week EXCEPT Mondays.

10.00 a.m. to 12.00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Note: You can ONLY visit the itinerior of Villa La Rotonda on Wednesday and Saturday.

Tickets: Euro 5.00 per person (Note: Euro 10.00 per person on Wednesday and Saturday).

HOTEL:

Relais Santa Corona

www.relaissantacorona.it/hotel_eng.html

Contrà Santa Corona, 19

36100 Vicenza (Italy)

Phone / Fax 0444 324678

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The region of Emilia-Romagna is one of only a few provinces in Italy that does not touch the sea.What the region may lack in that access, it more than makes up for in the diversity and quality of its artisan products and meals. This is the heart of Italy’s very best food.  The centrally located provincial capital, Bologna, is easily reached in only forty-fives minutes by train from Florence. In addition to being home to the oldest university in Italy, the city also offers unforgettable architecture, fascinating history and the most delicious food in all of Italy.

If you wish to understand the production of this region’s best products, you need look no further than Emilia-Delizia. (http://www.guided-tours-italy.com/). Gabriele Monti and his staff provide exceptional service and offer a wide array of tours and tastings to satisfy the most demanding ‘foodies’ in the world.

Our clients have enjoyed spending the day with Sabrina, one of the guides who works with Gabriele, on several tours to this region. Sabrina arranged the following schedule, one which you can easily follow on your own. I do highly recommend, however, arranging for a private guide and car. Your insured and bonded guide from Emilia-Delizia will also offer to join you in your rental car to assist in getting around to these various locations.

We drove to the city of Parma about a forty-five minute drive north west of Bologna. After meeting Sabrina, we visited one of the finest producers of Parmigiano Reggiano in Italy-Consorzio produttori latte (C.p.l. Parma) (www.cplparma.it), located on the outskirts of that city. Sabrina easily explained the initial process of creating the cheese. It was not, however, until we entered the aging storage shelves in the rear of the building that we came to truly understand both the time involved in the aging of the cheese, but also the immense value of the product. Each wheel is valued at over Euro 800 and there were more than 800 such wheels in the warehouse. We followed our visit with a tasting of their cheeses. The true Reggiano had a sharp, almost vinegar ‘tang’, on the palate. The texture was dense but not heavy at all.

(Remember that you cannot bring food products back to the United States unless they are plastic sealed and have the commercial designation of the product on the container. Unless you wish to enjoy the cheese while you are in Italy, I recommend buying your Parmigiano at home.)

From the producer of cheeses, Sabrina brought us up into the hills above Parma to Salumificio “La Perla”(The Pearl).  (www.salumificiolaperla.it ). For over twenty years, brothers Carlo and Fabrizio Lanfranchi have been producing what is acknowledged as the finest dried Parma ham (prosciutto) in the region. Our drive from the cheese producer took about forty minutes.

Located near the top of a lovely hill, the family’s estate consists of a ham aging warehouse below a large restaurant. After an introduction to the receiving, preparation and aging of the hams, we were lead upstairs for lunch. The food was unforgettable:  a selection of their best prosciutto di Parma followed by several dishes of Tortellini in Brodo (freshly made pasts lightly covered in a broth of butter and sage). Dessert was a tray with various types of sweets produced in their immaculately clean kitchen. Wines, both white and red, along with ample fresh water, accompanied our meal. Coffee was available as desserts were presented.

Well satiated, we left La Perla behind and headed to one of the finest producers of Balsamic vinegar in Italy, Medici. (www.acetaiamedici.it). An acetaia, in Italian, is where balsamic vinegar is aged. As with all artisan products produced in Italy, the quality control of the process for producing aged balsamic is tightly controlled.

All vinegars that carry the Balsamico di Modena certification are aged a minimum of twelve years. In the case of the Medici acetaia, there are three levels of production: Red (18 years), Silver (25 years) and Gold (30 years). Signora Medici introduced us to the initial process of creating the vinegar. We visited the upstairs  room where the barrels rested. As with all such acetaias, this was located in a high room where heat can rise and keep the room at a reasonably warm temperature, even in the coldest months of the year.

All barrels have a small opening at the top. Across each opening is a simple linen cloth cover. This is a labor intensive, and loving, process. Each year, product is moved from barrel to barrel as the liquid evaporates. As the product ages, the level of liquid is reduced to a precious small amount. Different types of wood (cherry, oak, juniper, apple to chestnut) provide unique flavors and aromas to the balsamic.

Signora Medici offered everyone a sample of their products. The dark vinegar is as thick as syrup, luscious on the tongue,  further supplemented by sweet aromas. As we savored the “Red” level to “Gold”, the flavors became richer, more diverse and extraordinarily more complex. Once you have the original, you can never go back.

The Medici family also produce an array of wonderful wines and, for those interested, tastings can be arranged.

After bidding farewell to Sabrina, we headed back to our hotel in Bologna, the Hotel Porta San Mamolo (www.hotel-portasanmamolo.it/). This property is consistently rated one of the best hotels in the city. Located on the south perimieter of the medieval city walls  at the San Mamolo gate (hence the property’s name) the staff are extraordinarily courteous and accommodating. The rooms are comfortably spacious and the breakfast buffet each morning more than adequate.

All told, our day in Emilia Romagna barely even began to satisfy our craving for the incredible produce of the region. Yet, all was easily accomplished with the guidance of Sabrina and the support of the staff at Emilia-Delizia. If you are headed from Florence to Venice, or vice-verse, give yourself the gift of visiting this extraordinary, and little known, region of Italia.

As we headed north to Vicenza, the next stop on our tour, we vowed to return – and soon!

TO ARRANGE GUIDED VISITS IN EMILIA_ROMAGNA (Cooking Classes, too!)

Emilia-Delizia

Contact: Gabriele Monti

http://www.guided-tours-italy.com/tour-contact/contacts.htm

IF YOU GO ON YOUR  OWN

Hotel Porta San Mamolo, Bologna:

Vicolo del Falcone, 6/8

40124 Bologna, Italia

Telefono. +39 051.583056

Fax +39 051.331739

info@hotel-portasanmamolo.it

 Consorzio Produttori Latte Parma: (C.p.l. Parma)

 Call ahead for open hours for visits

www.cplparma.it/

Spaccio baganzolino: Via Puppiola,15 43122 Parma – Tel. 0521.601313 Fax.0521.603742

Spaccio orario continuato: Via Casello Poldi, 7- Tel. 0521.272965

Salumificio La Perla:

Call head for lunch reservations to assure you of a table and guided visit.

SALUMIFICIO “LA PERLA” di Lanfranchi Carlo e Fabrizio S.n.c.

Localita’ Quinzano sotto, 3 – 43013 Langhirano (PARMA)

E-mail: info@salumificiolaperla.it

Telephone and Fax: +39 0521 853572

 Acetaia Medici, Tenuta Rampata:

 Call ahead for hours:

www.medici.it

Strada per S.Ilario, 68

42027 Montecchio Emilia (RE) – Italia

Tel. 0522/942135

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