Posts Tagged ‘Mark Gordon Smith’


Isola San Giulio View. Church bell tower on the left.



Graffiti at Isola San Giulio, Lago Orta

Admittedly, unashamedly, Lago Orta in the lake region of Italy is one of my  favorite haunts. Isola San Giulio, located in the shadow of Madonna del Sasso high above the lake and just off shore of the village of Orto San Giulio, is a treasure.

It is not only the Way of Silence and the Way of Meditation which wend their way through the narrow lanes of the island that make this such a unique and memorable place; it is also the secrets of monks inside the Basilica di San Giulio which add intrigue and even some humor to the quiet meditative interior of the church.

Study the graffiti etched in to the frescoes on columns in the church and surprises await. Amidst the clutter of too many modern scars are Latin notes made by monks in centuries past.

“The weather is cold today.”
“Brother Paul is asleep.”
“I am bored.”
“The weather is cold today.”

It is as if the monks, bored, cold, jealous or otherwise distracted took advantage of early morning or evening services in the dark, shadowed corners of the basilica to add a note of discontent or criticism; no worries that the surface used were 15th or early 16th Century frescoes by artists of their day.


Graffiti scarred frescoes – Basilica di San Giulio

When you next visit the lake region, please take some time to visit this intriguing island in one of the least known lakes in Italy.


Isola San Giulio: Information about the lake area, hours for various visits and other helpful details.

Navigazione Lago d’Orta: Timetables and information about ferry schedules on Lake Orta.


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Easter in Rome is one of the busiest times of the year.

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Interior, St. Peter’s Basilica

Keep in mind that if you are planning to be in Italy, in general, around Easter, that this is a very important holiday. Almost every museum, event venue and archaeological site is closed Good Friday through Easter Monday. The holiday weeks preceding and following the Easter weekend also are a challenge for tourism due to changing hours at those locations as well.

Here, for your use and reference, is a list of events currently planned in the city

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Maundy (Holy) Thursday Mass 09:30AM St. Peter’s Basilica (Smaller crowd with better chance of closer proximity to the Pope) (Tickets Required)

Second Papal Mass of the day:  5:30pm, Mass of the Lord’s Supper, Basilica of Saint John Lateran

Friday, April 14, 2017:

Good Friday procession from Colosseum to Palatine Hill

Papal Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica 5:00PM (Tickets Required)

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Easter Eve Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica (Tickets Required)

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter Mass in St. Peter’s Square with the Pope – 10:15AM (Tickets Required)

“Urbi et Orbi” Blessing at 12:00PM Noon in St. Peter’s Square (No Tickets Required)

Vatican Web Site Calendar and other information.

Audience or Mass with the Pope: Information

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Crowd in St. Peter’s Square, Easter Celebration

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There are very few small travel organizations in Italy who are part of the KM “Zero” movement. KM Zero Tours, owned and operated by Alessio and Arianna, established their company upon this philosophy: “…we would love to invite you to discover Tuscany from a different perspective, following its slow rhythms, meeting local, passionate producers and being inspired by their sustainable, authentic lifestyle.”

Alessio and Arianna of Km Zero Tours

Alessio and Arianna of KM Zero Tours

Private Italy Tours LTD does not partner with a large number of other such passionate owners in Italy. Our philosophy of travel melds seamlessly with KM Zero Tours and we very pleased to share true Italian cultural experiences with them.

It was thanks to their generous partnership that we visited the Villa del Cigliano, a private family owned and operated estate in the Chianti Area of Tuscany. The owners and managers of the estate, Anna Macaferri Montecchi and her husband inherited the estate from her mother. The estate was established in the 16th Century by the Antinori family and it has been in the care of that extended family ever since. Anna’s son, Niccolo’, cares for the grape and the production of wine. The long list of honors bestowed upon the wines created there speak to his loving and careful care of the production.

The video link below, though in Italian, shares both Anna and Niccolo’s passion for their work. Their spirit and enthusiasm come through, regardless of the language, though Italian is such a sensuous and beautiful language you can, if you don’t speak Italian, understand what they are saying.


While private tours and tastings can be arranged directly with the estate, my strong recommendation is to contact Arianna and Alessio at KM Zero tours so that they can share with you “their” Tuscany. The relationship that they have with Anna and Niccolo’ are unique and only through the partnership of the two passions will you truly experience all the Villa del Cigliano offers.

Km Zero Tours

Villa del Cigliano Via Cigliano 17 – 50026
San Casciano Val di Pesa
Firenze – Italy   tel +39.055.820033

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Looking for a less expensive way to travel between major European cities?

A relatively new bus service, FlixBus, is receiving very positive response as a safe and comfortable alternative to train or rental car options while in Europe.

The company, FlixBus, was founded in 2013 in Germany following deregulation of German transit restrictions. Various countries across Europe have been added to their routes, including Italy which was added to the network in 2015.

The buses are exceptionally clean and offer:

  • Extra leg room for all seats
  • Restroom facilities aboard
  • Seat belts at each and every seat
  • Internet service throughout your trip at no additional cost
  • Power plugs at each seat to ensure you do not run out of battery time
  • Snacks and refreshments available
  • Large amount of luggage space; large pieces of luggage go in the compartments below the seating and there is space for small hand luggage above each seat or, on double deck buses, under the seat in front of you
  • Clean buses with confidence on the timetable for planning and transit

So, if ease of travel, no hassle with loading luggage on and off trains in crowded stations and comfortable safe travel appeal to you, please consider FlixBus.

Web: FlixBus

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Some of the Flixbus Fleet

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Upper deck seating on two-level buses


Seating Main Level Flixbus

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For many years, this island in the Venetian Lagoon, not far from the Lido, was a secret of the city. Slowly, the word is reaching the world about a living treasure of enormous intellectual and spiritual importance; San Lazzaro degli Armeni.

Bookmarked by two Mocenigo family members who became Doges, Giovanni Il Cornaro was Doge of the city of Venice in 1715 when a group of seventeen Armenian monks arrived, seeking refuge after being ousted by Turkish occupiers in the area now known as Greek’s Peloponnese.


The Cloister of San Lazzaro degli Armeni

The rule of the day was that no religious orders were permitted to live in the canal-narrow confines of the city proper. An island, however, was another thing altogether. With the  support of the Venetian Senate, the monks were given an island within site of St. Mark’s Square. That island, once home to a leper colony,  became known as San Lazzaro degli Armeni, The Island of St. Lazarus of the Armenians.

Why all this history? Well, in order to better understand the treasure that lay securely within a very modern library, it is always helpful to have a framework in which to understand the gifts that they gave to Venice and the world.

The founder of the order, Mekhitar, was accompanied on his journey from Armenia to Venice with seventeen other monks. Mekhitar’s translated name is “The Comforter”-though this writer cannot locate any reference to how this was translated.

Knowing that the Armenian culture would continue to suffer a long and painful demise, Mekhitar took it upon the Order to begin the creation of what would become one of the extant three centers of Armenian culture; San Lazzaro, Echmiadzin near Yerevan in Armenia and Vienna.

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The Illuminated Manuscript Library – San Lazzaro degli Armeni

The collection is now housed in two libraries; one contains over 150,000 volumes regarding Armenian language, religion and culture. Mekhitar’s priceless collection of over 35,000 volumes along with his personal library are contained in the larger of the two libraries.  The other, more modern, structure contains over 4,500 masterpieces of illumined manuscripts.

In addition to collecting works of cultural importance, the monks also established a book press where, from the mid 16th century until 1991 they printed innumerable books of primarily Armenian focus.

Lord Byron?


A brief aside for those who have a passion and interest in the work of Lord Byron. He arrived in Venice in 1816 and took up acquaintance with the monks. He eventually spent time on the island, studied the Armenian language and assisted in the compilation of an English-Armenian language grammar reference. It was in 1817 that Byron removed himself from Venice and the fellowship of the monks, and headed to Greece. It was there, in 1824, that he succumbed to a fever while living in Missolonghi.

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The Memorial Marker – Lord Byron

Some of Byron’s items remain at San Lazzaro; a pen and desk he used and some other items. There is also a memorial marker on the island to remember his kindnesses to the monks of San Lazzaro.

Please make plans to include a visit to this fascinating and little known island when you are next in Venice.


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Route #20 – Vaporetto Venice

A visit to the island can only be made by leaving on the 3:15PM vaporetto #20 from S. Zaccaria stop near St. Mark’s Square to the island. Upon arrival, you are greeted by some of the monks who will lead you on a tour. The tour takes about an hour and you are back at S. Zaccaria by around 4:45PM.


San Lazzaro degli Armeni

Vaporetto Route information (to check for any possible changes in schedule) Tel: 011+39.272.2111

Monastery Tel: +

Web: Monastero Mechitarista

Join us in Italy on one of our small group excursions across Italy. Four itineraries.  Your own villa. Daily multi-lingual tour lead and support. Relax. Unwind. Come home again to Italy.

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With nearly ten years of travel experience across Sicily with our small group tours, I have been able to enjoy some incredible meals. This blog post is but a small reference for you as you travel. More to come; Siracusa, Agrigento, Caltagirone and Taormina.

Stay tuned and watch for the next update!


Amidst the splendor of Sicilan Baroque architecture that has won the southeastern cities of Noto, Ragusa, Scicli and Modica their well deserved designation as World Heritage Sites, are two treasures of another kind.

During my years of travel to Modica, these two restaurants are my go-to favorites.

Locanda del Colonnello

Over ten  years ago I made the wonderful acquaintance of the Failla family in Modica. My first visit to the city was capped by a marvelous visit to this family run hotel. The main part of the hotel has been designed in to the owner’s families residence. There is dependence across the road from the hotel.

I can’t put in to words how gracious and generous the Failla family are to guests. This place is a treasure.

Palazzo Failla Hotel

To top a great stay, enjoy a meal at Locanda del Colonnello, their on-site restaurant located in the building with ultra-modern, gorgeous dependence rooms.

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Dining Al Fresco at the Colonnello

The dining rooms are sparsely furnished. Framed black and white photographs tell the history of the Failla family and of Modica. The menu constantly changes with daily specials all lovingly and deliciously prepared by the chef, Francesco Mineo.


Rather than list the incredible diversity of offerings, here is a link to the menu for the restaurant:


Locanda del Colonnello

Vico Biscari, 6
97015 Modica RG, Italy
Tel: +39 0932 752423
Wednesday – Monday 12:30PM to 2:00PM and 7:30PM to 10:00PM
Tuesday CLOSED

Osteria dei Sapori Perduti

With a name that translates to the Tavern of Lost Flavors, you would hardly expect the incredible array of freshly prepared Sicilian delicacies this place prepares. Amazing. The menu goes on and on, the service is flawless and, as is typical in many Sicilian restaurants, prices are very fair.

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The rustic interior of Sapori

The convivial atmosphere is heightened by the staff who energetically serve up diners in a nearly non-stop parade that makes even the most timid diner salivate.
From a most unassuming entrance on the Corso Umberto, the main thoroughfare through Modica that now covers a river, comes a menu that is more of a book than something you might expect. Here is a sample of their offerings:
Arancine (Sicily’s famous rice “balls”-mama mia!), Bruschette, Frittatine  (a standard of Neapolitan food that has made its way south. This is a flavorful blend of pasta or bread often filled with herbs or meat or vegetables…you name it) as appetizers.
Ravioli al sugo (a rich and hearty red sauce on freshly made pasta), Cavatelli al Sugo (a hearty sauce made with all fresh ingredients as well as wild boar sausage), and Lenticchia (a flavorful dark soup of lentil, celery, carrots, onion and tomato sauce) are but a few of the Primi offerings.
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Tutti a tovala!

For Secondi they offer (as examples), Carne di Maiale al Forno (finely sliced pieces of select ham, luscious pieces of garden grown tomato, onion, oregano and red pepper. The meat is cooked in the sauce for a long time and that makes it juicy tender and just right), Melanzane condite (breaded and olive oil fried eggplant prepared with fresh local cheeses, chopped hard boiled eggs and fresh tomato) and, finally, one last specialty,Cognliaio all “stimpirata” (fresh rabbit, carrots, celery, garlic, capers, fresh mint, olive oil fried potatoes, vinegar and white wine).

Need I go ON??
Corso Umberto I, 228
97015 Modica RG, Italy
Tel: +39 0932 944247
Wednesday – Monday 12:00 Noon to 3:30PM and 7:30PM to Midnight
Tuesday CLOSED


When the tourist buses discourage visitors at the Villa del Casale, the monumental archeological treasure that once was the hunting lodge of the Roman Emperor Maxentius, little do those visitors know of a small treasure of a restaurant in the nearby town of Piazza Armerina.

I learned of Da Toto from a driver who was escorting me around the island during a preparation trip for our small group tours. The place is a delight. Table cloth-covered tables fill the dining room and, even at lunch, a cold buffet of local special antipasti entice diners to Sicilian food heaven.

I love their welcome: “No matter what time you arrive, there will be a place for you, our staff will make you feel at home and you will enjoy meals accompanied by great service.”

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Antipasti Da Toto style

Try this list as an enticement to make sure that you enjoy a meal here!

  • • Pappardelle alla centrale (local red sauce on freshly made pasta)
  • • Trofie con pistacchio di Bronte (Pasta with pistachio, a Sicilian delicacy)
  • • Trippa alla parmigiana (tripe prepared with local recipe with Parmigiano Reggiano)
  • • Tagliatelle ai funghi porcini (fresh wide pasta, hand made, with Porcini mushrooms)
  • • Cavati alla Turiddù (fresh pasta, hand made, with a special ‘near red Vodka sauce’)
  • • Filetto al pepe verde (beef filet prepared to order covered with green peppers)
  • • Grigliata di pesce (a mixed grill of seafood, fresh from the coast of southern Sicily)

Ristorante Da Toto

Via Mazzini, 29

94015 Piazza Armerina EN, Italy

Tel: +39.0935.68.01.53

Hours: Open Daily, 12:00 Noon – 4:00PM and 6:o0PM to 1:00AM


On the wide and expansive slopes of Mt. Etna, on the eastern face of the volcano, is the small village of Milo. When the chestnut trees begin to reflect the arrival of fall, it is time to head to Quattro Archi, THE place to enjoy lunch or dinner in this area of Sicily.

The volcanic soil that covers the landscape in every direction in this region of the island is rich, fertile and contains the perfect amount of mineral and ‘magic’ to produce kilos of Porcini mushrooms in season. A large Porcini covered table greets diners as they enter; a harbinger of tastes to come!

The Grasso family opened their restaurant in 1995. The staff always is welcoming, the service impeccable and the food – delizioso!


The warm and welcoming dining room at Quattro Archi

The philosophy of the Grasso family is reflected in this statement, taken from their web site.

I 4 Archi si riconosce nella filosofia di Slow Food: sceglie materie prime locali rispettando le stagioni, lavora direttamente con i piccoli produttori, garantendo la tracciabilità dei prodotti.


“The Four Arches recognizes the philosophy of Slow Food: choose local raw materials which reflect the seasons, work directly with small producers and ensure the true origins of products used.”

The atmosphere of the restaurant could not be warmer, and the locals who rarely see tourists will welcome you with vivacious hospitality. You will NOT go wrong with a lunch or dinner at Quattro Archi, the Four Arches.

Ristorante Quattro Archi

Via Francesco Crispi, 9, 95010 Milo CT, Italy
Tel: +39 095 955566
Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday 7:00PM – 12::00AM Midnight

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Today we reached a milestone.

100,000 visitors to our blog.

Please accept my profound appreciation for your loyalty and interest in our articles!

If you would like to FOLLOW us, please use the block at the right side of our blog home page, include your email address and you will receive a brief update when future posts are made. Your email address will never be shared with anyone.




Stats 10:35AM EST November 14 2016


I will continue to do all I can to ensure that you receive the best updates regarding the finest cultural experiences in bella Italia.


Mark Gordon Smith

Private Italy Tours LTD

Author, Tuscan Echoes A Season in Italy

and Tuscan Light, Memories of Italy

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