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ITALIA!

GUIDE

Italian

2017

CITY
BREAKS
and weekend escapes
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WELCOME!

Welcome to the latest edition of the


Italia! City Breaks Guide from the
creators of Italia! magazine 132 pages
of travel inspiration for your next trip to
il bel paese. Theres absolutely no doubt
the cities and towns of Italy are ideal
destinations for a weekend break or a
longer stay. With a wealth of art and cultural history, superb
restaurants and bars, plus so much to see and do, and of
course the warmth of the Italian people, theres so much to
experience. From Milan and Venice to Rome and Florence,
well show you how to get off the beaten track even in the
heart of the city; and if you fancy something a little less
hectic, weve stopped off at more laid-back destinations
like the intriguing stone city of Matera in Basilicata or the
restful waters of Lake Orta in Piedmont.
So whether youre just planning a short break or want to
combine a number of our destinations into a larger itinerary,
this is the guide for you. And when youre back from your
travels, do drop us a line and tell us all about it at italia@
anthem-publishing.com.

Image Iain Reid

Amanda Robinson Editor

Youll see Venice in


a different light, page 7

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ITALIA! CITY BREAKS GUIDE


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www.italytravelandlife.com
CITY BREAKS 3

66
54

75

47

IN THIS GUIDE
NORTHERN ITALY
7

HIDDEN VENICE
Sara Scarpa takes us beyond the
tourist trail to the places she
knows and loves in her home city

14 VALLE DAOSTA
Chris Allsop takes a voyage of
discovery to Italys smallest region

54 BRESCIA
Amanda Robinson enjoys the rich
heritage of this city close to Milan,
home to the Mille Miglia rally
60 TREVISO
Sara Scarpa explores this pretty
canal-lled Veneto city

CENTRAL ITALY

SOUTHERN ITALY
95 TREKKING IN SARDINIA
Giulia Dessi discovers the delights
of nature in the remoter corners of
sun-soaked Sardinia
102 TAORMINA
Yolanda Zappaterra spends a long
weekend in this friendly Sicilian town

20 VERONA
Lorenza Bacino takes a break in the
star-crossed city of Romeo and Juliet

66 ICE CREAM UNIVERSITY


Marina Spironetti learns the secrets
of artisan gelato in the classroom

108 SORRENTO
Hannah Bellis nds out there is more
to this coastal town than sea and sun

26 GENOA
This dramatic coastal city marries
a glorious past with modernity,
says Marina Spironetti

70 WHEN IN ROME
Paul Pettengale makes the most
of a family trip to the Eternal City

114 MATERA
Sally FitzGerald visits Basilicata
where the captivating town of Matera
is literally carved in stone

34 LAKE ORTA
Jane Keightley nds peace and quiet
on one of Italys smallest lakes

75 GARDENS OF THE MEDICI


In Florence, Catherine Sidwell pays
a visit to the Pitti Palace and the
historic Boboli Gardens

41 SECRET MILAN
Marina Spironetti tells you all you
need to know for a visit to the city

82 LUCCA
Charlie Lyon heads to the medieval
Manhattan of Tuscany

47 GOURMET GAVI
Heather Crombie joins in the
celebrations at the towns
famous food festival

88 BOLOGNA
Heather Crombie samples the
foodie delights of the city known
as La Grassa

4 CITY BREAKS

120 CAPRI
Fleur Kinson steps away from the
glitzy hotspots to explore the isles
wonderful walking routes
126 SYRACUSE
Gretta Schiffano explores the
ancient treasures of this UNESCO
World Heritage city

Su
Tu bsc
rn rib
to e &
pa s
ge ave
32 !

7
102
41
LAKE ORTA

p34

p14

MILAN

AOSTA

GAVI

p41
p47

p26

p54

p20

p60

TREVISO

p7

VENICE

VERONA

BRESCIA

p66 p88

GENOA

114

p82

BOLOGNA

LUCCA

p75

FLORENCE

p70

ROME

CAPRI

p95

p120 p108

SORRENTO

SARDINIA

FOOD FOR THOUGHT


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D I S C O V E R I TA L I A !

NORTHERN ITALY Venice

HIDDEN
VENICE
Getting to know Venice is that much easier
when your guide is a Venetian. Sara Scarpa
takes us on a tour of the city she calls home

CITY BREAKS 7

D I S C O V E R I TA L I A !

Photograph
iSt

ock

NORTHERN ITALY Venice

It doesnt matter how many times you go to


Venice, you will always nd something new

ost of my friends
have already been to
Venice at least once
so when they come
to visit me I show
them the side of town that I got to
know by growing up and living here
throughout my childhood and right
into my early adult life. I walk with
them amongst those hidden alleys
and courtyards that, in a frenzy to
cover the postcard-stereotype-touristhotspots, most visitors miss out on...
Venice is a secret itself, right
from its foundations. The surface
hides millions of tree trunks under
the water, which allow its existence.
The city is rich with fascinating
stories and legends. Venice, in its
small, fish-shaped body swimming
in water, has thousands of tiny calli
and many other canals and bridges
to discover. Set your map aside and
get lost wandering through the tiny,
dark and secret alleys, finding hidden
campi, courtyards and gardens. Even
now, even after so many years, even
I sometimes discover some hidden
gems that I have never seen before...

8 CITY
ITALIA!
BREAKS
September 2014

FIRST ITINERARY
THE ARSENALOTTIS SECRETS
AND THE MOST INTIMATE
AREAS OF VENICE
Start your journey from the Arsenale
stop and walk towards the grand
entrance of the Venetian shipyard.
Dont worry about checking the
map, from the Fondamenta you will
immediately spot the high perimetric
walls and the two iconic towers. The
Porta Magna is guarded by four marble
lions which were looted from Greece.
The larger lion on the left was taken by
Francesco Morosini from Piraeus, the
ancient harbour of Athens, and if you
look close enough you will discover on
its body some runic characters in the
shape of a lindworm.
If you look up high above the door
you will notice another lion, this one
winged, with a book open which is
popularly believed to be a symbol of
the time of peace for the Serenissima.
Venice, as you have probably noticed,
is full of lions, which are symbolic
of Venices patron, St Mark the
Evangelist, and therefore of Venice
itself. Lion-spotting in Venice is a

favourite activity of children and also


of mine!
Passing in front of these lions takes
you back in time to the Serenissima.
You can almost picture the thousands
of arsenalotti (the Arsenale workmen)
working and living in this area apart
from the rest of the city, handing down
very precious, almost secret, knowledge
from generation to generation. Thanks
to the efficiency of the shipbuilding
activities, the sailing skills and the
organisation of the trading companies
Venice had the supremacy of the sea.
Its importance was so great that at
the beginning of the 14th century
it inspired verses in Dantes Divina
Commedia, and at the end of the 16th
century it even involved Galileo
as a consultant helping to solve
shipbuilders problems.
After stopping here to sit and have
a drink or eat a pizza in front of this
grand entrance (Trattoria Pizzeria Da
Paolo), cross the bridge again and
walk back towards the Riva in the
direction of Via Garibaldi. This is
probably the most intimate residential
part of Venice where you will find real

FIRST ITINERARY
Main images
from left: Dusk
from the Rialto
Bridge; the
Arsenale Porta
Magna. Inset
left, top to
bottom: The
Doges Palace;
view from the
Campanile with
St Marks Basilica
and the Doges
Palace. Inset
right: evocations
of the character
of Castello

path with a monument to Garibaldi


the subject of an intriguing legend. If
you keep walking straight on you will
pass a very characteristic boat-docked
vegetable market. Almost in front of it
you will find a typical Venetian wine
shop bring your empty plastic bottles
here and have them filled with wine for
only a couple of euros!
Continuing in this direction, on
your right you will notice a pretty
capitello, a tiny shrine with the image
of the Madonna that has a religious
function for the locals and that my
grandmother regularly embellishes
with a freshly-washed drape. Cross the
long wooden bridge and turn left in
the direction of San Pietro di Castello,
a small sleepy island linked by two
bridges to the main body of Venice.
Just before reaching the church, on
your right hand side you might enter
Corte dei Preti, a small, colourful,
pretty courtyard. Next to the church
you will notice a stunning cloister with
a 16th century wellhead which used
to be part of the Patriarchal building
until it was converted into a military
station and then eventually into flats.

Finally, next to the monumental,


ill-fated Campanile (the only bell
tower completely clad in slabs of
Istrian stone still standing in Venice),
you will see the Basilica di San Pietro.
It stands in one of the few campi in
Venice that is still grassy (campo means
field in Italian). The Basilica is built
on a partially Palladian design and was
Venices Cathedral until, due to its
peripheral location, it was completely
overshadowed and substituted by
St Marks Basilica. Inside, amongst
many works of art by Luca Giordano,
Pellegrini and Veronese, you will find
an intriguing throne falsely believed
to be the throne of the apostle St Peter.
In fact it is actually a seat cut from a
Muslim funeral stone with inscriptions
from the Koran.

Photography Sara Reid unless stated

NORTHERN ITALY Venice

Venetians. In terms of atmosphere, its


London equivalent would probably be
the feel of the East End. Here, you will
find yourself away from the high traffic
tourist areas and instead you will be
attracted by the loud locals and their
endless lines of laundry! Via Garibaldi
is one of the few streets in Venice
that is actually called Via (street).
Before becoming the bustling local
thoroughfare it is today, it was actually
once a canal (as you can tell from the
white stones that mark the borders).
It takes its name from Giuseppe
Garibaldi, who played a major role in
the unification of Italy. This is quite
rare in a city like Venice, where the
public worship of famous personalities
was generally banned and where most
calli and squares take their names
mainly from saints, professions, trades,
or even just local people.
Walking here is just so relaxing.
You should definitely stop at one of the
bars for a spritz with a tramezzino (the
English translation sandwich does not
do it any justice!). Towards the end of
Via Garibaldi on the right hand side
you will notice a shady, wide, tree-lined

CITY BREAKS 9

NORTHERN ITALY Venice

D I S C O V E R I TA L I A !

SECOND ITINERARY
Above: Views
of the Grand
Canal, from land
and, inset, from
above the prow
of a gondola. You
may have seen
these before,
perhaps even
in person, but
have you been
to the courtyard
of Campiello del
Remer and taken
a spritz with the
locals at Taverna
Al Remer?

SECOND ITINERARY
FROM THE MERCENARY
RIDING A HORSE TO THE
GHOST OF THE TEMPLAR
KNIGHT
Get the vaporetto 5.1 or 5.2 (they
cover the same route but in different
directions). The boats circle the
historic centre of Venice in the north
lagoon and you will admire Venice
from a different perspective. If you get
the boat from the Lido you will see
the back of the Basilica di San Pietro
di Castello, the Certosa island and
the perimetric walls of the Arsenale.
Just before you get off at the Ospedale
(hospital), you can spot the deep green
cypresses contrasting with the pale red
bricks of the walls that surround San
Michele, a small island that has been
serving Venice as a cemetery since
the Austrian occupation, when burial
in the historic centre of Venice was
banned for sanitary reasons. It houses
magnificent family chapels and graves,
themselves works of art. You can see
the graves of Igor Stravinsky and Ezra
Pound among numerous other famous
personalities buried here.

10 CITY
ITALIA!
BREAKS
September 2014

The boat stops on the Fondamente


Nuove just in front of the only
hospital in Venice (excluding the
mainland). It has recently been
restored and if you look up you will
notice the new helipad for emergency
calls. Continue on Fondamenta dei
Mendicanti and on the opposite
side of the canal you can admire
one of the few squeri still existing in
Venice, which you might recognise in
paintings by Guardi and Canaletto.
You will then arrive in Campo San
Giovanni e Paolo just in front of
the stunning main entrance to the
Hospital. This was the home to one of
the major scuole grandi (great schools)
in Venice until, during Napoleons
reign, it became a military hospital
and later a civic hospital, as it is to this
day. Enter the monumental columned
hall and visit the Museum of the
History of Medicine, which has just
been recently restored. The Basilica
di San Giovanni and Paolo, just next
to it, is definitely worth a visit as it is
rich with works of art and it is a sort
of mausoleum with 25 Doges buried
here. The middle of the square, (one

of the biggest in Venice) is dominated


by the equestrian statue of Bartolomeo
Colleoni. He was one of Venices
most loyal mercenary soldiers and it
is believed that on his death in 1474
he left Venice a considerable amount
of ducats on condition that the city
would erect a statue of himself in front
of St Marks. However, since Venice,
as we already know, banned the public
worship of famous personalities and
not even the Doge of Venice would
get such privilege, with a clever ploy
his statue was erected in front of St
Marks Scuola Grande instead
Only a couple of minutes away
you will find a favourite for most
brides, the Chiesa dei Miracoli
(Miracles Church), a jewel box
decorated with different shades of
marble, both inside and out, which is
one of the greatest early Renaissance
Venetian structures.
You can now rest on one of the
benches of the Campo Santa Maria
Nova (just on the opposite side of the
canal), which is one of the few squares,
(together with the mentioned Campo
in San Pietro di Castello) where some

THIRD ITINERARY
A SECRET GARDEN IN VENICE
Venetian gardens are unknown to most people, even to
Venetians themselves. Most of them belong to private
palaces and churches and are therefore difficult to
visit. They represent another of Venices many secrets.
Thanks to Padre Agostinos availability and kindness
we visited, by appointment, the vegetable garden and
orchard of the Redentore church. Here in the buildings
near the garden and the church live 25 Capuchin
friars. In this garden, which extends the whole width
of the Giudecca island, they grow vegetables, fruit,
olives and sunflowers. Peace and silence dominate here.
This shady garden has a stunning view of the Lagoon
and the islands of San Clemente, San Servolo and the
Lido. Here is the best spot to meditate. At our wonder
observing the beauty and size of the produce of the
gardens Father Agostino reminded us that people are
always trying to look for miracles to prove the existence
of God while these miracles are just in front of our eyes.
There is a small church dating back to 1536, prior to
the construction of the church of Redentore, and also a
tiny cemetery for the friars who used to live here. In the
stunning cloister behind the church a functioning well
waters the garden. After spending two years studying
philosophy in Milan, the friars study theology in this
peaceful place for four years. To keep them company
they have chickens, hens and two cats. (The black and
white cat is called Silvestro!) Satisfied with our visit and
wonderful guide we leave the heavenly silentium to go
back to bustle of everyday life
THIRD ITINERARY
Below: Views of the Redentore gardens. In the top image we
see the Lagoon from the gardens; below, looking inland, we
have a view of the back of Andrea Palladios church; and on
the left, cypress trees spring above the gardens. This is where
Father Agostino exhorted us not to search deep in nature for
the miracles that prove Gods work, for here they are laid out
in their splendour before our very eyes.

GETTING THERE
BY PLANE
You can fly to Venice/Treviso from many
local UK airports via budget airlines.
Check details in your area. The airport is
some 20km from Venice itself. You can
fly into Venice Marco Polo airport, which
is right on the shore of the lagoon via
British Airways.

WHAT TO SEE AND DO


CORTE CONTARINI DEL BOVOLO
San Marco district you will nd it by
following the signs from Campo Manin
The small Corte hides an elaborate external
spiral staircase which is an extension to
the Gothic palace of the Contarini family.
The name refers to the spiral form of the
staircase in fact bovolo in Venetian is
a small edible snail. The fancy tower is
a mixture of Renaissance, Gothic and
Byzantine styles.
CORTE BOTERA
Castello district not very far from San
Giovanni e Paolo
Its name derives from the manufacturers
of barrels once located here. A stunning
setting with a late Gothic wellhead and an
external covered staircase. The remains of
the 13th century round arch used to be one
of the entrances of Palazzo Contarini della
Zoggia that used to stand here. The gate to
the Corte is usually open from sunrise until
dawn. Hugo Pratt called this suggestive
courtyard Corte Sconta detta Arcana and
one of his adventures starts exactly from
this spot.
CORTE DEL TAGIAPIERA
Santa Croce district, near Campo San Giacomo
The corte and the ancient wellhead are now
adorned with plants and owers that make
it even more picturesque. The pavement is
made of old tavelle, which is nowadays very
rare.
CORTE GREGOLINA
In the heart of Venice, not far from
St Marks Square and the busy Calle dei
Fabbri
This is a very peaceful corte with a stunning
wellhead in Istrian stone from the end of
the 15th century which resembles a basket.
THE CLOISTERS
Denitely worth visiting also are the
cloisters. I would recommend Sant
Apollonia, the ancient convent of San
Salvador near Rialto (where you can see
some of the very few Venetian wells still
without the metal or stone cover), the
ex-Convent of Santo Stefano and San
Francesco della Vigna.

CITY BREAKS 11

NORTHERN ITALY Venice

trees are still standing. The church


on the opposite side of the Campo is
San Canzian, where Casanova used to
smuggle love letters to a nun
Keep walking on Salizada San
Canzian towards San Giovanni
Grisostomo. If you want to have a
great view with a different perspective
of the Canal Grande turn right to
Campiello del Remer. This beautiful
hidden courtyard with arcades and
a well has a dock onto the Canal
Grande, which most locals use as a
resting spot to drink a spritz. The
Taverna Al Remer offers a great
happy hour deal a buffet of different
cicchetti to choose from that comes free
with your drinks. Nearby is the place
where Marco Polos houses stood,
which is now the Malibran Theatre.
The houses were destroyed by a
terrible fire in 1597 and there are only
a few Venetian-Byzantine architectural
remains surviving in the nearby Corte
Seconda del Milion. If you walk under
the stunning Portico that Marco Polo
himself must have admired at the
time, and walk along the narrow calle
you will find Corte Morosini. This
is a little hidden gem with stunning
arcades and an old wellhead. It is the
perfect setting for the legend of the
Templar Knight, a sad story of love
and betrayal Take time to stop
in this Corte and read up about the
legend. Admire the shield on the
patera above the arched entrance to
the courtyard and also on the side of
the well. In this magical atmosphere,
away from the bustle, it will be easy to
imagine the ghost of the knight still
wandering in the area

NORTHERN ITALY Venice

D I S C O V E R I TA L I A !

FOURTH ITINERARY
Above: A
gondoliere takes
his passengers
down a quiet
canal. Inset
right, from top:
Dawn breaks over
St Marks Square;
Malamocco, one
of the three
narrow channels
in the barrier
island chain
that separates
the Lagoon from
the sea

FOURTH ITINERARY
THE LIDO: AN UNDERAPPRECIATED GEM
This is famous mainly for the Movie
Festival held every year from the
end of August to the first week
of September when it is besieged
by Hollywood. Otherwise this
island is an under-appreciated
treasure. The 11km-long sandbar
that shelters the Lagoon from the
Adriatic Sea was developed as a
seaside resort at the beginning of
the 20th century and became so
popular with its aristocratic visitors
that was commonly known as the
golden island. Only 15 minutes
away from St Marks Square, the
Lido is definitely worth spending
at least a day at if you are coming
during spring or summer. I highly
recommend you hire a bike and
cycle all along the island. This
narrow strip is packed with history,
from the starting point of the
fourth crusade to Lord Byrons daily
horse-riding expeditions. If you start
from Santa Maria Elisabetta (this is
where the vaporetto stops) you can

12 CITY
ITALIA!
BREAKS
September 2014

cycle along its western side, which


faces the Lagoon and St Marks until
you reach the Chiesa di San Nicol.
Here you can visit the church and
the pretty cloister. Then you can
cycle past the Aeroporto Nicelli,
an airport for smaller aircraft
(where you can book a 30-minute
helicopter flight over Venice). At
the roundabout you should stop for
a very tasty bruschetta and spritz
at Chiosco Bar Pedrocchi. Refilled
with energy continue your cycle ride
on the eastern side of the island,
which faces the Adriatic Sea with a
long series of beaches.
After approximately ten minutes
on your right you can see the Casin
and the Palazzo del Cinema built
during the 1930s. Pass the luxury
Moorish-style Hotel Excelsior and
at the end of Lungomare Marconi
continue straight on. You might
struggle on your bike for a couple
of minutes here as the entrance to
the Murazzi is quite sandy, but it
is definitely worth it. The Murazzi
is a very large dyke (approximately
5km long) built in the 18th century

to protect Venice and the Lagoon


from the sea. You can admire the
sea while cycling on a path perfect
for bikes and if you like sunbathing
you can stop and tan in one of the
many piers or stone blocks. Then,
I recommend you to take a right
turn and cycle to Malamocco, where
the atmosphere is magical. In the
summer, after sunbathing, I always
cycle along the canal and stop just
after the little bridge at Trattoria Al
Ponte di Borgo to eat a mozzarella
in carrozza con acciughe (literally it
means mozzarella in a carriage with
anchovies) a golden-crusted fried
mozzarella sandwich filled with
anchovies). That is the best way to
end a day rediscovering my city.

INFORMATION
Find out more about whats on in
Venice, plus where to stay and eat at
www.venice-tourism.com/en

Photograph Enrico Romanzi

14 CITY BREAKS

Photograph Enrico Romanzi

Photograph Enrico Romanzi

NORTHERN ITALY Valle dAosta

D I S C O V E R I TA L I A !

Clockwise from
top left: La Via
Croce di Citt
in Aosta; Aosta
Cattedrale; Chris
above the former
mining town
of La Thuile;
Sarriod de la Tour,
in the comune
of St Pierre;
Aosta offers
great shopping
opportunities;
Roman ruins
and soaring
mountains; Monte
Bianco from the
Val Ferret; grassy
and mellow local
cheese for sale.

Photograph Enrico Romanzi

It is now part of Italy, but it hasnt always been. Chris Allsop


travels to Italys smallest region and discovers a valley beloved
of kings, popes, and of course skiers

heres something of the hidden kingdom about the Valle DAosta,


like an Italian Bhutan (but with a lot more ski lifts). Entering
from France via the seemingly endless Mont Blanc Tunnel, youre
transported from alpine foothills and farmland, in winter with
horses stark black against frozen white pastures, and into an
encirclement of soaring peaks. Arriving at sunset is particularly enchanting: as
you switch back along the mountain roads your view alternates between the
golden warmth of the sun-bathed west-facing ridges and the shadows deepening
in the static pattern of the vertical snow-laden forests.
The Valle DAosta is exactly that: a valley; a beautiful glacial valley that
sweeps east-west through the region (making it delightfully simple to navigate).
The SS26 is the main highway, running the same valley floor route favoured by
the Romans, fed by the Mont Blanc Tunnel and eventually tending south into
neighbouring Piedmont. Hugging the western border is France, and the region
has been bounced between the power centres of Burgundy and Savoy throughout
its history. You can witness the legacy of this in the valleys many spectacular
castles, taste it in the French-influenced cuisine, and hear it in the local FrancoProvenal dialect (a language still used by 55 per cent of the population, and,
most crucially, also among the youth).
My 48 hours immersed in Valdostan culture began at an altitude of 4,760
feet in the former mining town of La Thuile. We approached it in the pitch

Photograph Enrico Romanzi

Photography Chris Allsop unless stated

Valle dAosta

NORTHERN ITALY Valle dAosta

48 HOURS IN

CITY BREAKS 15

D I S C O V E R I TA L I A !

WHAT TO SEE AND DO

NORTHERN ITALY Valle dAosta

AOSTAS ROMAN RUINS 1


The Roman capital of the Alpine region
of the Roman Empire, Aosta (named
after Emperor Augustus) is blessed with
some extraordinary ruins, including the
Teatro Romano, Cryptoporticus and Porta
Praetoria, the latter forming the western
entrance to the town in Roman times. In
winter, the Christmas Market is pitched
amid the ruins.

SS26 FOR CASTLE SPOTTING 2


Aostas main transport artery, the SS26
offers one the worlds greatest castle-rich
road-trip opportunities. Annexation of the
region by the House of Savoy in the 11th
century was the catalyst for the creation
of numerous medieval castles in a variety
of styles. Approaching Aosta from La
Thuile, you tick off the turret and ruins
near Villenueve, and Saint-Pierre Castle,
among others, all deant against a rugged
mountainous backdrop. A highlight is the
handsome Sarre Castle, built on the ruins of
an ancient fortress ten minutes drive from
Aosta. Once used as a base by King Victor
Emanuel II for hunting expeditions in the
valley, it has been public property since
1989. Tours are good value at 5.

The existence of Castello Fnis was rst recorded in 1242; its


impressive battlements were added in the following two centuries

MONT BLANC CABLE CAR 3


Frazione La Palud, 22
+39 0165 89925
www.nuovefuniviemontebianco.com
Opening this spring, the new Mont Blanc
cable car (the worlds most expensive, built
at a cost of 110m) ascends four kilometres
from the village of Entrves at 1,300m to
Pointe Helbronner at 3,452m in around ten
minutes. Besides the spectacular views of
Mont Blanc and Europes other 4,000-ers,
the cable car allows you to access the
legendary Valle Blanche off-piste area and
the Pavilion du Mont Frty for snow shoe
expeditions and the Nature Oasis (from
June to September).

HELI-SKIING 4
Heliski Cervinia
+39 0166 949267
www.heliskicervinia.com
For the expert skier, the Valle DAosta is one
of the few places in Europe where you can
try heli-skiing (as well as being one of the
cheaper options). Excursions set out from
La Thuile, Courmayeur, and Gressoney, and
offer access to otherwise impossible to
reach off-piste terrain.

HORSE RIDING IN THE VALLEY 5


www.lovevda.it/en/sport/horse-riding
There are numerous equestrian centres
dotted around in the Aosta Valley, that
offer everything from absolute beginners
Baptism in the Saddle classes to trekking
for a day or even longer.

16 CITY BREAKS

DONT MISS
CRYPTOPORTICUS
Perhaps the
best preserved
and following
extensive
renovation
best presented
example of this
rare subterranean
relic from Roman
times, the
Cryptoporticus
forms part of the
foundations to
the 15th century
Cathedral of
St Mary of the
Assumption. The
atmosphericallylit line of
archways helps
you appreciate
the precision of
its architects.
The structure is
occasionally used
for theatrical
performances, so
time your visit
well if you wish
to attend (see the
events listings on
www.aostalife.it).

dark, finally emerging into the merry


streetlights of thin village streets.
La Thuile is one of five villages
facing Mont Blanc that form an
historical unit called the Valdigne. In
Savoy times, the quintet was under
direct control of the royal family, and
developed traditions unique to this
administrative nook; newly elected
mayors, for example, to this day find a
pine tree pruned of lower branches and
freshly planted before their houses as a
way of celebrating their taking of office.

February, 2016, on the truly alarming


Piste No. 3 the first World Cup race
to be hosted at the resort).
But what it lacks in terrifying ice
cliffs it more than makes up for in
extensive, flowing blue and red runs.
The views from the pistes are also
incredible, with some of Europes most
towering peaks Mont Blanc, the
Matterhorn, Monte Rosa, and Gran
Paradiso visible on a clear day. You
can even ski into France La Thuile
teams up with its French neighbour La

Fnis Castle is one of numerous castles


scattered throughout the mountains
Nowadays, La Thuile is best
known as ski resort and is commonly
referred to as Little Siberia for its
dependable conditions. Its not the
best known in the area (more high
profile are Courmayeur, Cervinia and
Monterosa). This is due, for the most
part, to its sleepier aprs-ski scene,
although another reason may be its
relative scarcity of black runs (not an
impediment to the Womens World
Cup Downhill, which is being held in

Rosire to form Espace San Bernardo,


meaning that a single ski pass offers
you 80 pistes, or 160km of slopes,
to indulge in (snowboarders beware
of the epically dreadful button lifts
returning you from the French side to
the Italian you have been warned).
Best of all, due to La Thuiles lack of
glitz, the pistes can feel uncrowded,
even in high season. (Locals like to
say that those staying at glamorous
Courmayeur come across to enjoy

WHERE TO STAY

Photograph Enrico Romanzi

HOTEL BOUTON DOR 7


Strada Statale, 26 Courmayeur
 +39 0165 846729
www.hotelboutondor.com
In Courmayeur, the Hotel Bouton dOr
distinguishes itself by virtue of its three
star with ve-star service reputation. Near
the city centre, rooms are spacious and
spotless, and a sauna is available for postpiste relaxation. Expect a warm welcome
from Andreas and Patrizia, as well as a wide
selection at the breakfast buffet.

The Cryptoporticus

the extra space at La Thuile before


sneaking back in the evenings.)
However, that may all be
changing. The Nira Montana, the
resorts first five-star hotel, opened
at the end of 2014. A Design Hotels
member, the hotel is beautifully
presented with designer touches,
rooms that smell like Darjeeling tea,
and a fully equipped spa. The hotel
has an up-market restaurant and a
well-stocked bar, around which La
Thuiles aprs ski scene has reoriented.
Outside of the ski season, the
alpine landscape, carpeted in shaggy
firs and drifts of silver birch, offers
much for the nature lover and
adventure sports fans: around La
Thuile alone, mountain bikers can
enjoy 220 km of track, transporting
their bikes up the slopes using the
chair lifts. Valle DAostas national
park, which it shares with Piedmont,
is the Parco Nazionale Gran Paradiso
the first national park to be established
in Italy. The trekking here is superb,
with abundant wildlife, and the routes
are serviced by cosy, traditional rifugios
serving a surfeit of carb-heavy cuisine.
Snaking down the switchbacks
from La Thuile to join up with the

Aosta City Hall

motorway tracing the valley floor


takes three quarters of an hour, but
its the winding mountain roads
that adds the time from the
Mont Blanc Tunnel in the regions
northwest corner to the Piedmont
border in the southeast only takes
about an hour to drive. The River
Dora widens out along the valley
floor as you approach Aosta, and
its not long before you start to see
fortresses rearing up on both sides of
the motorway. There are numerous
castles scattered throughout the
mountains, but of the ten most
spectacular you can find Fnis
Castle, Saint-Pierre Castle, Issogne
Castle, the Bard Fortress (featuring
in the forthcoming Avengers: Age
of Ultron), Ussel Castle, Avise
Castle, Sarre Royal Castle with
its distinctive square tower, and
Castello La Mothe all in view while
driving the SS26.
Besides royalty, popes have also
favoured the Valle DAosta for a bit
of R&R. Both John Paul II and, later,
his successor, Benedict XVI, have
holidayed in a chalet at the picturesque
village of Les Combes. At the time of
going to press, the valley grandees

DONT MISS
CHOCOLAT
La Thuile was
awarded the
title City of
Chocolate in
2009 by a club of
serious chocolate
appreciators,
and central to
this success
was Chocolat,
a family-run
chocolate house
and pasticceria
with a master
chocolatier,
Stefano Collomb,
at work behind the
scenes. See the
giant chocolate
sculpture of Pope
John Paul IIs head
in the window.
Inside, immerse
yourself (literally
if needs be) in
the chocolate
fondue, with
unmixed halves
of fluid milk and
dark chocolate
available. www.
chocolat-collomb.it

HOTEL MILLELUCI 8
Localit Porossan Roppoz, 15 Aosta
 +39 0165 235278
www.hotelmilleluci.com
Located 1km from the city centre, the Hotel
Milleluci is a converted farmhouse set into
the hillsides above Aosta. As a member of
the Saveurs du Val DAoste, this four-star
is Valdostan through and through with
ornamental antique skis and a selection of
Alpine cheeses a feature in the buffetstyle breakfasts. Other trappings to expect
include claw-foot baths, a Jacuzzi, and a
Turkish bath.

MAISON BONDAZ 9
Via Saint-Anselme, 36 Aosta
 +39 345 63 73 351
www.maisonbondaz.it
Conveniently located in the citys historical
pedestrian zone, this family-run boutique
hotel has the warmth and charm of a B&B.
The hotels dcor makes features of its
medieval architecture, while Jeanettes
breakfasts, served by the replace, are
legendary. The homemade apple juice is
fresh from the proprietors nearby farm.

HOTEL CECCHIN 10
Via Ponte Romano, 27 Aosta
 +39 0165 45262
www.hotelcecchin.com
Five minutes from the centre is the
three-star Hotel Cecchin. Located next
to the Ponte Romano, the hotel offers
good value for money and clean, spacious
accommodation. Fresh baked pastries are
available for breakfast, and theres an
optional underground garage available for
a small fee.

CITY BREAKS 17

NORTHERN ITALY Valle dAosta

The spa at the new, ve-star


Nira Montana hotel

NIRA MONTANA 6
Localita Arly, 87 La Thuile
 +39 0165 883125
www.niramontana.com/en
Opened in December of last year, the Nira
Montana is La Thuiles rst ve-star hotel.
The exterior is broad-eaved and traditional,
but inside its all modern art on the walls
and Baxter steel and leather loungers
lolling before an open re. Theres also a
spa (see image immediately right), and,
best of all, its really four-star prices.

D I S C O V E R I TA L I A !

4 7
Courmayeur

La Thuile

4 5 6
11 12

WHERE TO EAT

1
14

NORTHERN ITALY Valle dAosta

STARS 11
Localit Arly, 87 La Thuile
 +39 0165 883125
www.niramontana.com/en
With the opening of Nira Montanas
in-house restaurant, Stars, the resort of
La Thuile nally has a quality alternative
to the hearty traditional restaurants that
dominate the villages dining options.
Not that its untethered to its locale: the
ingredients are local sourced, the dishes
seasonal, and the menu offers interesting
twists on regional specialities.
O
O

LO RIONDET 12
S.S. Piccolo San Bernardo, 4 La Thuile
+39 0165 884006
www.loriondet.it
Lo Riondet offers an authentic chalet
dining experience without having to travel
too far from La Thuile. Accessible only by
snow cat (the restaurant runs a regular
service) during the ski season, expect jugs
of wine, pale orange half-moons of fontina
served raclette-style on every table, and a
generally boisterous, all-round good time.
O

GIULIANI RISTORANTE 13
Via St Anselmo, 49 Aosta
+39 0165 10637
www.giulianiristorante.com
Theres a winning formula for this
family-run restaurant housed in an
old underground stable. It serves a
contemporary take on traditional Aosta
cuisine with a air youd expect at
much higher prices.
O

TRATTORIA ALDENTE 14
Via Croce de Ville, 34 Aosta
+39 0165 194596
www.aldentetrattoria.eu
This is the traditional red-check tablecloth
trattoria experience done extremely well.
Cosy and unassuming, Trattoria Aldente
offers simple, regional cuisine cooked to
perfection, with friendly waiting staff ready
to advise on wines and dish choices.
O

AGRITURISMO LA REINA 15
Localit Saint-Benin, 17/A Aosta
+39 0165 253775
www.lareina.it
A farmhouse stay, the La Reinas dining
room is also open to non-residents. The
set menu offers better value than the la
carte with either the 20 or 30 options.
Expect vast bowls of polenta, regional
cheeses, and Valdostan dishes such as
crespelle alla valdostana.
O

18 CITY BREAKS

10

1 13
1 9

3
Map data 2015 Google

DONT MISS
HIKING
As the warmer
weather prevails,
wild flowers
bloom over the
lush green Alpine
valleys and hiking
without snow
shoes becomes
delightfully
possible once
again. Valle
dAostas Parco
Nazionale del
Gran Paradiso,
named after
Italys highest
mountain, offers
a plethora of trails
to help you lose
yourself (although
not actually get
lost) in pristine
wilderness. Go
high altitude
with the Alte
Vie 1 and 2
blue-riband trails
while staying
at traditional
mountain rifugios
along the way,
devouring braised
meat and potato
dumplings before
falling into a
well-earned
slumber. And keep
an eye out for the
majestic Alpine
ibex in the early
19th century
its numbers
had dropped
dangerously
low due to overhunting, but its
population has
happily since
bounced back.

were still awaiting a response to their


invitation for Pope Francis to follow in
his predecessors footsteps.
Driving through the valley, you
might notice grapevines scaling the
valley walls. The Valle DAosta has
some of Europes highest vineyards;
the wine is produced in small amounts
and, as such, is mostly consumed
within the region. So stock up while
youre here: the bracing mountain
air imbues the wines with a delicious
freshness and theyre wonderfully
aromatic. Look out for delicious
indigenous grape varieties such as
Fumin, which produces a tannic,
peppery wine reminiscent of Syrah.
Youll encounter small villages and
towns all along the SS26 these are
cobbled into 70 municipalities beyond
Aosta city limits. If at some point in
conversation a local refers to living on
the right side of the valley, theyre
using a shorthand to refer to the side
of the valley that receives the most sun
this sunny side is the right side,
with correspondingly more expensive
real estate. Inhabitants of the wrong
side suffer from an absence of sun on
their windowsills for a 20-day stint
every winter.
Founded at the beginning of
the Imperial Era, in 25BC, Aosta
was part of a chain of towns linking
through the Europe Crossway that
breached the wall of the Alps.
Named after the Emperor Augustus,
the city that stands today is, by
modern standards, small. The total
population, including surrounding
areas, is only about 60,000 about
a half of the regions total. But with
the Valle DAosta being semiautonomous, and not coincidentally
one of the richest provinces in Italy,
this amounts to cobbled medieval
streets lined with some serious
shopping opportunities.

15

Upmarket ski tourists, shoulders


bristling with furs, mingle with
the locals in the pedestrianised area
that takes in some of the prettiest
parts of the city. Pop into La Vineria
on Via St Anselmo (named after a
somewhat neglected local saint), the
towns main commercial drag, for
superbly knowledgeable staff wholl
point you to interesting (and cheaper)
alternatives to the most famous local
wine brand, Les Crtes. And where
there is wine, there is cheese: fontina
is probably the most famous regional
variety; made in the area since the
12th century, its hard to eat a meal
without this semi-hard, cows milk
treat featuring (usually melted).
Find the Maison de la Fontine (aka
ErbaVoglio) on Via Monseigneur de
Sales for a pungently superb selection
of Valdostan cheeses, including some
made exclusively for the shop, like the
grassy, mellow Renque Fleur.
But, however delicious melted
fontina is, its the fantastic Roman
ruins that will linger longest in your
memory: the windows in the multistorey remains of the theatre framing
a looming peak, or the tiered stone
seating bearing long white cushions
of snow. Access to these are free, as is
admission to the detailed and welldecked out Archaeology Museum
(Piazza Roncas, 12) tracing the citys
history from pre-Roman times (also
see francescocorni.com for artists
impressions of how the archaeological
sites used to look). Unfortunately, you
wont be able to visit the amphitheatre
as the St Joseph nuns are now housed
on top of it, but the tell-tale curve
of the nunnery following the ancient
design is an example of how this city,
and region as a whole, has stepped
so lightly into the grand shoes of its
impressive history. Now hit the Via St
Anselmo and shop till you drop.

Photograph Enrico Romanzi

NORTHERN ITALY Valle dAosta

Aostas Roman theatre

Cushions for sale


on Via St Anselmo

Detail above the entrance to St Mary of the Assumption Cathedral

GETTING THERE
BY PLANE

The Piazza Emile Chanoux is


Aostas principal square

British Airways flies regularly and


directly to Geneva from London City,
London Heathrow and London Gatwick.
Swiss also run services (via Zurich)
from London City, London Heathrow,
Manchester and Birmingham, www.swiss.
com. EasyJet flies direct to Geneva from
across the UK. Flying to Turin with BA,
easyJet, Jet2, Monarch or Ryanair is
equally viable.

BY CAR
The journey time from Calais to Valle
DAosta is around ten hours. Access the
Mont Blanc Tunnel from Geneva, and
dont forget your snow chains!

KEY TO RESTAURANT PRICES


(full meal per person, not including wine)
Up to 25
O
O
26-50
O
O
O
More than 50
O

Photograph Enrico Romanzi

BY TRAIN
Eurostar operates an overnight service
from London St Pancras to the French
Alps. Connections can then be made to
Aosta town, where buses are available to
the resorts. Taking local trains through
the mountains is, at best, complicated.

CITY BREAKS 19

NORTHERN ITALY Verona

D I S C O V E R I TA L I A !

Clockwise
from top left:
The ceiling of
SantAnastasia;
the Giardino
Giusti; view
across the
Adige; time
for wine; the
Ponte Vecchio;
ower market
at the Arena;
lemon trees in
the Piazza Bra;
rooftop view of
the city

20 CITY BREAKS

NORTHERN ITALY Verona

Verona
With preserved architecture spanning all the ages from ancient
times through the medieval and Renaissance periods, Verona is
the perfect city for sightseeing. Lorenza Bacino reports

Mirko Sose of Selective Travel

48 HOURS IN

Photography Lorenza Bacino unless otherwise stated

dont want it to end. My last morning in Verona is spent enjoying the


view from a caf in Piazza Bra overlooking the Arena and savouring
the traditional spritz aperol Ive come to know and love on this trip.
The aperitif is as bright and as orange as the sunshine and, despite its
innocent appearance, its conspiring with the sun to make me woozy.
The spacious Piazza Bra is humming with people enjoying the colourful
ower stalls on this perfect spring morning, and food stalls proffering delicacies
from around Italy produce inviting aromas. Theres a gentle drone of cars in
the distance as I sink into a reverie and revisit my mini-break in this pretty
medieval town in the southwest of the Veneto region.
Verona is probably best known for Shakespeares play Romeo and Juliet, and
indeed the courtyard where Juliets balcony was supposed to have been draws an
endless stream of visitors, many of them teenagers on school trips, eager to add
their message of love on the already overly-scribbled wall.
Star-struck lovers aside, Juliets house and balcony are worth a eeting visit
before exploring the historic centre, which is compact and easily walkable.
The beautiful Piazza Erbe with its surrounding medieval and Renaissance
architecture is just nearby, and if you cast your eye upwards you can enjoy the
stunning frescoes adorning the faades.
I feel as if Im in a bit of a tourist trap in Piazza Erbe because of the

proximity to the balcony and the tacky tourist stalls, so I head for the
CITY BREAKS 21

D I S C O V E R I TA L I A !

WHAT TO SEE AND DO

NORTHERN ITALY Verona

ARENA 1
+39 045 800 5151
Built in the 1st century AD, a 12th century
earthquake destroyed most of the outside
walls only a small section remains.
Seating 25,000, it is the most famous
landmark in Verona. The 2017 season runs
from 23 June-27 August.

JULIETS BALCONY 2
+39 045 803 4303
Set in the courtyard of Juliets House
(entrance to the courtyard is free) the 13th
century house belonged to the Dal Cappello
family, whose coat of arms is visible above
the inner-archway of the courtyard. Free
entrance with the Verona Card.

ROMAN THEATRE 3
+39 045 800 0360
Across the Ponte Pietra is one of Italys best
preserved Roman theatres, which is now
used for performances in the summer. Free
entrance with the Verona Card.

CASTELVECCHIO 4
+39 045 806 2611
The Castle is the largest and most
impressive of the Scaligeri buildings,
constructed towards the end of their rule.
The castles inner courtyard is the entrance
to the Museum of Veronese Art. Free
entrance with the Verona Card.

PIAZZA ERBE / PIAZZA SIGNORI


Piazza delle Erbe was built on the site of
the Roman forum. Towards one end there
is the Palazzo Maffei. The piazza now hosts
permanent stalls surrounded by the 14th
century Torre del Guardella and the Casa
Mazzanti. Adjacent is Piazza Signori, aka
Piazza Dante, and the entrance to the
Lamberti Tower.
5

JULIETS TOMB 6
+39 045 800 0361
The convent San Francesco al Corso has
been used as an orphanage and a military
store-room, and houses the sarcophagus of
Juliet. Today it is a museum of frescoes and
also hosts civil wedding ceremonies. Free
entrance with the Verona Card.

DUOMO DI VERONA 7
+39 045 592813
The Cathedral was built in the 7th century
on top of a pre-existing medieval church
and has been altered and enlarged in the
subsequent centuries. The faade includes
both Roman and Gothic elements. There
is a Romanesque portal, with its Roman
porch. Inside, Titians Assunta is in the rst
chapel to the left. Free for Verona citizens,
children, religious people, journalists and
members of the military, group leaders
(minimum 20 paying), teachers with
groups, and those with a Verona Card.

22 CITY BREAKS

The Verona Arena

DONT MISS
VERONA OPERA
SEASON
www.arena.it
is the ofcial
website. The
season runs
between June
and September
and you can
check out the
programme and
book your tickets
online. Some
highlights this
year include
Gala wih Placido
Domingo, Tosca,
Nabucco, Aida
and Madame
Buttery.

nearby Torre dei Lamberti, which


offers a great view of the city.
All I can hear is my own breath as
I climb the 368 steps to the top of the
belfry tower. As the rst visitor of the
day, Im completely alone during my
ascent. Hitchcocks Vertigo springs to
my mind. The bell tower is 84 metres
high and I can only hope James
Stewart will be on hand to catch me
should I fall!
Adjacent to Piazza Erbe is Piazza
dei Signori. Its a small, charming
square and the equally charming
Nicola is on hand at the Impero
pizzeria with the best prosciutto in
town. Its light, uffy and full of
avour and I close my eyes to savour

1290, its a great example of Italian


gothic architecture and the biggest
church in Verona, with high vaulted
ceilings and an array of gorgeous
chapels all around.
From here I wander along the
Adige River to the Ponte Pietra.
The bridge offers a lovely view of the
historic side of town on one side, and
the ruins of the Roman theatre and
the Castel San Pietro on the other.
The greenery across the river is calling
me and I head for some cobbled steps
leading upwards. Im not sure where
they go as I cannot see any signs but I
decide to follow them nonetheless.
Charming terracotta-coloured
villas and gardens line the steps and

All I can hear is my own breath as I climb


the 368 steps to the top of the belfry tower
my prosciutto moment. Juxtaposed
with chunks of tasty Parmesan it
makes a perfect snack to keep you
going (with a spritz aperol of course!)
From Piazza dei Signori, I take
Corso Anastasia, which leads to the
church of Santa Anastasia. Begun in

the quiet cobbled streets. There


is only birdsong in my ears. As I
continue my climb I reach some
deserted but well-kept gardens and
enjoy a view of the city and the
distinctive curve of the Adige river.
Aside from half a dozen belfries, there

WHERE TO STAY

Lunchtime!

are no tall buildings spoiling the


view. The skyline appears essentially
as it must have been in medieval
times, the buildings mainly in warm
pink and yellow hues.
If you want to escape the hordes,
then this is the spot for you. The

Mirko Sose of Selective Travel

SantAnastasia

gardens. They are a perfect


ensemble of nature, art and history
dating from the end of the 15th
century. They were designed by
Agostino Giusti, Knight of the
Venetian Republic, as a backdrop for
the Giusti Palace and are terraced, so

A beautiful collection of flowers, Roman


ruins, grottoes and mythological statues
Roman theatre just below dates
from the 1st century BC, but the
ruins were only unearthed in 1851 as
foundations for the Castel San Pietro
were being dug. You cant go into the
Castle itself, but theres a panoramic
terrace which is a great opportunity
for a photograph.
Heading downwards back
towards the river, I reach an
unassuming portone but inside my
eyes are greeted by the stunning
Renaissance Giardino Giusti. Only a
handful of people are wandering along
the cypress-lined avenues, talking in
hushed tones to each other as though
afraid of disturbing the surrounding
tranquillity of this most beautiful of

SOGNO DI GIULIETTA 9
Via Capello 2
+39 045 800 9932
www.sognodigiulietta.it
High standard, romantic Dimora storica
located in the Casa di Giulietta courtyard
and overlooking Juliets balcony. Just
as the balcony itself is fake, the exact
whereabouts of the Capulet family home is
unknown, but that of the Montague family
does still stand and is within easy walking
distance. Truly a great central location in
Verona, especially if you are there for the
Shakespeare connection. All 16 spacious
and stylishly decorated rooms have full
ensuite facilities.

you gradually uncover the view over


the city. They are also home to one
of the oldest labyrinths in Europe, a
beautiful collection of owers, Roman
ruins, grottoes and mythological
statues. Theres a fantastic belvedere
suitably adorned with a mascherone, the
grotesque mask of a monster which,
legend has it, emits tongues of re
from its mouth.
Reluctantly I leave this most
tranquil of spots and head back into
town across the Ponte Nuovo.
Verona is a UNESCO World
Heritage Site and most of the palazzi
and houses have cellars built on
Roman ruins, some of which are
open to the public, and many of

DONT MISS
A TRIP TO
NEARBY LAKE
GARDA
If you have time,
the Lake is an
easy half hour
drive away, and
there are regular
trains. Its on
the Milan-Venice
train line. Train
rides take
between 20-40
minutes to
Desenzano.
This is the
biggest town
and the most
expensive, but
the nicest views
of the Lake can
be had from
Malcesine and
Riva.

GRAND HOTEL 10
Corso Porta Nuova 105
+39 045 595600
www.grandhotel.vr.it
Four-star hotel offering breakfast and hot
buffet. Set in an historic building in a very
good central location, with comfortable
and stylish ensuite rooms. Has an internal
garden/courtyard with bar service, sitting
area and loungers. A great base for
exploring Verona and the area as it is easy
to reach all the sights and/or the train
station or airport.

GIULIETTA E ROMEO 11
Vicolo Tre Marchetti 3
+39 045 800 3554
www.giuliettaeromeo.it
Three stars. Superb location near to the
Roman Ampitheatre/Arena in a quiet side
street in the heart of Verona. Close to all
sights and shopping, friendly and helpful
staff. Comfortable and elegant rooms have
ensuite facilities. The hotel has a small
outdoor courtyard with bar service where
breakfast can also be taken.

DE CAPULETI 12
Via del Pontiere 26
+39 045 800 0154
www.decapuleti.it
Bright and modern 35-room hotel (all
rooms ensuite), only a few minutes walk
from all the main sights. Good value, and it
has a small wellness area. Three stars.

CITY BREAKS 23

NORTHERN ITALY Verona

Flower market in Piazza Bra

DUE TORRI HOTEL 8


Piazza S. Anastasia 4
+39 045 595044
www.duetorrihotels.com
A ve-star luxury landmark hotel with
stylish ensuite rooms in an historic
building. Located in a quiet area of Verona,
yet still close to all the sights, restaurants
and shopping. Attractive roof-top with
views over Verona, and restaurant and bar
service. Breakfast and hot buffet offered.
There is bar service in the hotel courtyard
and in the lounge.

D I S C O V E R I TA L I A !
3
7

WHERE TO EAT

NORTHERN ITALY Verona

RISTORANTE MAFFEI 13
Piazza Erbe 38
info@ristorantemaffei.it
+39 045 8010015
www.ristorantemaffei.it
A fantastic place to book for special
occasions, this restaurant is in a 17th
century palazzo that belonged to the
notable Maffei family from San Benedetto.
The dcor is distinctly Baroque and the
plates and settings are sumptuous. For
romantic dinners theres a Romeo and
Juliet table situated two oors down
among the ancient ruins.

8
15

17

5
13

2
9

14

O
O

ANTICA BOTTEGA DEL VINO 14


Via Scudo di Francia 3
info@bottegadelvino.net
+39 045 800 4535
www.bottegadelvino.net
Famous in Verona and all over Italy for
its wine selection. Once a place where
intellectuals, poets and writers would hang
out. The choice of prestigious and award
winning wines is the real attraction here.
In fact, theres always a series of musical or
arts events to enjoy here.

11
4
1

10

12

16

O
O

TRATTORIA FLUVIALE VECIO MULIN 15


Via Sottoriva 42/a
info@veciomulin.com
+39 045 806 5146
www.veciomulin.com
Right on the river with great views at
night, and very cosy and atmospheric. A
sh trattoria, that also specialises in meat
dishes. The tuna is seared to perfection and
served with olives, capers and tomatoes.
O

ANTICA TRATTORIA ENOTECA


AL BERSAGLIERE 16
Via dietro Pallone 1
info@trattoriaalbersagliere.it
+39 045 800 4824
www.trattoriaalbersagliere.it
Do ask to visit the wine cellar, which
dates from 1200 AD or so. This trattoria
is one of seven approved by the Comune
of Verona for typical regional delicacies,
(piatti storici). Leo is on hand to offer some
delicious recommendations.

PIZZERIA IMPERO 17
Piazza dei Signori 8
+39 045 803 0160
www.pizzieriaimpero.it
Nicolas in charge of this pizzeria in
a secluded corner of the piazza. Its a
trattoria, and a restaurant, with a friendly
atmosphere and views over the square.

24 CITY BREAKS

DONT MISS
VERONA CARD
The Verona
Card is an
all-inclusive citypass. 15 for 24
hours or 20 for
72 hours (valid
from rst entry).
Includes free
entry to Arena,
SantAnastasia
Church, San
Zeno Church,
Juliets House,
San Fermo
Church, Duomo,
Castelvecchio
Museum, Natural
History Museum,
Radio Museum,
Maffeiano
Museum, Modern
Art Gallery,
Roman Theatre,
Lamberti Tower,
and Juliets
Tomb. www.
turismoverona.eu

which remain hidden. I drop by


the Ristorante Maffei at one end of
the Piazza Erbe as Ive been reliably
informed that it has a cellar and
dining area in the ancient ruins. Luca
Gambaretto, the manager, is only
too pleased to guide me down to
the cellar and explains that it houses
an impressive 7,000 bottles of wine
with over 600 labels ranging from
local wines to examples from South
America and Australia. He shows me
the secluded Romeo and Juliet table,
standing alone among the ruins of the
Campidoglio, and which is set aside
for very special occasions. Hell even
assign an extra waiter when the table
is booked.
Back into the sunshine and
towards the balcony end of Piazza
Erbe, via Mazzini leads down towards
the Arena, and is the main shopping
area. Its nice to glide along the
smooth marble slabs of the pavement,
stopping every now and then at an
appealing shop window, or to buy an
ice cream along the way.
My visit couldnt be complete
without entering the famous Arena.
Preparations are clearly underway
inside with structures going up as the

opera season begins in June and goes


through till September. I get a little
lost in the dank corridors which I nd
a tad spooky. How many secrets must
they hold?
For the gladiators the corridors
must have meant safety, and the
sunlight of the arena must have
signalled death. For me the opposite
is true and I make a bid for the
sunlight as soon as I can, and sit on
the steps soaking up the atmosphere
of the auditorium. A school group
claps to test out the acoustics and a
lovely twinkling sound ripples all
around. This summers programme
includes some of the most popular
operas of all time Carmen, Aida,
Carmina Burana, and of course, Romeo
and Juliet.
I am lucky enough to be staying
at the Sogno di Giulietta Juliets
Dream boutique hotel, right in
the courtyard of Juliets house. My
room even overlooks the eponymous
balcony. In the evenings the gates are
closed to the public, and I can enjoy
a contemplative moment alone in the
company of Juliets statue, and in the
peace and quiet of a perfect spring
Verona evening. Q!

Mirko Sose of Selective Travel

NORTHERN ITALY Verona

Salad bar

Pizza and beer

GETTING THERE

DONT MISS

BY PLANE

SPRITZ APEROL
Youll pick up
the recipe here.
Add lots of ice
to a large white
wine glass. Pour
over the Aperol,
followed by the
Prosecco and gin
(if using). Stir
once and nish
with a splash of
soda water and a
slice of orange.

Lorenza travelled with Selective Travel


Abroad, a family-run travel and tour
company specialising in trips to Verona
and Lake Garda. All accommodation
bookings, excursions and car hire can be
booked online at www.selectivetravel.com
British Airways, easyJet and Monarch
all y to Verona from Gatwick. Veronas
Valerio Catullo airport is eight miles from
the city, a short taxi ride.
See www.atv.verona.it for Aerobus
information between Verona railway
station and the airport. Buses leave every
20 minutes and the journey takes about
20 minutes depending on trafc.

Mirko Sose of Selective Travel

Mirko Sose of Selective Travel

At the Sogno di
Giulietta

Wine cellar

Verona cityscape from the hillside

KEY TO RESTAURANT PRICES


(full meal per person, not including wine)
Up to 25
O
O
26-50
O
O
O
More than 50
O

CITY BREAKS 25

NORTHERN ITALY Genoa

D I S C O V E R I TA L I A !

Clockwise from
top left: A quiet
corner in the old
town; a detail of
a galleon used in
a Roman Polanski
movie in the old
port; the coloured
houses along
the sea front
at Nervi; Signor
Matteo poses for
a picture in the
poultry shop, one
of the historic
stores of Genoa;
a traditional
shmonger near
the port area; a
view of the port
from the cabin
of Bigo; a shrine
also known as
a Madonnetta
in the Genoese
dialect on a
wall in the centre
of Genoa; Signor
Francesco, owner
of the Tripperia
La Casana,
stirs the tripe;
the view from
the panoramic
viewpoint of
Spianata di
Castelletto, which
is accessible on
foot or by lift.

26 CITY BREAKS

NORTHERN ITALY Genoa

48 HOURS IN

Genoa

Follow Marina Spironetti on an emotional tour of one of Italys


most dramatic cities, between mountain and sea, where the
echoes of a glorious past live together with modernity

Photography Marina Spironetti

enoese-born singer Ivano Fossati believes that those who look


at Genoa should know that Genoa can be seen only from the
sea. The song is stuck in my head as I get off the train at Porta
Principe, one of those grand railway stations that could be used
as the location for a ball. In the square outside, I am greeted by
a statue of Columbus, the citys most famous son, predictably looking towards
the sea. From there, it is a short walk to the Porto Antico, the windswept
basin that saw the rise and fall of the ancient maritime republic. The industrial
docks still Genoas major source of income have moved out to a less central
area and the once run-down old port was spruced up in 1992 for the 500th
anniversary of the discovery of the Americas, thanks to the visionary ideas of
architect Renzo Piano.
Among the new attractions of the area is the Aquarium, which is one of
the worlds largest and looks like a container ship. On a oating platform right
next to it sits La Bolla, the glass biosphere, built in 2001, which encapsulates
a tropical rainforest in futuristic steel and glass. Further down is the 18thcentury Cotton Warehouse, housing a conference centre and a series of facilities
including restaurants and cafs. And if this is not enough, there is even a rather
puzzling galleon, straight from the set of a Roman Polanski movie.
For a birds eye view of Genoas new waterfront, I decide to ascend the lift
of the spider-like Bigo (pictured left) the name refers to the cranes that are
used in the port. It lifts me up 200 metres into the air. Below me now are
CITY BREAKS 27

D I S C O V E R I TA L I A !

THINGS TO SEE AND DO

NORTHERN ITALY Genoa

THE AQUARIUM 1
Ponte Spinola
+39 010 23451
www.acquariodigenova.it
The Genoa Aquarium is a must-see. One
of Europes largest, it reproduces several
marine environments, from Mediterranean
tidal zones to Arctic waters and coral reefs.
The new addition is Renzo Pianos recentlyopened Cetacean Pavilion. Afterwards, you
can take a boat tour of the port (every 30
minutes from outside the Aquarium) and
contemplate the city from the sea for a
very different perspective.

PALAZZO ROSSO 2
Via Garibaldi 18
+39 010 557 219
www.museidigenova.it
No fewer than 14 stunning palaces line the
pedestrianised via Garibaldi. One of the
most beautiful is the Palazzo Rosso with its
frescoed ceilings and stunning panoramic
rooftops views that can be reached via a
glass lift. Open Tues-Fri 09.00-19.00, SatSun 10.00-19.00, Mon closed).

PALAZZO REALE 3
Via Balbi 10
+39 010 271 0236
www.palazzorealegenova.it
Palazzo Reale on via Balbi has a gleaming
gold hall of mirrors and portraits by Van
Dyck. Open Tues-Wed 09.00-13.00, Thu-Sun
09.00-19.00, Mon closed, 6.50. Consider
buying a 24-hour Museum Card from the
Visitor Centre for free entry to 22 museums
(prices start at 12 for the one-day pass).

SONGWRITERS MUSEUM 4
Via del Campo 29
+39 010 247 4064
www.viadelcampo29rosso.com
The best way to understand Genoa is
through the singer-songwriters who
sang about it over the years. The most
famous of them all is Fabrizio de Andr
(nicknamed Faber). His songs echo the
ups and downs of Genoas fascinating
contrasts. Via del Campo 29 is now a
museum dedicated to Genoas songwriters,
a crossroads of memorabilia. It is also
the best place to buy some excellent
Italian music.

BOTTEGA STORICA DI BARBIERE 5


Vicolo Caprettari 14
+39 010 256791
www.fondoambiente.it
Another hidden gem is, perhaps
surprisingly, a tiny art nouveau barber
shop. It comprises just about 10 square
metres of coloured glass, mirrors and
lamps straight from the early 1900s.
Well worth a look inside even if you
dont actually need a haircut.

28 CITY BREAKS

A detail of the stately


via Balbi in the old town.
Walls are often decorated
with shrines dedicated to
saints and the Virgin Mary

DONT MISS
SAN GIOVANNI
BATTISTA
St John the
Baptist is the
patron saint of
Genoa and June
24 is his day.
The celebrations
begin on the
evening of the
23rd, when there
are reworks
and activities
in piazzas all
across the city.
On the day of
St John itself,
a procession
makes its
way from the
Cathedral to the
Porto Antico,
where the
Cardinal blesses
the sea with
relics of the
saint.

the ordered lines of boats in the


marina and, opposite those, a puzzle
of houses that crawls all the way up to
the mountains.
A VERTICAL CITY
The most winding and incoherent
of cities, the most entangled
topographical ravel in the world, the
19th century realist author Henry
James wrote of Genoa and quite
rightly so. As soon as you turn your
back on the port the city reveals all
its dramatic topography, squashed
as it is between mountain and sea.

Signor Matteo from the poultry


shop tests the freshness of his
eggs with a device called a
specchiauovo

especially to rst-time visitors. The


many slopes mean that what a map
considers to be the next street may
actually be a good 30-minute uphill
hike away.
The old town is a fascinating
warren of caruggi claustrophobic
alleyways that run like canyons
between tall buildings. Some of
them are so narrow that they live
in perpetual shade and have to
illuminated by streetlights even in
daytime. This is naturally especially
true on sombre winter days and it is
why cafs and other businesses often

Side streets often turn into a steep flight of


steps and apartment blocks cling to the hills
It stretches for some 30 kilometres,
and along all of that stretch it makes
a constant challenge to nature. It is,
in essence, a vertical city where side
streets often turn into a steep ight
of steps and apartment blocks cling
to the hills so that the penthouse,
approached from the mountain side,
is rather confusingly at street
level. It can be a deceiving city,

have bright neon signs, to serve as an


antidote to the constant chiaroscuro of
the city.
The Genoese themselves are rather
reserved, used as they are to the dark
and somehow menacing core of their
city, and they are as restrained as their
impenetrable dialect shy, almost.
And Genoa is a shy place indeed, a
city that hides rather than reveals:

WHERE TO STAY

The vertical city: a man walks


down a ight of steps in the
Castelletto neighbourhood

PALAZZO CICALA 7
Piazza San Lorenzo 16
+39 010 251 8824
www.palazzocicala.it
Right in front of the San Lorenzo cathedral
is Genoas rst urban hotel, providing
contemporary dcor in a 16th-century
palazzo built by the Cicala family when
they were at the height of their once
considerable political power. In the 20th
century the house served as ofces; its
current incarnation as the Locanda di
Palazzo Cicala dates from 2001.

a stratication of several layers and


contradictions. The streets behind the
port are a rather bizarre melting pot
of sailors, travellers and vagrants of
all nationalities, all kept together by
the incertitude of the volatile nature
of the sea. These are the humble
people who were sung about by
the late, great Fabrizio de Andr, a
radical singer-songwriter and perhaps

Those were the times when certain


private dwellings were ordered up
to make them suitable for hosting
state visits, according to lists divided
by categories the so-called rolli.
Kings and queens, and ambassadors
and diplomats from all over Europe
found hospitality in these luxurious
residencies. From here, the shop-lined
via San Lorenzo will then lead you to

The streets behind the port are a bizarre


melting pot of sailors, travellers and vagrants
Genoas most talented and famous
musical export. It seems to me that
Genoa has the face of all those poor
devils whom I met along its alleys, of
the outcasts, of the lovely girls of via
del Campo, he once wrote.
Further inland, along the
pedestrianised via Garibaldi or the
stately via Balbi, lies a series of
stunning palazzi. This area has been
a Unesco World Heritage Site since
2006. Here you can truly imagine
how the city was in its golden age,
in the 1500s and 1600s: a bustling
centre of trafc, embassies and courts.

the ducal city, with the Romanesque


cathedral of St Lawrence and the
grand Palazzo Ducale. There is no
need for poets here: the beauty of the
city is perfectly capable of speaking
for itself.
ECHOES OF A LOST WORLD
Genoas shops and cafs seem to
have come straight from another
century. They are pleasantly alien to
the consumerist nature of big chains
and supermarkets. I walk along the
narrow via dei Macelli di Soziglia and
I feel like I have stepped out of a

DONT MISS
LA
PAGANINIANA
A series of
concerts and
events held in
September and
October every
other year to
celebrate the
life and work of
Niccol Paganini,
the supremely
inuential
violinist who
was born in the
city in 1782. The
events, held in
the teatro Carlo
Felice, attract
many of the
worlds greatest
violin players
of today, who
compete for
prizes that bring
international
acclaim.

BRISTOL PALACE 8
Via XX Settembre 35
+39 010 592941
www.hotelbristolpalace.com
An excellent choice near the teatro Carlo
Felice and Brignole train station; also
convenient for the Old Port. Grand antique
furnishing, sumptuous rooms and very
attentive staff. A noticeable feature of this
133-room, four-star hotel its spectacular
elliptical staircase.

BEST WESTERN CITY HOTEL 9


Via San Sebastiano 6
+39 010 584707
www.bwcityhotel-ge.it
Four-star hotel within easy walking of
the Palazzo Ducale and the Aquarium.
Part of the Best Western Stay for the
Planet project, which considers and acts
upon consumption in ve environmental
impact areas: energy, water, waste disposal,
supplies and behaviours. What this means
for the guest, in practice, is organic
shampoo and liquid soap dispensers,
and you will be encouraged to use the
appropriate containers when disposing of
your rubbish.

MELIA GENOVA 10
Via Corsica 4
+39 010 5315 111
www.melia.com
Located in the district of Carignano within
striking distance of all the sights. The
rooms feature contemporary photographic
art and the hotel has a wellness centre
with indoor pool, gym, Turkish bath and
hydromassage tub.

CITY BREAKS 29

NORTHERN ITALY Genoa

A view from the cabin of the Bigo,


which offers stunning views over the
Porto Antico and the city

THE BRITANNIA 6
Via Balbi 38
+39 010 2470 800
www.cithotelsbritanniagenoa-hrez.com
Conveniently located near the Piazza
Principe train station, it is probably the
best upper-range hotel in the area. This
is via Balbi, which has been awarded
World Heritage status by UNESCO. Friendly
staff and good breakfast buffet are the
icing on the cake.

WHERE TO EAT

NORTHERN ITALY Genoa

ANTICA SCIAMADDA 11
Via San Giorgio 14r
+39 010 246 8516
For a lunch on the go, you will nd food
stands friggitorie all over the centre of
Genoa. These sell delicious yet inexpensive
takeaway snacks such as focaccia and
farinata, a traditional chickpea-based
pancake. The avours of this peculiarly
Genoese tradition can be sampled at their
best at Antica Sciamadda.

Price range O

TRIPPERIA LA CASANA 12
Vico Casana 3r
+39 010 247 4357
If you are after an alternative experience
and you like tripe and broth do it like the
sailors used to and head to the charming
Tripperia. One of the few surviving tripe
shops in town, where sailors traditionally
warmed themselves up with a bowl of
broth. The soup is now given away free of
charge, providing that you arrive with a
receptacle to take it away in.

Price range O

AL VELIERO 14
Via Ponte Calvi 10r
+39 010 246 5773
www.alvelierogenova.com
Conveniently close to the Aquarium in
the sense that you can get to the Aquarium
easily from here, and not in the sense that
their kitchen staff can, or do! this much
praised restaurant is an excellent choice
for sh-based courses. Do not miss the sh
ravioli, one of the specialities of the place.
O

Price range O

EATALY GENOVA 15
Calata Catteneo 15
+39 010 869 8721
www.eataly.net
Located in the Porto Antico, this is
an address that is great for just about
anything from breakfast to a full meal.
Foodies will also love the supermarket
specialising in quality food from several
Italian regions.
O

Price range O

30 CITY BREAKS

DONT MISS
PAROLE
SPALANCANTE
The Genoa
International
Poetry Festival,
which takes
place in June
every year, is
one of the most
important events
of its kind in
the world. Dont
worry if your
Italian is not up
to scratch, Parole
Spalancante
which loosely
translates as
wide open
words attracts
performers from
far and wide, and
the emphasis is
very much on
experimentalism
rather than
traditional
recital.

time machine. I stumble across an marble counter, Signor Francesco is


old-fashioned Polleria (Polleria Anna
e Sergio, Vico Inferiore del Ferro 1r,
+39 010 247 4246), a poultry shop
that is so tiny that customers often
have to queue outside. Opposite,
Signora Daniela runs a small shop
specialising in Christmas crib items
(Btteghetta Magica, via della
Maddalena 2r, +39 010 4032443).
This particular tradition is famously
associated with Naples (as we saw
in last months Christmas issue of
Italia!) but the tradition in Genoa is
the Genoese would argue equally

stirring the broth that boils in two


large copper pots. Until not so long
ago, sailors used to congregate around
the marble tables at the back, gulping
down the broth in the morning, as
you would do with a coffee. For those
who are willing to try it, the broth is
now given away for free, providing
only that you are bringing your own
bottle or container.
HEADING TO THE SEA
Beyond the outline of warehouses and
containers runs the long, blue line of

Sailors used to congregate around the marble


tables at the back, gulping down the broth
important and goes right back to the
beginning of the 16th century.
The Tripperia is only a short walk
away from here (Tripperia La Casana,
vico Casana 3r, +39 010 2474357).
Gabriella, who reminds me of one of
those actresses in neo-realist movies,
carefully cuts and wraps cleaned
tripe for her customers. The smell is
particularly pungent and certainly
not for those with a weak stomach,
or an aversion to tripe. Next to the

the Mediterranean. Once you reach


the sea, you sit and contemplate, and
all strange desires disappear, wrote
De Andr with typically touching
verse-like words in La Cattiva Strada
(The Bad Road).
To reach Genoas most dramatic
sea front, I embark on a 30-minute
train ride to Nervi, to the east of the
city. One of the oldest resorts of the
Italian Riviera, the place has now
been incorporated into the city as

View of Genoa and the port from the panoramic


viewpoint of Spianata di Castelletto

one if its quartieri. The promenade


at Nervi is especially beautiful in
winter, the time of year when it is left
to the locals and when the mighty
waves of the sea hit the rugged

the smell of the sea all the way up


there. And yes, I would need yet
another song or the verses of a poet
to put the charming dualism of this
city into words. Q!

The city clings to the hillside, and the wind


from the gulf brings the smell of the sea
coastline with their greatest force.
At the westernmost end of the walk
is a small harbour surrounded by
brightly-coloured houses and the socalled gozzi, the shing boats that sit
quietly oating in the marina.
At the very end of my stay,
I decide that I should take the
opportunity to see the city from a
complementary point of view, and
that to do that I need to admire it
from high up. I do so like the locals
who commute every day by funicular
or lift.
A two-minute vertical lift
ride from the central Piazza del
Portello takes me to the residential
neighbourhood of Castelletto. The
rooftops of the old city greet me from
the panoramic terrace. The city clings
precariously to the hillside, and the
wind gusting in from the gulf brings

GETTING THERE
BY PLANE
British Airways ies direct to Genoa from
London Gatwick; Ryanair ies there from
Stansted. Genoas Cristoforo Colombo
airport (www.airport.genova.it) is only
6km from the city centre and there is a
shuttle bus into town called the Volabus.
Tickets for the journey are 6.
TOURIST INFORMATION OFFICE
There are two ofces: one at via Garibaldi
12r, +39 010 5572903 and another at
Piazza Caricamento. Both are open seven
days a week from 09.00-18.30.
www.visitgenoa.it

KEY TO RESTAURANT PRICES


(full meal per person, not including wine)
Up to 25
O
O
26-50
O
O
O
More than 50
O

NORTHERN ITALY Genoa

The magnicent courtyard of the


Palazzo Reale

The Porto Antico is home to Genoas


Conference Centre and the Aquarium

DONT MISS
GOA BOAT SHOW
Fittingly for
the city that
spawned
Christopher
Columbus
(probably) the
Genoa Boat
Festival is the
citys premier
event and one
of the greatest
boat shows in
the world. It is
a trade show,
and most of the
people there are
actively involved
in the buying
and selling of
boats, so the
atmosphere is
rather businesslike, but if you
do like to look
at boats (or
you want to buy
one!) October is
the time to visit
Genoa.

The tiny Art Nouveau barber shop


in vicolo Caprettari

CITY BREAKS 31

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NORTHERN ITALY Lake Orta

D I S C O V E R I TA L I A !

Clockwise from
top left: Arriving
at Isola San
Giulio; view from
Piazza Motta;
more of Isola San
Giulio; terracotta
gures in the
chapel on Sacro
Monte; the view
from Madonna
del Sasso; Piazza
Motta; view of
the island from
Piazza Motta;
Orta San Giulio;
chapel on the
Sacro Monte

34 CITY BREAKS

NORTHERN ITALY Lake Orta

48 HOURS IN

Lake Orta
Peaceful, quiet and smaller than some of the countrys more
famous lakes, Orta gave Jane Keightley the chance to consider
the understated beauty of this sub-Alpine secret

Photography Jane Keightley

escribed by Honor de Balzac as a pearl, enclosed by the


green treasure chest of the Piemontese hills, Orta is one of the
smallest of the Italian lakes, and the only one to lie entirely
in Piedmont. The main attractions, apart from the beautiful
scenery, are the medieval village of Orta San Giulio and the
island of San Giulio, which sits just opposite it. I had been inspired to visit
Orta after reading a novel set there and, as I made my way down towards the
village, it was certainly living up to my expectations.
As soon as I had unpacked I headed off towards the main square, Piazza
Motta, where, after a long days travelling, I sat and relaxed over a large glass
of red wine and a delicious risotto made from saffron, rabbit and balsamic
vinegar, whilst watching the sun go down over the island. Piazza Motta, which
is known as the salotto, or drawing room, of Orta, is surrounded on three sides
by ancient porticoed palazzos, some covered in frescoes, whilst the fourth side
looks out towards the island. Behind a row of horse chestnut trees boats are
moored, waiting to ferry you over to the island.
The most important building in the square is the Palazzotto, which was
the old council chamber. Covered in frescoes, it has a loggia underneath it and is
now used periodically for exhibitions. Now replete from both the food and the
view I wandered back to my hotel, thankful that cars are not allowed into the

narrow medieval streets.


CITY BREAKS 35

D I S C O V E R I TA L I A !

WHAT TO SEE AND DO

NORTHERN ITALY Lake Orta

BOAT TRIP TO ISOLA SAN GIULIO 1


Piazza Motta 1, Orta San Giulio
+39 333 605 0288
www.motoscasti.com
Motosca Pubblici di Orta offer trips
across to Isola San Giulio as well as other
trips around the lake. You will nd them
moored up in Piazza Motta just waiting for
the opportunity to ferry you across this
beautiful lake.

SACRO MONTE DI ORTA 2


Via al Sacro Monte, Orta San Giulio
+39 0322 911960
www.sacrimonti.net
Spectacularly set on a wooded hillside
above Orta San Giulio, with fantastic views
of the lake and the island, this UNESCO
World Heritage Site is a devotional path
which follows a series of frescoed chapels
illustrating the life of St Francis of Assisi.
The 21 chapels, which were erected
between 1591 and 1750, are built in the
baroque and Renaissance styles and have
in total 376 terracotta sculptures and 900
frescoes, all depicting various stories about
the life of St Francis.

MADONNA DEL SASSO SANCTUARY 3


Via Panoramica, Boleto, Madonna del Sasso
+39 0322 981156
www.comune.madonnadelsasso.vb.it
This sanctuary, which includes a baroque
church, bell tower and hermitage, was built
in the 18th century. Inside the buildings
are some interesting frescoes and outside
there is a Bocca della Verit, or Mouth of
Truth. However, the highlight of the trip
has to be the magnicent view of the
whole of the lake.

THE TAP MUSEUM 4


Piazza Martiri 1, San Maurizio dOpaglio
+39 0323 89622
www.museodelrubinetto.it
This surprisingly interesting museum
shows the importance of the tap industry
to the local area and explains about the
technological development of taps and
water supply in general. Free to go in, it is
open from Tuesday to Sunday between 3pm
and 6pm.

THE KITCHENWARE MUSEUM 5


Parco Pasquale Maulini 1, Omegna
+39 0323 866141
www.forumomegna.org
The comune of Omegna is famous in
Italy, and beyond, for being home to
several companies that produce stylish
kitchenware. These include Alessi,
Lagostina, Bialetti, Piazza and Calderoni.
This museum showcases their products and
how they developed. It is open between
9.30am and 5.30pm on weekdays.

36 CITY BREAKS

View of the island


from the Sacro Monte

DONT MISS
THE PINOCCHIO
INDUSTRY
Woodworking
was a popular
occupation in
the Valstrona
area at the north
of the lake.
Production once
concentrated on
kitchen articles,
but now focuses
on Pinocchio, the
famous wooden
puppet. One of
the best-known
workshops to see
this is Mastro
Geppetto.

The next morning I was eager to


explore more thoroughly and I started
off by looking round the village. Off
the Piazza Motta a wide street leads
uphill to the parish church of Santa
Maria Assunta, a pale peach baroque
building founded in the 15th century.
On either side of the street are various
palazzos, including the Palazzo
Gemelli and the Casa dei Nanni
(house of dwarves) which takes its
name from its dwarf-sized windows.
Down the hill I explored the rest of

nobody would volunteer to row him


across, so he calmly used his cloak
as a boat and his staff as a rudder
and sailed across and vanquished the
monsters. He built himself a church
and was laid to rest there in 392 AD.
He now lies in the crypt of the 11th
century church which replaced it.
This has a very impressive interior,
some well preserved frescoes and a
magnicent pulpit made from black
serpentine stone quarried from nearby
Oira, with carvings denoting Good

Legend has it that the island was the home


of dragons and serpents until 390 AD
Ortas narrow medieval streets, which
are lined with restaurants and gift
shops, and I also visited the gardens of
Casa Bossi, which overlook the lake. I
now headed across to Isola San Giulio,
which is dominated by its large white
convent and the tower of the medieval
basilica. Legend has it that the
island was the home of dragons and
serpents until 390 AD, when Julius,
a Christian from Greece, arrived. He
wanted to cross over to the island but

winning over Evil. Look out for the


crocodile ghting with the phoenix.
Before you walk around the island
make time to visit the only shop
on the island, which is full of local
products, some of them made by the
nuns. A narrow cobbled lane leads
round the island and the nuns have
tried to maintain the tranquillity
of the place by putting up signs
advocating silence and meditation,
though these are largely ignored

WHERE TO STAY

Isola San Giulio

HOTEL GIARDINETTO 7
Via Provinciale 1, Pettenasco, Lago dOrta
+39 0323 89118
www.giardinettohotel.com
Hotel Giardinetto enjoys a marvellous
position on the side of the lake in
Pettenasco. Most of the bedrooms have
their own balconies overlooking the lake
and these have absolutely stunning views.
The staff are very friendly and helpful and it
has its own small beach and pool for guests
to use. There is also free parking. Breakfast
included in the price.

The path round the lake

Back on dry land I enjoyed a


delicious lunch before heading off to
the Sacro Monte. The Sacro Monte di
San Francisco is a UNESCO World
Heritage Site which consists of a hill
dotted with 20 chapels all illustrating
the life of Saint Francis of Assisi. This
lies just behind Orta San Giulio. Not
feeling particularly energetic after my
lunch I was pleased to nd out that
once you get to the top of the hill the
chapels are pretty much on the same
level. The chapels were all built at
different times, in different styles,
between 1591 and 1788 and are
decorated with frescoes and terracotta
gures depicting the life of St Francis.
The chapels are all numbered and a
nger on each one points you in the
direction of the next. It is well worth
spending an hour or two wandering
around this peaceful place where,
as well as being able to enjoy the
chapels, you can get beautiful views
of the lake and the island. Of all the
Sacri Monti in Italy this is the only
one dedicated to Saint Francis all
the others are devoted to Christ.
As I sat having a gelato back
down in the village I noticed a tiny
white building high up on a rocky

outcrop on the opposite side of the


lake. I found out that it was the
Madonna del Sasso Sanctuary and
that from up there you could view
the whole lake and even see Milan
on a clear day. I decided to see this for
myself. After a tortuous journey up
the mountainside, round numerous
hairpin bends, I nally got there and
it was certainly worth the effort. The
brilliant blue lake shimmered below,
surrounded by the snow-capped
mountains and, as promised, I could
see Milan far away in the distance.
Unfortunately, by the time I got
there the pretty baroque church was
closed. On the outside of the church,
however, there is a version of Romes
Bocca della Verit (Mouth of Truth)
where, legend says, you are liable
to lose your hand if you put it in
the stone lions mouth and tell a lie.
By now I was tired and hungry and
I headed back to Orta San Giulio
looking forward to a relaxing evening
and more good food.
The next morning I decided to
head off to explore the rest of the
lake. My rst stop was San Maurizio
dOpaglio, where I found the Museo
del Rubinetto the tap museum.

DONT MISS
IL TRENINO
DI ORTA
Between March
and October,
a little tourist
train il Trenino
di Orta shuttles
between the
town centre, the
Sacro Monte, and
the train station,
approximately
every half hour.
It is invaluable
for conquering
Ortas steep
slopes and
navigating its
narrow streets.

HOTEL LEON DORO 8


Piazza Motta 42, Orta San Giulio
+39 0322 911991
www.albergoleondoro.it
A centuries old building on Piazza Motta,
this hotel looks directly across to Isola San
Giulio. Bedrooms are bright and
airy and some have jacuzzi style baths.
Family run and very friendly. Room tariffs
include breakfast.

LA CONTRADA DEI MONTI 9


Via Contrada dei Monti 10, Orta San Giulio
+39 0322 905114
www.lacontradadeimonti.it
A small, family run hotel in the centre
of Orta, very well located as it is not far
from the restaurants and shops. It has
comfortable, stylish rooms, many of them
overlooking the pretty and small courtyard
where breakfast is served in the summer
months. Room rates include breakfast.

LOCANDA DI ORTA 10
Via Olina 18, Orta San Giulio
+39 0322 905188
www.locandaorta.com
Locanda di Orta is a very good value
hotel right in the centre of Orta. The
rooms combine medieval touches with
contemporary design. The restaurant is on
a rooftop terrace, and dining there means
you can enjoy some amazing views. Rooms
include breakfast.

CITY BREAKS 37

NORTHERN ITALY Lake Orta

Villa Crespi

VILLA CRESPI 6
Via G. Fava 18, Orta San Giulio
+39 0322 911902
www.villacrespi.it
Staying at Villa Crespi is a wonderfully
unique experience. A Moorish style villa,
complete with its own minaret, it offers 14
ornate rooms with sumptuous four poster
beds, antique furniture and decadently
luxurious bathrooms. Staff are helpful,
polite and courteous and there is ample car
parking in the grounds around the hotel.
Includes breakfast

D I S C O V E R I TA L I A !

7 12

WHERE TO EAT

NORTHERN ITALY Lake Orta

HOTEL CRESPI 11
Via G. Fava 18, Orta San Giulio
+39 0322 911902
www.villacrespi.it
Ortas nest hotel is also home to a
quite superb restaurant. Antonino
Cannavacciuolos gourmet dishes have
earned him two Michelin stars over
the years. Set in extravagant, exotic
surroundings, dining here is an experience
not to be missed. A meal for two with wine
will cost from 200.
O
O

Price range O

15 9
10
14 8
2
1

13

6 11

HOTEL GIARDINETTO 12
Via Provinciale 1, Pettenasco
+39 0323 89118
www.giardinettohotel.com
The Giardinettos light and airy restaurant
looks directly out over the lake and, while
you are enjoying the wonderful views, you
can have a truly great meal too. The staff
are very friendly and helpful, and there is a
very good selection of wine to choose from
to accompany your dishes. A meal for two
with wine will cost from 90.
O

Price range O

Map data 2015 Google

TAVERNA ANTICO AGNELLO 13


Via Solaroli 5, Miasino
+39 0322 980527
www.anticoagnello.it
A very friendly family run restaurant located
up in the hills above Orta in Miasino. Set
in the grounds of the Villa Nigra, the food
is delicious and well worth the journey. The
lady who runs it speaks excellent English
and is very welcoming. Make sure you save
some room for the desserts. A meal for two
with wine costs from 85.
O

Price range O

RISTORANTE VENUS 14`


Piazza Motta 50, Orta San Giulio
+39 0322 90 362
www.venusorta.it
Situated in Piazza Motta with magnicent
views of the Lake and the island, you can
either sit inside, or choose to eat on a
table out on the piazza. The food is good
and there is a varied and interesting menu
on offer. A meal for two with wine costs
from 80.
O

Price range O

ENOTECA AL BOUEC 15
Via Bersani 28, Orta San Giulio
+39 339 584 0039
www.alboeuc.beepworld.it
Dont miss this cosy little wine bar
situated in a very old building, and
the perfect place to linger for an
atmospheric glass or two They serve light
meals to accompany their wonderful wines.
O

Price range O

38 CITY BREAKS

DONT MISS
ORTAS OWN
MIAMI BEACH
On the southeastern shore
of the lake lies
Spiaggia Miami,
Ortas own Miami
Beach. Not far
from Orta San
Giulio, it offers
all the usual
beach facilities
and has a bar
and a restaurant.
Enjoy a taste
of the seaside
surrounded by
the beautiful
scenery of
the hills and
mountains.

I wondered how interesting a


whole museum about taps could
be but I was pleasantly surprised.
I was shown round by S. Del Duca
from the Ecomuseo del Lago dOrta
Association, who explained the
history of tap making in the local
area. It was fascinating. Ill never
look at taps in the same way again!
I then went on to Omegna which,
although not as obviously picturesque
as Orta San Giuilio, is a pleasant
town. Omegna is famous for being
the home of the Italian kitchenware
industry and being the headquarters
of Alessi and Bialetti and has several
factory outlets selling their wares. In
the centre of the town is a fascinating
museum showcasing the history of
kitchenware produced in this region.
An interesting fact about the river
that ows through Omegna is that
it ows north, unlike the other rivers
of the Italian Lakes, which all ow
south. This has given rise to a saying
in the local dialect, La Nigoglia la
va in su e la legge la femo nu! which
means, The Nigoglia runs upwards
and we make our own laws!
As I returned back to Orta San
Giulio I passed through the village of

Legro, which has become famous for


the frescoes painted onto the houses,
inspired by the work of the local poet
and writer Gianni Rodari and by
lms made in the Lake Orta area.
Back in Orta, I decided I
would walk round the whole of the
peninsula that Orta is situated on.
This path, called the Lungolago 11
Settembre 2001, gives many different
viewpoints of the lake. As I walked I
admired Ortas most distinctive hotel,
Villa Crespi, which is located away
from the lake in its own grounds.
This amazing building, which
resembles a Moorish palace with
its minaret, dates from 1879, when
Cristoforo Crespi, a cotton trader
who made his fortune in Baghdad,
returned to Orta and built a palace
to remind him of the East. It is now
a four-star hotel with a two Michelin
starred restaurant.
My stay in this peaceful place was
now drawing to a close and although
I had managed to t in a great deal,
48 hours was not long enough and I
would love to return and have time to
try some of the beautiful and scenic
walks in the area and visit Lake Ortas
own sandy beach, Spiaggia Miami. Q!

NORTHERN ITALY Lake Orta

Santa Maria Assunta

Enjoying the calm of the waters edge

GETTING THERE
BY PLANE
Fly to Bergamo (Orio al Serio) airport
with Ryanair from nine UK & Ireland
airports. Get a bus to Milan Centrale
Station and travel the rest of the way
by train.

Terracotta gures

The view from the


Madonna del Sasso
Sanctuary

TRAIN
Travel from Milan Centrale to OrtaMiasino station, changing at Novara. The
station is about a 20-minute walk down
to Orta San Giulio, or take a taxi, or use
the Trenino (the little tourist train).
BY CAR
The most direct way to reach Orta from
Milan is to follow the A26 tollway and
exit at Meina, for the south end of the
lake, or Gravellona Toca for the north end
of the lake.
KEY TO RESTAURANT PRICES
(full meal per person, not including wine)
Up to 25
O
O
26-50
O
O
O
More than 50
O

CITY BREAKS 39

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NORTHERN ITALY Milan

View of the Arco della Pace


from the Torre Branca

Secret Milan

A idyllic corner of rural Milan:


the Naviglio della Martesana

Follow Milan resident Marina Spironetti as she


reveals the things you should experience when
visiting northern Italys biggest city

A customer sipping a cocktail


at the Fonderie Milanesi

All photos Marina Spironetti

The top oor of the Museo del Novecento, from where you
have a wonderful view over the Cathedral Square

CITY BREAKS 41

NORTHERN ITALY Milan

D I S C O V E R I TA L I A !

A bartender prepares a cocktail


at the Fonderie Milanesi

Milan is a rather bashful city, designed for locals rather than

raditionally associated
with fashion and design,
Milan is relatively poor
of sights when compared
to other Italian cites such
as Rome, Venice or Florence. Which
is why most people see it in a hurry,
take a few pictures of the Duomo,
head to Santa Maria delle Grazie to
see Leonardos Last Supper and then
move on to the next destination, after a
customary shopping spree.
Big mistake. As any Milanese
will tell you, Milan is one of the most
enjoyable cities in Italy in terms of
quality of life and things to do. Still, it
is a rather bashful city, designed for
locals rather than tourists, and it needs
more time to be fully appreciated.
42 CITY BREAKS

The tips that follow are far from being


a comprehensive insiders guide.
They simply aim to scratch a little
deeper below the surface of the city,
suggesting both the little known gems
and the latest novelties and hopefully
they will make your next visit to Milan
even more enjoyable, whether you are
there for business or pleasure.
A BIRDS EYE VIEW
Undeniably, the best aerial view
is from the rooftop of Piazza del
Duomo (daily 9am-7pm, last ascent
6pm, 12 by lift; 7 stairs). A little
piece of heaven awaits you up there
surrounded by a magical forest of
spires, gargoyles and sculptures, you
will enjoy a fantastic vista of the city

and its surroundings. If the weather is


particularly clear, you will be able to
see all the way to the Matterhorn.
If you have already been up
there for that is admittedly one of
the touristy things to do there are
a few alternatives that can be equally
rewarding. The rst is from the
Museo del Novecento, on the side of
the cathedral (via Marconi 1, Mon
2.30pm-7.30pm; Tue Wed Fri Sun
9.30am-7.30pm, Thu and Sat 9.30am10.30pm. 5. Free every Friday from
3.30pm). After a full immersion into
the best Italian 20th-century painting,
head to the top oor and relax on one
of the chairs by its large windows.
The most breathtaking view of the
cathedral and its piazza awaits there.

The vintage
atmosphere of
the Sacrestia
Farmacia Alcolica

The Torre Branca has a


belvedere that offers
remarkable views

The Naviglio della Martesana starts near the


Stazione Centrale and ows through some lovely
little towns all the way to the Adda River

tourists, and it needs time to be fully appreciated

THE MILAN OF THE FUTURE


Right, the skyscrapers. Those high-rise
buildings can be seen from several
parts of the Milan and are obviously
not a secret, but they certainly bring
a much-needed addition to the
cityscape. Take a peek at this brandnew neighbourhood and head straight
to its heart, the beautiful Piazza Gae
Aulenti, dedicated to the late Italian
architect. It is often the site of concerts
and events and it is especially
beautiful in the evening, when the
lights of the three shallow fountains
are on and give the square a strange,
futuristic look.

CITY BREAKS 43

NORTHERN ITALY Milan

Tudor-style architecture in
the heart of Milan

Perfect on a rainy day as well as in the


middle of the summer, when the aircon
will be a fantastic alternative to the
heat of the city.
To the left hand side of the
Duomo, the outdoor terrazza of Bar
Milano, on top of La Rinascente
department store, offers another
impressive view (Piazza Duomo,
9.30am-12pm). La Rinascente is a
sort of Italian Selfridges and its caf
is perfect for anything from breakfast
to aperitivo great for an afternoon
break as well as for a business meeting.
The menu is not exactly cheap, which
is just about the only downside.
Everything comes at a price, after all.
Parco Sempione, the lung
of the citys fashionable western
neighbourhoods, offers yet another
striking panoramic viewpoint, the
Torre Branca (via Camoens 2. Open
every day, except in case of adverse
weather conditions. Irregular seasonal
hours for further information call
+39 02 3314120 or mail to info@fpseventi.it; 5).
Designed by Gio Ponti, the
architect behind so many projects
that turned Milan into the design
capital that it is, this steel tower is a
true architectural challenge and was
built in record time just 2.5 months
in 1933, for the fth Triennale
exhibition. The ascent is by elevator
only and the visit is sadly limited to
only six minutes, which will give just
about enough time for some souvenir
snaps. There are beautiful views of the
Parco Sempione area including the
Arena and the imposing Arco della
Pace, a Napoleonic triumphal arch
and of the new skyscrapers of the Porta
Nuova area.

D I S C O V E R I TA L I A !

NORTHERN ITALY Milan

Unlike other major Italian cities,


Milan doesnt have either a river or
the sea,which is probably why people
have always tried to compensate for
this lack of water since the time of
Leonardo. Giorgio de Chirico came up
with the most curious solution with
his Mysterious Baths, which have been
recently restored and can be admired in
the gardens of the Triennale di Milano,
within Parco Sempione. The quirky
installation was meant to be a present
of De Chirico to the city of Milan for
the 15th Triennale fair in 1973. The
artist, who was 85 at the time, created
a surreal corner of his beloved Greek
sea: a curvy pool with two bathers, a
sh and a huge bright-coloured swan.
Aside from this artistic surrogate
of the sea, in the old times Milan
used to be a small version of Venice,
crisscrossed as it was by a series of
man-made navigable canals built over
seven centuries. The Naviglio Grande
and nearby Naviglio Pavese are now
one of the hotspots of the Milanese
nightlife, but the third and leastknown of the surviving canals, the
Naviglio della Martesana, will offer
the perfect escape if you are tired of the
hustle and bustle of the city. The best
way to discover this peaceful side of
Milan is by bike (daily pass available
with BikeMi, the citys bike sharing
system. Register on bikemi.com),
making the most of a 38km-long bike
lane, a welcome surprise in a country
that is still not very friendly to people
on two wheels. The Martesana starts
nearby the Stazione Centrale and ows
through some lovely little towns, all
the way to the Adda River. If you
need some more adrenalin, have a go
at canoeing. From May to October,
Canoa Fluviale Martesana in Cernusco
sul Naviglio offers both beginners and
advanced courses (via Michelangelo
Buonarroti 59, Cernusco sul Naviglio,
canoamartesana.it).
BEHIND CLOSED DOORS
Milan has often been described as
shy. It hides its beauty, rather than
revealing it straight away. The typical
Milanese courtyards are a perfect
example of the reserved nature of
the city. It would be impossible to
name all the cortili that are worth a
look it is also a bit of a challenge, for
most of them are private and others
are open only on special days. Still,
44 CITY BREAKS

The shabby chic atmosphere of


the Fonderie Milanesi
A little corner of Tudor England

The Parco Sempione with the


Torre Branca in the background

Meanwhile, if you happen to walk along via Giambologna,


Inside the Sacrestia

NORTHERN ITALY Milan

View of the Parco Sempione, the Arena and


the skyscrapers of the Garibaldi area

you will suddenly feel like you are somewhere in rural England
if you happen to be in Corso Buenos
Aires, peek through the entrance of
Palazzo Luraschi, at no. 1, to see one
of the most spectacular ones. The
marble columns come straight from
the old lazaret, while the 12 busts on
top represent the characters of The
Betrothed, the masterpiece of the most
Milanese of all writers, Alessandro
Manzoni. At no. 2 of via Soncino is
another emblematic building, the
16th-century Palazzo Stampa, with
its characteristic tower. Inside, an
impressive porticoed courtyard with
18th-century stables and an even
older well with the coat of arms of the
Stampa family.
Sometimes even churches can hide
their secrets. The medieval church of

San Bernardino alle Ossa (via Verziere


2) has a name that says it all ossa
meaning bones in Italian. The
narrow passageway to your right after
the entrance will lead you to a small
side chapel whose walls are entirely
decorated with skulls and human
bones. According to a legend, the
bones belong to the martyrs killed by
heretics in St Ambroeus time; others
speculate they are what is left of those
who died during a pest outbreak.
More likely, they come from a nearby
medieval cemetery that run out of
space in the 13th century. Whatever
the truth is, what you are going to see
there is not for the faint-hearted!
Meanwhile, if you happen to walk
along via Giambologna (at the corner

between via Ottolini and Via Tadini,


opposite the Baravalle park), not far
from the Bocconi University, you will
suddenly feel like you are somewhere
in rural England. Believe it or not, you
will be greeted by a couple of large
half-timbered villas in perfect Tudorstyle. Nobody really know why they
were built like that, but legend has it
that it was thanks to two importers of
German or English pianos, who must
have been homesick and missed their
Nordic architecture.
Further examples of this rather
bizarre British spell can be found
at the Istituto Vittoria Colonna (via
Conservatorio 4), a private school
that would t well in Oxford or
Cambridge, and the church of San
CITY BREAKS 45

Camillo de Lellis (at the corner

NORTHERN ITALY Milan

between via Boscovich and via Lepetit).


The architect behind both of them is
Spirito Maria Chiappetta (1868-1948),
a huge fan of the Gothic style.

Ancient and modern

This is one place you wont discover by chance


The bar at the Fonderie
Milanesi in Milan

46 CITY BREAKS

DRINKING AND DINING


Last but not least, food. Hidden away
in a 19th-century building, Fonderie
Milanesi (via Giovenale 7, +39 02
36527913) is a pleasant surprise in
the heart of Milan, just a stones throw
from the movida of the Navigli district.
This is one place you wont discover
by chance once you are at the right
door, you have to get all the way to
the end of a long courtyard, walking
past a block of old-fashioned houses
and a car garage before you can see
the sign. Perfect for those who want
to experience the rural atmosphere
of a long-gone Milan and good for
anything from a Sunday brunch to
an aperitivo. The place is becoming a
favourite among the hip crowds, so its
better to book a table, especially if you
want to eat there.
If beer is your thing, you need to
try the locally produced brew from
Birricio Lambrate, at the eastern
edge of the city (via Adelchi 5, +39 02
70638678, birriciolambrate.com).
Their rst beer was made back in
1996 nowadays they brew 18 types
and they are recognized as a national
reference point. The atmosphere is an
eclectic mix of an Italian bar and an
Irish pub. The patrons often spill out
of the venue and take over the street,
especially in the summer.
If you happen to be by the
Naviglio Pavese, one of the canals
of Milan, chances are the Sacrestia
Farmacia Alcolica (via Conchetta 20)
will lure you in because of its rather
peculiar name. Once you are inside,
you will fall in love with its unique
and ever-changing dcor, which is
the result of owners Geremia and
Valentinas passion for anything retro.
Each piece of furniture has a story to
tell, from the marble counter, which
used to be a staircase to the faded red
chairs that come straight from Teatro
La Scala. Not to mention a large
cabinet full of old pharmacy bottles
and alembics, an obvious homage to
the places name. And even if they
dont have the medicine for you, their
cocktail will be the best ever remedy
after a long day of sightseeing! Q!

&

FOOD
NORTHERN ITALY Gavi

WINE
IN THE

Gavi
Region

Colourful Gavi houses

Photography Heather Crombie

Heather Crombie visits Piedmont for the rst


annual Di Gavi in Gavi festival, a celebration of
the areas food and wine

Di Gavi in Gavi

Nostra Signora delle Grazie


della Valle

CITY BREAKS 47

NORTHERN ITALY Gavi

D I S C O V E R I TA L I A !

View from the fort

Harpist in Gavi

Tasting at Broglia

48 CITY BREAKS

Vines

Breakfast at Villa Pomela

Mosaic at Libarna

Villa Pomela

one thing, it was always thought


that Gavi could only be enjoyed
young, with its tremendous citrusy
freshness, but extensive tastings have
demonstrated its durability.
Many varieties of Gavi store
beautifully, becoming richer and
more complex while maintaining
their smooth, pleasing balance.
The sparkling Riserva and Riserva
Spumante Metodo Classico have been
included in the Gavi DOCG canon
since 2010, wines with a complex
bouquet and mineral softness that
make ideal aperitivi or celebration
wines. It seems Gavi winemaking has
reached maturity one would think
so after a thousand years and begun
to make a real impact on the market.
One of the most illustrious of
winemakers in this area is Piero
Broglia, whose wines were chosen to
be served at the G20 in 2009, the

G20 in 2013 and also at the Vatican.


Their wines have won multiple
international awards, betting the
oldest of the Gavi wine vineyards.
Families like the Moccagattas
have also continued to pioneer new
methods of production, while
perfecting traditional techniques.
Their home and their passion is
Villa Sparina, one of the most popular
vineyards in the region. Their
Monterotondo Cru was the rst
Gavi di Gavi wine to be awarded
the prestigious Gamero Rosso Tre
Bicchieri award, and they pride
themselves on cultivating indigenous
grapes in the majority of their
100 hectares of land. The hospitality
on offer at Villa Sparina is luxurious
but unpretentious, and their
accommodation is popular with
visiting dignitaries, honeymooning
couples and families.

Fontanassa

Broglia

Gavi fort

Heather with friend Alessandra

From Basilica Nostra


Signora della Guardia

CITY BREAKS 49

NORTHERN ITALY Gavi

he Gavi region seems


almost hidden from the
worlds view, as though
the Apennine mountains
to the north and the sea
to the south form a protective shield.
Even now, when the prole of Gavi
wine is steadily developing across
Europe, it is not a familiar label at our
tables. Perhaps it has suffered from
being in the shadow of the mighty
Barolo and other big reds that we
associate with Piemonte. Whatever
the reason, it is time for Gavi wine to
step out of the shadows as a delightful
demonstration of what the Cortese
grape can do.
Gavi is a familiar name to
sommeliers, of course, and those in
the know have long held it in high
regard. It is only quite recently,
however, that it has begun to enjoy
the wider acclaim it deserves. For

NORTHERN ITALY Gavi

Their restaurant, La Gallina, offers


local specialities made with fresh
ingredients many of which are taken
from the kitchen garden nearby.
Several cantinas in the area provide an
excellent level of hospitality, luxurious
accommodation and superb on-site

climate and the terrain are ideal for


it, with cool sea breezes from Genoa
keeping the summers fresh and a
mixture of rich clay with stretches
of lighter, mineral-rich calciferous
soil. The DOCG production zone
encompasses eleven villages: Bosio,
Capriata dOrba, Carrosio, Francavilla

During my stay I visited Libarna,


the excavated Roman town that was
discovered in the 19th century. A
beautiful place to imagine the ancient
wine heritage of the region, there is a
remarkably complete mosaic from the
triclinium (dining room), where you
can picture Roman nobles enjoying
the fruits of the
fertile Piemonte

Many varieties of Gavi store beautifully, becoming richer and more complex
restaurants. Try Villa Pomela
with time, all the while maintaining the smooth, pleasing balance
(attached to Cascina Perpetua)
with its restaurant Al Cortese,
or Villa Pallavicini, which also boasts
a swimming pool.
In the State Archives of Genoa
they keep a document referring to
wine production in this region which
is dated 3 June 972 AD. It can be no
surprise that vine cultivation was an
early industry in the Gavi area; the

Bisio, Gavi, Novi Ligure, Parodi


Ligure, Pasturana, San Christoforo,
Serravalle Scrivia and Tassarolo. In
the main they use the Cortese grape,
sweet and fresh, rst referred to in
the 17th century by a local Estate
Manager discussing his planting
scheme with the Marchese Doria.

Fruit shop

River Lemme

50 CITY BREAKS

Fontanassa

Di Gavi in Gavi

soil. As my guide Andreina said,


Here we have treasures, but they are
hidden. It is true, all the time we
spent strolling across the wild thyme
and sandstone of Libarna, we didnt
meet another soul.
Piemonte is also regarded as
the birthplace of ravioli, which is

popularly eaten with either

historically fascinating, with g trees


dripping fruit over the fortied walls
and rows of vines being cultivated on
the very top of the hill.
I was lucky to be staying in
Piemonte for the rst annual Di
Gavi in Gavi festival, a celebration
of food and wine, with local music

to cure before being thinly sliced and


served. It is a delicacy recognised as
a Slow Food product, and one of the
jewels in Piemontes culinary crown.
If you feel the need to walk off
some of the food and wine that Gavi
has to offer, you can take the steep
climb up to Gavi Fort. From the

Other specialities of the Piemonte region include thin, crisp focaccia


and artworks and products all over
with olive oil and salt, and the highly-prized Testa in Cassetta

comes from the wooden storage box


that is traditionally used to mould the
shape of the sausage. Testa in Cassetta
is a type of head cheese, similar to
a salami. Made from pork and beef
(admittedly, most of which is sourced
from the heads of the animal) with a
variety of vegetables and seasoning, it
is shaped in a cows intestine and left

Fontanassa

Nostra Signora delle Grazie


della Valle

the town of Gavi. Events like these


will help put Gavi and its surrounds
more prominently on the visitors
map of Italy. There I spoke to Sonia,
who moved back to Gavi with her
family. She said, You can buy food at
the market every day, you dont need
to go to the supermarket. I lived in
Milan, I lived in Genoa, but now Ive
returned to Gavi and I love it. Q!

look-out towers at each corner you can


enjoy a dizzying view of the region. It
is enormous, and built into the stone
of the hilltop on which is sits. This
gives it such an air of permanence
and solidity, and it must have been
a fearful sight for British prisoners
of war who were brought here in
the 1940s. Now it is peaceful and

Le Cantine del Gavi

Gavi fort

CITY BREAKS 51

NORTHERN ITALY Gavi

a rich tomato sauce or with Gavi


wine. Other specialities of the region
include thin, crisp focaccia with olive
oil and salt; soft amaretti; chocolate
(the Novi factories are celebrating
100 years of operation this year) and
the highly-prized Testa in Cassetta,
or head in a box. It is not quite as
alarming as it sounds the name

NORTHERN ITALY Gavi

GETTING THERE

VILLAS AND CANTINAS

WHERE TO STAY

BY CAR
Gavi is about an hours drive from Genoa airport up the autostrada
to Milan. A car is a good idea if you are visiting vineyards, though
there are guides who will offer transport and tours. Take a look at
the tour offered here: www.ofcineturistiche.it/en/wine-tastingin-gavi-walking-tour/

VILLA SPARINA
Franzione Monterotondo 56, Gavi
 +39 0143 607801
www.villasparinaresort.it

RELAIS VILLA POMELA


Via Serravalle 69, Novi Ligure
+39 0143 32910
www.pomela.it
A striking 18th century villa in beautiful
surroundings, elegant and luxurious.
Many of the suites have large sun
terrace balconies perfect for enjoying
the magnicent views.

BY TRAIN
There is a reliable rail network servicing the area indeed it was
the construction of the railway that led to the discovery of the
Roman site at Libarna. Arquata Scrivia train station has regular
services to Milan, Pavia, Brescia and Turin, making Gavi a great
base from which to explore the surrounding cities by rail.
BY PLANE
Genoa Cristoforo Colombo Airport is rather impressive to y into
as it is built on an articial peninsula between the sea and the
mountains. There are regular ights from a variety of UK airports.
Alternatively, Milan Linate is about 90 minutes by car.
BY BIKE
The area around Gavi is heaven for cyclists. Maps are freely
available online and from tourist information centres, and
you can also visit Europes largest cycling museum, Museo dei
Campionissimi, in Novi Ligure.

VILLA PALLAVICINI
Via Monterotondo 99/101, Serravalle Scrivia
 +39 143 633332
www.villapallavicini.com
CANTINA FONTANASSA
Fraz. Rovereto 172, Gavi
 +39 143 645455
www.fontanassa.com
BROGLIA LA MEIRANA
Localit Lomellina 22, Gavi
 +39 143 642998
www.broglia.it
LA GIUSTINIANA ANTICA TENUTA
Fraz. Rovereto 5, Gavi
 +39 143 682132
www.lagiustiniana.it
info@lagiustiniana.it
LA CHIARA
Localit Vallegge 24/2, Gavi
 +39 143 642293
www.lachiara.it
IL POGGIO
Fraz. Rovereto 171, Gavi
 +39 143 682081
www.ilpoggiodigavi.com
CASTELLARI BERGAGLIO
Fraz. Rovereto 136, Gavi
 +39 143 644000
www.castellaribergaglio.it
LE CANTINE DEL GAVI
Via Goffredo Mameli 69, Gavi
 +39 143 642458
www.ristorantecantinedelgavi.it

PICCOLO HOTEL
Piazza M. della Benedicta 15R, Gavi
+39 143 643485
www.ilgirasolegavi.com
As you might imagine from the name,
this is a tiny hotel with only four rooms.
Though small, it is perfectly formed, and
couldnt be more central for exploring the
town of Gavi.
LOSTELLIERE AT VILLA SPARINA
Franzione Monterotondo 56, Gavi
+39 143 607801
www.villasparinaresort.it
Splendid views of the Villa Sparina
vineyards. Each of the 32 rooms has
been individually decorated and the villa
has won awards for innovation and design.
There is also a wellness centre on site.
CASA MELI
Via XX Settembre 25,
Parodi Ligure, fraz. Cadepiaggio
+39 347 311 7693
www.casameli.com
A comfortable B&B set in the grounds of
a country estate, surrounded by vineyards.
Enjoy the relaxing atmosphere where
guests can unwind and enjoy the scenery.
VILLA LA BOLLINA
Via Monterotondo 58
Serravalle Scrivia
+39 143 65334
www.hotelvillalabollina.com
info@labollina.com
This is a refurbished four-star villa
in Serravalle Scrivia, just a couple of
kilometres fromthe Serravalle designer
shopping outlet. It has its own golf course
and beautiful views.
HOTEL CASTELLO
Piazza Dante 11r, Gavi
+39 143 642794
www.hotelalcastello.net
A basic but comfortable family-run hotel
in the heart of Gavi. Handy for shopping
at the Serravalle shopping outlet. It is
worth investing the extra 5 for breakfast,
which is home-made and served on the
charming terrace.

Nostra Signora delle Grazie della Valle

52 CITY BREAKS

Evergreen berries

ON SALE NOW!

AVAILABLE FROM

&
OR BUY ONLINE AT
ANTHEM.SUBSCRIBEONLINE.CO.UK/SPECIALS

Photograph Roberto Ricca

Photograph Roberto Ricca

Photograph Roberto Ricca

Photograph Roberto Ricca

NORTHERN ITALY Brescia

D I S C O V E R I TA L I A !

54 CITY BREAKS

Clockwise
from top left:
A prosciutto
bar; the Teatro
Grande; enjoying
life al fresco;
youll nd
some great
local markets;
the region also
produces some
excellent wine;
and, of course,
Brescia is famous
for the Mille
Miglia; the Santa
Giulia museum;
a view across the
city at sunset

Photography Amanda Robinson unless stated

Photograph Roberto Ricca

NORTHERN ITALY Brescia

48 HOURS IN

Brescia
Amanda Robinson takes a pitstop in a city with an
outstanding heritage, great shopping and a relaxed ambience
a rich mix of old and new, just an hour from Milan

ne of the delights about il bel paese is the abundance of beautiful


vistas and outstanding locations waiting to be discovered off the
beaten track: and while Italia! Magazine is all about discovering
those secret corners of Italy, heres an absolute winner thats
hiding in plain sight, just off the A4 motorway en route from
Milan to Venice. If classic cars are your thing, then youd recognize the name of
Brescia instantly as the start and end point of the renowned Mille Miglia road
rally, but otherwise, chances are this destination probably hasnt registered on
your Italian cities to visit bucket list.
Sprawled on the broad Padano plain at the base of the Alps and bordered
on three sides by beautiful lakes of Garda, Iseo and Idra, prosperous Brescia is
set in a region of natural beauty. It is the second largest city in Lombardy, at the
intersection of two historic European corridors which connect France to Austria
(from west to east); and from north to south, the route from Germany and
central Europe to Rome. With our constant need to get from A to B, the city
literally gets passed on these busy intercity highways: but it is precisely Brescias
geographical location that has granted her an illustrious past and not one but
two UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Founded by the Gauls, this tribal settlement became Brixia, a key city of
the Roman Empire with a remarkably chequered history. Take a tour around the
town and youll find lots of impressive buildings and architecture wherever
CITY BREAKS 55

D I S C O V E R I TA L I A !

WHAT TO SEE AND DO

NORTHERN ITALY Brescia

BRESCIATOURISM 1
+39 030 372 5403
Fax: +39 030 372 5411
info@bresciatourism.it
www.bresciatourism.it
Youll get all the help you need from
the charming representatives of
Bresciatourism. As well as being very
personable, their website is comprehensive
and packed with itineraries, event details,
accommodation listings and helpful advice
to help you plan your visit to Brescia, its
environs and the lakes.
SANTA GIULIA MUSEO DELLA CITT,
AND THE CAPITOLIUM 2
Via Musei 81/bis
+39 030 240 0640
www.bresciamusei.com
The comprehensive umbrella site for all
the historic museums and UNESCO world
Heritage monuments in the Brescia area.

MUSEI MAZZUCCHELLI 3
Via G. Mazzucchelli, 2
25080 Ciliverghe di Mazzano
+39 030 212421
www.villamazzucchelli.it
Just 20 minutes drive from Brescia, this
elegant neo-Palladian villa houses not one
but three permanent antique collections
costume and fashion, household
memorabilia, and last but not least, a
museum dedicated to wine and the largest
collection of corkscrews youll ever see.
There is also a spectacular annual vintage
costume exhibition and sale (see website
for 2017 details). Open six days a week.
Tours available.

GOING UNDERGROUND 4
+39 349 099 8697
info@bresciaunderground.com
www.bresciaunderground.com
See Brescia from an entirely different
perspective the Brescia Underground
Association offers a range of fascinating
guided tours to discover what goes
on down underneath your feet. Follow
the ancient rivers and see other
subterranean evidence of the citys
heritage now hidden beneath the streets.

TEATRO GRANDE 5
C.so Zanardelli, 9
+39 030 297 9333
www.teatrogrande.it
Brescias opulent 17th-century Teatro
Grande is the sumptuous setting for an
opera season which runs throughout the
autumn and winter with a programme of
performances of classic operatic works
from Italy and beyond.

56 CITY BREAKS

Early morning at the


Piazza della Loggia

DONT MISS
MILLE MIGLIA
With much
flourish and
fanfare, this
classic car rally
begins and ends in
Brescia. Its open
to vehicles built
between 1927 and
1957 and takes
place over three
days in May every
year, driving on
open roads to
Rome and back.
If you cant be
there in May, the
museum dedicated
to the race is
open all year
round. Discover
the history and
legends of the
rally and marvel
at the classic
cars and other
automotive
exhibits.
www.mille
miglia.it
www.museo
millemiglia.it

you turn, telling the tales of the rise


and fall of a succession of powers,
factions and families.
The city has an attractive
pedestrian zone at its heart, which
makes exploring an utter delight.
Head to the main tourist office in via
Trieste (theres also one at the station)
and there youll find no end of ideas to
get the most from your visit theres
more than enough to choose from if
youre only in the city for 48 hours. A
short stroll around the city centre will

Whether youre a culture vulture,


interested in history, or prefer to soak
up the vibrant urban atmosphere from
the perspective of the many cafes,
high-fashion boutiques, antique shops
and fine restaurants dotted around
the elegant piazzas of the city, you are
spoilt for choice. Walking is the most
enjoyable way to experience the sights
of this compact city centre, but if you
wanted to travel further afield within
the city environs, its worth pointing
out the recently-built single line

The city has an attractive pedestrian zone


which makes exploring an utter delight
take you through centuries of history,
starting with Piazza Paolo VI, where
the medieval Broletto Palace stands;
as well as two cathedrals, the neoclassical New Cathedral and the 9th
century Rotunda or Duomo Vecchio.
Move on to Piazza della Loggia built
in the Renaissance, dominated by the
Loggia Palace and its ornate clock
tower, and finally to the 20th-century
Piazza della Vittoria, constructed in
the Fascist style.

metro (Metropolitana). Only opened


in 2013, it has 17 stops and runs from
5am in the morning to midnight, so
it really is a handy alternative when
youre planning your itineraries.
The wide medieval piazzas and
streets are all built around the original
Roman road system with the east to
west decumanus maximus (which is now
Via Musei) and north to south cardo
maximus, making it easy to get your
bearings. The best place to start your

WHERE TO STAY

The remains of the


Capitoline Temple

Well-preserved
mosaic oors

The bronze Winged


Victory statue

exploration is the UNESCO-listed


Santa Giulia museum in via Musei: it
showcases some of the most important
artistic treasures from the citys long
history, including the bronze Winged
Victory statue, which is the symbol
of the city. This remarkable building
is on the site of the 8th-century
Benedictine San Salvatore convent as
well as the 12th-century Romanesque
church of Santa Maria in Solario and
the 16th-century Santa Giulia and
beneath all that ecumenical splendour
is the original archeology of a high
status Roman home. Strolling around
the partly excavated buildings youll
see well-preserved mosaic floors and
top of the range Roman plumbing
among other fascinating relics.
Youll get a great impression of just
how extensive and significant the
area was as, just alongside, sits the
centre of the Roman city and the
impressive remains of the Capitoline
Temple. Built by Vespasian between
73 and 74 AD, it lay hidden in the
kitchen gardens of a palazzo until
the 19th century. Even as a partial
restoration, the noble columns are a
magnificent sight, making even more
of an impact, towering over the more

VILLA FENAROLI PALACE HOTEL 7


Via Giuseppe Mazzini, 14,
25086 Rezzato Brescia
 +39 030 279 3223
www.villafenaroli.it
The 18th-century Villa Fenaroli
Palace is located outside Brescia
and is in the gracious Palladian style.
There are 86 elegant rooms and suites
of varying size and tariff, some with
private balcony or view across the park.
An ideal retreat if you prefer somewhere
to stay just outside the city centre.

recent architecture and a modern road


around it. Finish off your morning
with a brisk walk to Brescia Castle, a
medieval fortress which dominates the
city on the summit of Cidneo Hill
its not too much of a climb and if its
a fine day youll be rewarded with fine
views over Brescia and beyond.
For the best retail therapy, head
to the area around the 15th century
Piazza della Loggia, where chic shoe
shops will vie with boutiques for your
attention, not forgetting the tempting
artisan bakers and pasticcerie of course.
The antique quarter is near via Trieste
and via Toso, and youll find several
vintage shops and art galleries along
the via Musei too. Along with the
weekly food market, the second
weekend of any month (except July
and August) sees the Mercantino
dellAntiquariato in full swing in the
porticos of Piazza della Vittoria. Its on
a grand scale and well worth a visit as
it attracts a large crowd of antique and
vintage vendors and buyers from far
and wide as well as loyal locals.
Youll eat delicious food wherever
you go in Italy, but the Brescia area
is blessed with an abundance of
tempting local produce and wines,

DONT MISS
CAMONICA
VALLEY
The Camonica
Valley has
one of the
worlds greatest
collections of
prehistoric
rock carvings.
The extent of
the carvings is
breathtaking
and certainly
worthy of
its UNESCO
World Heritage
status. Its also
a region of
natural beauty
with hiking and
biking trails,
national parks
and excellent
skiing in the
PontedilegnoTonale area to
the north.
www.valle
camonica
unesco.it

HOTEL AMBASCIATORI 8
Santa Maria Crocissa Di Rosa, 92
 +39 030 399114
www.ambasciatori.net
The modern 4-star Hotel Ambasciatori
is located just off one of the main routes
into the city, with a great view over
the castle and close to the metro for
quick access to the centro storico, piazzas,
the castle and museum. 66 rooms available.
Free wi- and a tness room on the
seventh oor of the hotel.

ALBERGO OROLOGIO 9
Via C. Beccaria, 17
 +39 030 375 5411
www.albergoorologio.it
Just an easy 15-minute walk from the
train station, the 3-star Albergo Orologio
is in the perfect spot for walking to all
the sights and museums in Brescias
historic centre. It offers a warm welcome
with a great breakfast and the cosy rooms
are comfortably furnished and clean.

IL SANTELLONE 10
Via del Santellone, 116/120
 +39 030 373 2998
www.ilsantellone.it
If you want to stay somewhere
you can really get away and relax in,
check out the comfortable resort hotel
of Il Santellone, which is just a few miles
from the city centre. A sauna, spa as well
as an indoor and outdoor pool will ease
away the stresses and strains of a heavy
days sightseeing in the city.

CITY BREAKS 57

NORTHERN ITALY Brescia

Photograph Roberto Ricca

HOTEL VITTORIA 6
Via X Giornate, 20
 +39 030 768 7200
www.hotelvittoria.com
The elegant art nouveau-style Hotel
Vittoria is next to the Duomo Nuovo
Cathedral in the pedestrian centre of
Brescia and just 200 metres from the
Vittoria Metro Station. Free internet
connection. Enjoy drinks at the Piano
Bar, Italian and international menu is
available in the restaurant.

D I S C O V E R I TA L I A !

WHERE TO EAT

NORTHERN ITALY Brescia

TRATTORIA AL FONTANONE 11
Via Musei 47/a
+39 030 40554
Youll nd this rustic trattoria in a quiet
little corner on via Musei, just down from
the Capitolium Roman Temple. Fairly small
with a limited number of tables, it has a
cosy, homely ambience. Homemade pasta
and gnocchi.

10

RESTAURANT LA SOSTA 15
Via S. Martino della Battaglia, 20
+39 030 295603
www.lasosta.it
Gracious and particular surroundings of the
old stables (check out the ceilings), the
food is elegant and tasty, with emphasis
on seasonality and local provenance.
Delicious ne dining menu with dishes
including lake sh from the nearby waters.

13
9

1
5

TRATTORIA URBANA MANGIAFUOCO 13


Via Calzavellia, 3a
+39 030 293029
www.trattoriamangiafuoco.it
Located near Piazza Vittoria, this friendly
trattoria serves traditional Brescian dishes
and has a short but excellent wine list of
Lombardian wines. Delicious local products,
the fare is simple, rich and very good.
Homemade casoncelli, and meat lovers
should try the ox cheek casserole.
O

SOLIVE 14
Via Calvarole, 15
25030 Nigoline di Corte Franca
+39 030 988 4201
www.solive.it
Nestling among vineyards and rose gardens,
Solive agriturismo has a busy restaurant
and six rooms, Many of the ingredients and
products come from Solive like the cured
pork, meat, oils and homemade desserts.
These are accompanied by local delicacies
such as olives, grapes and chestnuts.
O

BRESCIA CON GUSTO


www.slowfoodbrescia.it
Slow Food Brescia was founded in 1989
as part of the movement to prevent the
disappearance of local food cultures.
Brescia con Gusto celebrates this with
sustainable production, local ingredients
and traditional methods of cooking. A
route around town costs 45 with map,
guide, bag with wine satchel, wine glass,
plate and cutlery.

58 CITY BREAKS

OOO

11

12
14

DONT MISS
BAGOLINO
CARNIVAL
Witness the
amazing spectacle
of this 300-year
old carnival
through the
town of Bagolino
every year on
the Monday and
Tuesday before
Lent. Expect
a procession
of traditional
costumes and
a colourful
celebration of
ancient dances
and music.
www.bagolino
info.it

7
3
4
Map data 2015 Google

thanks to its varied geography and


micro climates. Pasta lovers should
seek out casoncelli the regional
variation on ravioli, with a herbinfused meaty filling wrapped in the
finest twists of golden pasta and served
with melted butter and a drizzle of
peppery olive oil. If youve a taste
for cheese, dont miss the pungent
Bagss from nearby Bagolino which is
delicious served with chutney or in the
regional cheese fondue. Youll eat well
in the town, from the fine dining style
of restaurants like elegant La Sosta,
whose lake fish menu is outstanding,
or the more rustic fare of trattorie like
Urbana Mangiafuoco. You will never
taste an ox cheek casserole so rich and
tender not surprising considering
that the chefs simple recipe uses two
litres of red wine to one kilo of meat,
simply slow cooked for a minimum of
eight hours
Fish has been part of the basic
diet here for centuries, so take a
trip to Lake Iseo if you can. If you
visit Clusane dIseo, every single
restaurant will offer the traditional
baked tench, from a recipe dating
to 19th century. On Monte Isola
(the island in the centre of lake Iseo)

many of the traditional restaurants


are still managed by fisherman.
When it comes to wines, the
region produces very drinkable
reds, whites and ross. The region
of Franciacorta just outside Brescia,
has 20,000 hectares of vineyards.
The jewel in the crown is a delicately
sparkling wine which takes its name
from the region. Not to be confused
with Italys other popular sparkler,
prosecco, Franciacorta is produced by
the mthode champenoise, creating a
more subtle mousse and crisp, biscuity
flavour. Follow the meandering Strada
del Vino dei Colli Longobardi wine
trail through the area to discover this
exquisite wine for yourself. The Solive
winery nestling in the tiny village of
Nigoline di Corte Franca is the perfect
place to sample the wines its worth
contacting them in advance if youd
like a tour around the winery itself
and you can round your visit off with
a relaxed lunch afterwards at their
agriturismo restaurant too.
Just like the layers of an onion,
the more you discover about Brescia,
the more there is to know. A stopping
off point or a base from which to
explore the wider area, Brescia has so

NORTHERN ITALY Brescia

Guinea-fowl and calfs


liver for sale

Local fruit and veg

The Villa Mazzucchelli

much to offer its visitors. From the


leisure possibilities of the glorious
lakes to a grand tour of art cities like
Verona, Bergamo, Milan, Mantua and
Cremona, add Brescia to your bucket
list and you wont be disappointed.
So next time youre speeding by on
the A4, take that detour to discover a
hugely under-rated city of fine food,
wine, art, culture and a jaw-dropping
Roman heritage for yourself.

Vintage costumes on display in the


Mazzucchelli Museum

GETTING THERE
BY PLANE
There are budget airline flights to
Bergamo Orio al Serio (80km); Milan
Malpensa (100km); Milan Linate
(100km) and Verona (50km)
BY CAR
Brescia is well served by motorways: the
A4 runs east from here towards Venice,
while the A21 runs south
BY TRAIN
The north-to-south Brennero-Modena
line runs through Brescia, and the city is
also on the main Milan-Venice line
KEY TO RESTAURANT PRICES
(full meal per person, not including wine)
Up to 25
O
O
26-50
O
O
O
More than 50
O
CITY BREAKS 59

NORTHERN ITALY Treviso

D I S C O V E R I TA L I A !

Clockwise
from top left:
La Piazza dei
Signori; weeping
willows ank
the canals; oral
displays reect
in the water;
the red radicchio
of Treviso; the
city offers many
secluded corners;
the waterways
are still very much
in use; caf tables
line an arcade;
Treviso is a city
best experienced
on foot
60 CITY BREAKS

Photography iStock

NORTHERN ITALY Treviso

48 HOURS IN

Treviso
Many travellers see no more than the citys airport, but Treviso
The Painted City has a lot to offer. Sara Scarpa avoids the
tourist trail to visit one of the lesser lights of Veneto

reviso is a name familiar to the millions of travellers who arrive


and depart the bel paese using the conveniently located airport in
the heart of the Veneto region, yet unfortunately, few will recall
the city with family and friends on their return home. Treviso
is still predominately a stepping stone to the more established
locations in the region such as Padova, Verona, Vicenza and the gem itself,
Venice. Padova, with its world renowned university and lively nightlife,
Verona, with its Roman amphitheatre and Juliets balcony, Vicenza, the
City of Andrea Palladio, and Venice, the floating jewel of Italy, surely give
substance for jumping straight onto the coach or train once stepping outside
the airport...
Well, in many ways they do. However, you will be one of thousands
doing so and with that you will fall into the trap of merely being a sightseer,
bagging a photograph at St Marks square, below Juliets balcony or in a
gondola. Treviso offers something, certainly all year round, that the others
will not: freedom, and a real sense of what it is to experience a major northern
Italian city without hordes of tourists. It is a city that boasts its own beauty,
charm and uniqueness. And of course, it is also the city that gave the world
prosecco and tiramis!
Treviso is extremely picturesque and still provides glimpses of its glorious
history. The city is encircled by impressive 16th century walls and crissCITY BREAKS 61

D I S C O V E R I TA L I A !

WHAT TO SEE AND DO

NORTHERN ITALY Treviso

LA CHIESA DI SAN NICOL 1


Via San Nicol, 50
+39 0422 548626
www.parrocchietreviso.it
A ne example of Italian Gothic
architecture. The stunning frescoes by
Tomaso da Modena and his scholars date
to the 14th century. In the chapter house
of the Monastery of San Nicol is another
great fresco cycle by Tomaso da Modena
(1352) which covers the whole perimeter
of the room representing the famous
saints of the Dominicans. The artist depicts
three monks with reading aids, one wearing
rivet spectacles, the second using a reading
glass and the third a reading glass on a
stand. This is believed to be the rst ever
depiction of people wearing glasses.

LA CHIESA DI SAN FRANCESCO 2


Viale SantAntonio da Padova, 2
+39 0422 582182
www.parrocchietreviso.it
This church, with its massive ships keel
roof dating back to the 13th century,
houses the graves of Dante Alighieris son
and Francesco Petrarcas daughter.

DUOMO DI TREVISO 3
Piazza del Duomo
www.parrocchietreviso.it
The Duomo di Treviso is Trevisos Cathedral.
In its crypt you can admire extensive
fragments of medieval frescoes but its
masterpiece is the stunning Malchiostro
Annunciation, one of Titians nest works.

MUSEO SANTA CATERINA 4


Piazzetta Mario Botter, 1
+39 0422 544864
www.museicivicitreviso.it
The Museo Santa Caterina is a former
church and a convent that has recently
been restored to house the civic museum.
Here, you will admire frescoes by Tomaso da
Modena, an extensive archeological section
and a gallery with 19th and 20th century
paintings.

LOGGIA DEI CAVALIERI 5


Via Martiri della Libert
Situated on the corner of via Martiri della
Libert and via Indipendenza, in the
heart of the historical centre of Treviso,
the Loggia dei Cavalieri dates back to the
13th century. This peculiar building was
originally used as a place reserved for the
nobility to indulge in conversation, games
and other pursuits.

CA DEI CARRARESI 6
Via Palestro, 33/38
Ca Dei Carraresi is a stunning medieval
building which now hosts important
exhibitions and conferences.

62 CITY BREAKS

La Chiesa di San Nicol is the


largest building in the city

DONT MISS
TIRAMIS
This world famous
dessert is said
to have been
invented in the
1970s by Ada
Campoel, the
former owner
of a restaurant
in the centre of
Treviso called
Alle Beccherie.
She invented it
with the help of
her chef and the
idea came from a
dessert she used
to eat as an energy
boost while she
was working and
looking after her
new born baby.
Tiramis means
pick-me-up and
with its layers of
savoiardi (sponge
fingers) dipped
in coffee and a
cream of eggs,
mascarpone
cheese and sugar,
it certainly is.

crossed by small canals, where


weeping willows appear almost to
bow in homage to the beauty of the
city. You will even find functioning
water mills dotted along the canals
and some art installations actually in
the water.
Like most medieval cities, the
best way to experience it is definitely
on foot while strolling along the
cobbled streets you can admire pretty
Renaissance squares, long arcades,
frescoed house faades and stunning

you will immediately notice the


majestic Palazzo dei Trecento (capped
with Guelph crenellations) which
is the most significant example of
Romanesque architecture in town,
and the symbol of Treviso. The huge
crack in the buildings faade is
a fake, or better, just a reminder
of where it was damaged by the
American bombings in the Second
World War.
On the north side of the
square is the Palazzo del Podest,

Like most medieval cities, the best way to


experience Treviso is definitely on foot
palaces. The splendour of the frescoes
on the faades of the buildings gave
the town its other pretty nickname
urbs picta the painted city. Although
they are faded now, some of these
frescoes are still visible and if you
close your eyes you can imagine their
colourful former glory.
The centre is very easy to reach
a short walk from the railway
will take you right at the heart of
the city, Piazza dei Signori. Here,

dominated by the great tower (Torre


del Comune). The square with its
pretty cafs is the salotto di Treviso
(Trevisos drawing room) where all
the locals tend to meet for a spritz
and ciacole (gossip). In a courtyard
tucked behind Piazza dei Signori, in
the Galleria della Strada Romana,
is a replica of the famous Fontana
delle Tette (the original Fountain
of the Tits is in the Palazzo dei
Trecento). The statue is well known,

WHERE TO STAY

MAISON MATILDA 8
Via Jacopo Riccati, 44
 +39 0422 582212
www.maisonmatilda.com
This is a small luxury hotel located right
in the centre of Treviso, near the Ca dei
Carraresi Museum and Piazza dei Signori.
Kids up to 8 years old can stay for free. You
can have breakfast at any time of the day
and wherever you prefer!

A fresco of the Vigin and


Child in St Nicholas Church

as once, throughout all of the 16th


century and up until the end of the
Serenissima Republic (1797), it used
to spill red and white wine from its
breasts for three whole days after the
election of each new mayor. This is
where the Trevigiani (the residents
of Treviso) could once drink wine for
free while cheering the new Podest
and where nowadays young people
take selfies holding its breasts.
Just around the corner is Via
Calmaggiore, the best spot for
shopping. This elegant street offers
great shops in a super classy setting.
However, I am a true believer that
for some serious shopping you
need concentration, and in order to
concentrate great food is needed... So
for me the morning is reserved only
for window shopping as my stomach
is (as always!) the priority!
Walking in direction of Piazza
San Vito with my family, we were
looking at the different restaurants
and osterie in search of inspiration...
We decided to stop to have lunch at
Cantinetta Venegazz as we liked the
friendly atmosphere and the great
selection of wines. We ordered several
starters to share and some typical

local dishes. Our favourites, for sure,


the porchetta (spit-roasted pork) and
the radicchio rosso di Treviso (a variety
of chicory typical of the area). Just
before leaving we started chatting
with some of the locals. Alberto, a
Trevigiano DOC, was super friendly.
He offered to take us with him on
a short tour of the town. With his
paisley shirt and his big smile, he is
truly a character and everybody in
town seems to know him.
Alberto started telling us
about the place just in front of the
restaurant where we had lunch. Here
is where allegedly, tiramis was
invented. At the beginning of the
70s, the then owner of the restaurant
Le Beccherie, with the help of her
chef, invented the recipe of one of
the most famous desserts ever. We
then stopped for a quick macchiato
just near the house of the founder
of the Benetton Empire. Alberto
was keen to show us his favourite
restaurants and osterie and so this
early afternoon turned quickly into
an unconventionally early Prosecco
crawl. Every stop at an osteria needed
to be properly cherished by a kindly
offered glass of Prosecco.

La Fontana delle Tette

DONT MISS
LA PESCHERIA
The fish market
is located in
one of the most
characteristic
places in the old
centre of Treviso,
in the middle of a
small river island
in the Canale
Cagnan. The
morning market
offers fresh
fish, seasonal
vegetables and
a great social
gathering.

ALBERGO IL FOCOLARE 9
Piazza Giannino Ancilotto, 4
 +39 0422 56601
www.ilfocolarehotel.com
A very pleasant hotel, right in the centre of
Treviso, Il Focolare offers a warm welcome,
and good old-fashined service. Its in a
great location just off the main piazza
and plenty of good restaurants are within
strolling distance.

RELAIS VILLA FIORITA 10


Via Papa Giovanni XXIII
Monastier di Treviso
 +39 0422 898008
www.villaorita.it
This hotel is located in a small village in
the Venetian Villas area between Venice and
Treviso (some 12 km from Treviso). Laid out
in classic Venetian style, the villa is perfect
if you are planning to relax in the park and
swimming pool. Made famous by Ernest
Hemingways stay here.

Treviso is the proud


home of tiramis

CITY BREAKS 63

NORTHERN ITALY Treviso

The Porta San Tomaso and the


citys 16th century walls

LOCANDA PONTE DANTE 7


Piazza Garibaldi, 6
 +39 0422 178 5946
www.locandapontedante.com
The Locanda is located in the centre of
Treviso in a magnicent corner where the
River Sile joins the Cagnan dove Sile e
Cagnan saccompagna, as Dante wrote.
The recently restored ancient structure is
denitely full of charm. You must try the
adjoining osteria offering excellent local
dishes. This place is a little gem.

D I S C O V E R I TA L I A !
2
12

WHERE TO EAT

NORTHERN ITALY Treviso

CANTINETTA VENEGAZZ 11
Piazza Ancillotto Giannino, 2
+ 39 0422 55287
This enoteca (wine bar) offers a friendly
atmosphere and a great selection of wines
and fresh food. You can opt for cicchetti or
you can sit down and enjoy a full hot meal.

15
9
11 6
13 14 5

10 16

7
1

ODEON ALLA COLONNA 12


Vicolo Rinaldi, 3
+ 39 0422 541012
www.odeonlacolonna.it
In a magical quiet corner facing the river
Cagnan, this restaurant offers a charming
atmosphere. The historical building with
its great interior design has a romantic
outdoor area where you can dine al fresco.

DONT MISS

OSTERIA DALLA GIGIA 13


Via Barberia, 20
+ 39 0422 582752
A busy osteria that has become an
institution in Treviso. You will probably
have to queue but it is worth it to enjoy
the tasty mozzarella in carrozza a goldencrust fried mozzarella sandwich and the
amazing tramezzini.
O

HOSTERIA DAI NANETI 14


Vicolo Broli, 2
+ 39 340 378 3158
This osteria, always packed with locals, has
a great atmosphere and a unique character.
Refuel yourself with the tasty cicchetti and
a glass of wine.
O

OSTERIA MUSCOLI 15
Via Pescheria, 23
+ 39 0422 583390
Famous for the tasty hot panino al
prosecco a small, soft panino soaked
in prosecco and then lled with
mascarpone, Gorgonzola, formaggio
latteria and mortadella.
O

RISTORANTE BASILISCO 16
Via Bison, 34
+ 39 0422 541822
www.ristorantebasilisco.com
The chef, Diego Tomasi, has great
experience working in Venice, Milan,
Florence, New York, London and France. He
creates local traditional dishes presented
in a modern way. His menu changes every
day depending on the fresh local produce
purchased in the morning. The restaurants
wine list has grown together with the
kitchen and today includes around 370
different wines.
O

64 CITY BREAKS

Map data 2015 Google

IL RADICCHIO
ROSSO DI TREVISO
This is a member
of the chicory
family cultivated
only in the area
around Treviso.
The designation
IGP, given to both
varieties, tardivo
and precoce,
refers to the
EU regulation
that allows
only products
grown within
a designated
area to use this
product name.
The different
varieties of the
red radicchio di
Treviso are all
the result of the
patient process
of whitening
obtained by
submerging the
heads for several
days after harvest
in circulating
spring water,
a process that
helped preserve
the radicchio.
Because of its
white and red
veining and the
fact that it is
seasonal, the
radicchio is often
described as a
winter flower
it appears in the
markets in late
November.

In one of the osterie I was told


that in order to see Treviso properly
one must see it as locals do... I am
still wondering if the guy who told
me this meant that this is possible
only after a few drinks or only with
the relaxed pace of life and a smile
on the face which is typical of the
Trevigiani... Perhaps both!
We walked towards the
Buranelli, the most picturesque
corner in Treviso. The canal takes
its name from the storehouse once
owned by fishermen coming from
the island of Burano, in the Venetian
lagoon. The calm waterway, almost
touched by the weeping willow, the
long arcades, and the work of art by

burci once used to stop. The burci were


big wooden boats dragged by horses
and oxen that used to transport goods
from Venice to Treviso. The itinerary
follows the path that was used by the
animals along the River Sile. Midway
along the path is a very interesting
view: the Cemetery of the Burci.
This is the place where, in the 70s,
all the boats were left to sink as a
protest against the arrival of the road
transport that stole their jobs. Today,
this is a charming place when you can
observe different species of birds and
fish and just simply enjoy the beauty
of nature.
Not only does Treviso offer a
great historical centre, it also offers a

The land between Conegliano and


Valdobbiadene offers a patchwork of vineyards
Mario Martinelli which covers the
wall of the house where the writer
Giovanni Comisso once lived create
a lovely view that is the subject of
many paintings.
Finally, we headed towards the
towns walls and said goodbye to our
wonderful guide. We then followed
the green ring encircling the walls,
looking at the swans and at some
very cute ducklings hiding under
their mums wings.
The following day after a
relaxing evening dining at Odeon alla
Colonna we hired bikes and cycled
for miles along the river, completely
surrounded by nature. The itinerary,
taking us all the way to Casale del
Sile, starts from the place where the

perfect starting point to explore the


panorama of the Marca Trevigiana
(the area around Treviso). The place
known as the original production
area for Prosecco the Prosecco
Wine Route is the most popular
wine route in Italy. If you hire a
car you will be able to discover
the land between Conegliano and
Valdobbiadene, which offers a
patchwork of vineyards, stunning
views with ancient castles, charming
churches and noble villas. You
can visit beautiful old villages
and wineries where you will learn
everything about the method of
Prosecco making and you will test
the superior quality of the world
famous sparkling white wine.

NORTHERN ITALY Treviso

The red radicchio makes many an


appearance in the citys restaurants

Bicycles are common


transport in Treviso

A monument commemorating a mention


of Treviso in Dantes Commedia

GETTING THERE

The vineyards of Valdobbiadene

BY PLANE
Currently Ryanair flies direct to Treviso
from East Midlands and London Stansted,
but check your lcal airport for the most
up-to-date information.

BY TRAIN
Treviso is well connected by rail to
Venice and other cities in the Veneto
region and beyond. For more details visit
www.trenitalia.it

KEY TO RESTAURANT PRICES


(full meal per person, not including wine)
Up to 25
O
O
26-50
O
O
O
More than 50
O
CITY BREAKS 65

Photographs Marina Spironetti unless otherwise stated

CENTRAL ITALY Gelato


D I S C O V E R I TA L I A !

66 CITY BREAKS

Marina Spironetti visits Bologna to see the rst museum dedicated


to artisan Italian gelato, and a school where aspiring entrepreneurs
are taught all the sweet secrets of gelato-making

re you a gelato addict?


Have you always
wanted to know all
tricks of the trade?
If so, the gourmet
city of Bologna is the place to be.
Carpigiani, the leading global
manufacturer of gelato-making
machines, has its headquarters just
a short drive from the city centre,
in the town of Anzola dellEmilia.
People with a sweet tooth will
be pleased to nd both a Gelato
Museum the rst of its kind and
even a gelato university, where you
can get yourself trained in the art of
gelato-making and get to eat your
assignments.

The Gelato Museum opened


its doors almost two years ago
and has already become a centre
of cultural excellence dedicated to
the understanding and study of the
history, culture and technology of
gelato. The museum features an
interactive tour that highlights three
main gelato-related themes: the
evolution of gelato over time, the
history of production technology,
and the places and means of
consuming gelato together with
more than 20 original machines,
multimedia presentations and plenty
of tools of the trade.
THE ART OF GELATO
The university is in its 11th year
of activity and has proved to be
a big success; 2,000 people enrol
every year, 50 per cent of whom
are foreigners. Courses range from

The Gelato Museum has become a centre of cultural excellence dedicated to the
understanding and study of the history, culture and technology of gelato

Main image:
Bolognas Gelato
Museum. Inset:
getting hands-on at
Carpigianis gelato
university

CITY BREAKS 67

CENTRAL ITALY Gelato

Ice cream
university...

CENTRAL ITALY Gelato

D I S C O V E R I TA L I A !

James Coleridge, founder of the renowned Bella Gelateria in


Vancouver, took his first steps here in Bologna, and frequently comes back
one to four weeks (consecutive
or not), and most of the time is
dedicated to hands-on training,
putting the theory into practice
and making gelato. No more than
25 students are allowed on each
course. The fourth week is spent in
an exact replica of a gelateria opened
to the public. Its like a trial run,
says tutor Luisa Elena Fontana,
who is also a former student.
Every morning is dedicated to
the production of 14 different
avours, which have to be ready by
noon, when we open the shop. The
afternoon is dedicated to preparing
the ingredients for the following
day, as well as some pastries.
The gelato-making process looks
like great fun, at least from the
outside: students in white smocks
crowd around shiny stainless steel
gelato machines, turning colourful
crates of fruit into scrumptious
68 CITY BREAKS

spoonfuls of bliss. They are divided


into small groups and each receives
a recipe. The lesson will be over
once the projects are lined up in
the fridge ready for tasting which
is when the best part begins! Still,
gelato-making is treated as an exact
science here, and its not as easy as
it looks. There is plenty of maths
involved, for instance, when it
comes to balancing sugar and fat.
Likewise, some of the tools of the
trade come straight from the lab:
precision scales, thermometers,
refractometers and the like.
The successful stories of the
alumni are countless awardwinning James Coleridge, for
example, founder of the renowned
Bella Gelateria in Vancouver, took
his rst steps here, and frequently
comes back. Coleridge is now a
pioneer of real handcrafted gelato in
North America.

EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS


WANTED TO KNOW
Italian gelato it is different from
American-style ice cream, which is also
known as hard ice cream. Gelato has
a dense, smooth texture and a creamy
consistency. It has less butterfat than ice
cream, as well as less air. It also has a
warmer serving temperature, which may
contribute to its high avour intensity.

Sorbet is a frozen dessert made


without dairy ingredients. It is a fat-free
and lactose-free concoction.
The word sorbet comes from the
Arabic and means sugar syrup. The rst
written recipes date back to the 11th
century. In Palermo, 400 different kinds
of owers were grown specically for
sorbet-making.
Fresh fruit, water and sugar are all
you need to make a delicious sorbet. The
combinations and amounts depend on the
type of fruit used.
Naples-born doctor Filippo Baldini
wrote a medical treatise in the 1700s
in which he divided sorbets into
three categories and for each of these
described their positive effects on health
and mood. A sorbet a day

THE VERY SWEET


TASTE OF SUCCESS
So whats the secret behind such a
popular school? Gelato itself, rst
of all. Its really Italian but its also
really universal, says course director
Kaori Ito. Gelato is the ultimate
evolution of something that has
appealed to mankind for a very
long time the tradition of crushed
ice with sugar syrup goes back to
ancient Mesopotamia.
The current tough economic
times are another perhaps more
surprising reason for the growth
of the gelato business worldwide.
The real boom for our courses came
in 2008, with the crisis, explains
Kaori. People losing their jobs were
looking for new opportunities to
relaunch their lives.
And if you are not an aspiring
gelataio, you can still take a look
at the world of artisan gelato by
joining any of the workshops
organized by the Gelato Museum
for the most passionate there is

even a Gelato Masterclass where


you can learn how to make a fruit
sorbet, follow a recipe and produce
it in the laboratory, or a Gelato
Team Building (price available on
request), where you can make your
team and challenge opponents in
the creation of the most original
ice cream avour. An expert panel
will judge the contestants on
creativity in presentation and name,
as well as product quality. On your
marks, get set, scoop! Q!

INFORMATION
CARPIGIANI GELATO UNIVERSITY
Via Emilia Ponente 45, Anzola dellEmilia
 +39 051 650 5457
www.gelatouniversity.com
GELATO MUSEUM CARPIGIANI
Via Emilia 45, Anzola dellEmilia, Bologna
 +39 051 650 5306
www.gelatomuseum.com
Open Tuesday to Saturday, 9am-6pm.
Reservation required both for visits and
workshops. Please specify any allergies or
intolerances at the time of booking.

To make it easier to eat gelato in


the street, Italian Vittorio Marchionni
requested a patent for the production
of cones and wafers. Before then, street
gelato was sold in glass cups, paper
containers, rolled wafes or sandwiched
between two cookies.
Do you know how to tell an authentic
gelateria? First of all look at the
containers. Real gelato is not frozen and
is made fresh in small batches you
wont see it piled high in containers.
Can you see a gelato machine? If not,
chances are they are buying it and it will
be frozen. Is the gelato so bright that you
need your sunglasses? If the colours are
too intense, that gelato probably contains
additives and E numbers the real thing
is made with fresh ingredients and goes
for the natural look.
The ingredients used to make gelato
(milk, eggs, cream, sugar, cocoa, fruit,
water and more) provide proteins,
carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and
minerals, making gelato a wholesome
food. Milk provides proteins and calcium.
Lactose and saccharose (the sugars
used in gelato) are a good source of
energy and so are fats. Gelato also
contains vitamins A and B2, as well as
phosphorus. And if you want a hint for
what to eat on your next break, keep
in mind that artisan gelato actually has
a better nutritional intake than your
average sandwich!

CITY BREAKS 69

CENTRAL ITALY Gelato

The origins of gelato are lost in time.


A mixture of snow and crushed ice was
already known in ancient Mesopotamia.

CENTRAL ITALY Rome

D I S C O V E R I TA L I A !

When in Rome
What to do with a teenage family when in Rome? Paul Pettengale takes
his clan on a short break to the Eternal City and makes some suggestions

70 CITY BREAKS

Main image iStock; all other images by Paul Pettengale

BEST FOOT FORWARD


Its hot. Seriously muggy. Rome is notoriously
uncomfortable in the height of summer, and this year
its in the midst of a heatwave. 35 degrees during the
day and unrelenting sun... Water bottles are very much
at the ready and comfortable shoes a must. And Im
insisting we walk everywhere so that we take in both
the atmosphere and the architecture of the Eternal City.
Its our childrens (Finlay, 16, and Keira, almost 13)
first time in Rome and Im determined to do the
dad-cum-tour-guide thing, pointing out the sights
as we traverse the city on foot.
Having perused our guidebook, notable locations
are duly requested by the children. Venturing from
the hotel doors we immediately head for the Spanish
Steps, which are just a ten-minute walk away. To be
honest, the kids are a tad disappointed, as the Steps
are currently under renovation and there seems to be
as much scaffolding to behold as Francesco de Sanctis

In their minds, Rome conjures


images of gladiatorial battles
masterpiece, comprising the 135 steps that are now
and for the foreseeable future closed to the public.
Confused Japanese tourists abound; the early evening
atmosphere somewhat tense, with African immigrants
peddling the latest fashion in cheap plastic toys that
make more noise than offer entertainment.
No matter. We move on. I hadnt visited Rome
with my wife since our first summer together, back
in 1991. Wed stayed with friends from the city and
spent just over a week experiencing life in the capital
from the perspective of a couple of 20-somethings in
their natural habitat. A lot of that week was spent in
city squares and small bars chewing the fat with
CITY BREAKS 71

CENTRAL ITALY Rome

e jump into a taxi just outside


of Fiumicino airport, our not-soyoung kids high on adrenalin and
anticipation. In their minds, Rome
conjures images of gladiatorial
battles, ancient cobbled streets and local folk sitting
outside cafes all day sipping on super-strength coffee.
Our visit starts with a typical roller-coaster ride
along the A90 and into the centre of the city. Our taxi
driver must have a pressing engagement, for he is not,
by any means, hanging around. Were used to bumperto-bumper driving in the UK, though usually at a
standstill, and certainly not at an indicated 140kph
on a packed autostrada. The car weaves, it ducks and
dives as we take sharp intakes of breath and some
45 minutes later arrive at our destination for the
next couple of days; the Hotel Savoy Roma that lies
just a corner away from the Via Vittorio Veneto, made
famous as a location for the shooting of William
Wylers Roman Holiday in 1953.

CENTRAL ITALY Rome

D I S C O V E R I TA L I A !

Book advance tickets


to avoid the queues
at the Colosseum

Coins in the fountain


and a return to Trevi
25 years on

locals, none of whom could speak English. But one


of the sights our hosts insisted we visit was the Trevi
Fountain. Coins were, of course, thrown over shoulders.
We vowed to return.
So now were back, almost precisely 25 years later.
Though this time with our children who marvel in
the green/blue waters, the ice-white marble (looking
pristine since the clean-up job that was completed
earlier in the year). We wait a while for a gap in the
early evening crowds to take photographs and soak in
the atmosphere and the sense of history the kids
coming to appreciating that theyre taking some time

do fine dining. Though after a day of travelling, walking


and (just about) surviving the taxi ride into the city,
we dont linger. Quiet, sumptuous rooms beckon, as
do large beds covered in pristine linen.
THIRSTY WORK
The following morning marks the start of my wifes
birthday, and we have a busy schedule. That said, weve
been careful not to try to cram too much into the day.
For starters, its going to be hot again. Another cloudfree sky and 35 degrees of pounding sun. And well be
doing the majority of it on foot.

So now were back, almost precisely 25 years later. Though this


time with our children who marvel in the green/blue waters
at what is almost certainly the most famous historic
fountain in the world. And, yes, further coins are added
to the 3,000 or so thats collected from the fountain on
a nightly basis to be distributed amongst the citys poor.
Once again, we all vow to return.
Walking back to the Savoy Hotel, via a friendly bar
for a much-needed respite from all of the walking, we
opt to dine at the in-house restaurant which occupies
the top tier of the hotel with utterly stunning views
across Rome; every bit as impressive at night as during
the day. The quality of the food is good, especially so
the mozzarella I had as a starter. It is a tad pricy, which
is typical for Roman hotel restaurants where you crave
the convenience of a quick elevator ride to the comfort
of your bed. You pay for convenience as much as you
72 CITY BREAKS

First up, a Roman must, especially for first time


visitors such as our children... But queuing to get
into the Colosseum during the height of the summer
can take a long time if you dont fancy making an early
start. When we arrived at around 10am, after a hearty
hotel breakfast, the wait was already in excess of two
hours. Thankfully, wed had the forethought to pre-book
our tickets online (there are several websites that offer
this option, though our advice is book from the official
one at www.coopculture.it/en/ticket.cfm). Armed with
the printouts of our reservation passes, we bypass the
main queue and are inside the astoundingly enormous
construction just 45 minutes later. A tip: take plenty
of water with you, especially during summer. You can
buy it from roaming street merchants outside of the

CENTRAL ITALY Rome

Colosseum, but its not cheap. Once inside, there are


drinking water fountains from which you can top up
your water bottles for free.
Wed missed out on the chance to experience a tour
of the catacombs due to bad timing (this option was
fully booked), but we walked the entire circumference
of the two main levels and then, once suitably awed
by the interior, we took the time to walk around the
ancient monument from the outside. By which time
it was time to rest weary feet, seek some shade and
enjoy a pizza at one of the many on-street restaurants
in the area. Tourist-trap alarm bells may be going
off, but fret not: there are places where you can buy
really high quality pizzas to be enjoyed with a decent
glass of chilled wine for around 12 a head.

Photograph
Hotel Savo
y Ro

ma

A late night stroll


ART ATTACK
past the chic shops
Replete, we decide on a taxi to our next destination
and al fresco bars
of the day. The Borghese Gardens would take a good
hour to walk to from the Colosseum, and the early
afternoon heat is really taking its toll. The Borghese
Villa estate dates back almost 500 years, when it started
out as a vineyard for the wealthy Borghese family.
Bernini, Canova, Raphael, Perugino, Rubens and Titian,
Slowly and steadily, the family bought more and
amongst others), my daughter complained that all the
more land on and around the Pincio hill. Today
pictures were of baby Jesus and dead people. Maybe
the estate is a public park (Romes second largest),
our attempt to introduce a touch of culture into our
comprising 148 glorious acres.
childrens lives was a touch premature.
Attractions abound, but were there for a very
And so on to the surrounding gardens. Large enough
specific reason: to visit the Galleria Borghese. Rome
to get properly lost in (in fact, we did, despite using a
isnt just about marvelling at ancient monuments and
map), the Borghese estate was landscaped in an English
visiting the Vatican (next time for us), for the city is an
style. Fountains and ponds abound, with plenty of quiet
absolute treasure trove of art works from throughout
places to retreat to with a book, for a game of chess or a
modern history. And, I am determined, our teenage kids picnic. Wide paths allow for those taking a simple stroll
should get to view, and hopefully appreciate some of it.
or for those who prefer to pay 25 (per hour; 15 for 30
I could spend an entire day at the Galleria Borghese, minutes) to hire a Segway for rapid progress across the
but then Im a bit of a art history nerd. Our children
park. By the time weve found our way, walked from
lasted an hour, maybe an hour-and-a-half before their
one side of the Gardens to the other and then realized
eyes were starting to glaze over. Whilst I gazed at the
that we were rather further from our hotel than wed
detail in some of Italys most important paintings by the projected (easily done in Rome), we chose to once again
countrys most prestigious artists (works by Caravaggio,
jump into a cab and head back to the Savoy. The lure
of an hour or so before dinner in an air-conditioned
room was too tempting to resist; the complimentary
bottle of prosecco waiting for us (a gift
from the hotel for my wife on her
birthday), a welcome surprise.

FOOD IN THE CITY


Of course, as with any capital or major
city, Rome has a plethora of very good
restaurants. You really are spoilt for
choice, though the better-known eating
establishments, especially anything with
a Michelin star or more, can cost you
a serious amount of money, especially
when there are four of you. But there are
wonderful alternatives to the big-name
CITY BREAKS 73

D I S C O V E R I TA L I A !

WHERE TO STAY

Photograph Hotel Savoy Roma

(4-star) Hotel Savoy Roma, located on


Via Ludovisi. Its very central and within
walking distance (or a short cab ride away
theres a cab rank directly opposite the
hotel entrance) from all of Romes major
attractions. The closest Metro station is
Barberini (ve-minute walk). You can
book direct from the hotels website
(www.savoy.it) or you can enjoy the
convenience of booking through Citalia
(as we did). Citalia can organize your
ights as well as the hotel booking and big
savings can be made. Hotel Savoy Roma for
two adults for two nights next July 2017
(ying to/from Gatwick) currently costs
approximately 700 (double it up if youre
taking your teenage children!). Citalia offer
stays in other hotels in Rome check out
the details at www.citalia.com

restaurants. You may have to travel


away from the traditional tourist
areas, and youll almost certainly have
to be told about them by local foodies,
or take a look at Rome-based blogs
like www.aglioolioepeperoncino.com.
Hostaria Po (+39 06 8552016,
www.hostariapo.it) is one of my
favourites. Its a short cab ride from
our hotel, towards the east end of Via
Po, and its almost entirely frequented
by locals. And the food is both superb
and excellent value for money. And
typically theres a great deal of
it. Indeed my sons plate of rib steak
(his main course) defeated even the
appetite of a (still) growing 16-yearold. The service is excellent, friendly
and the waiting staff were happy
to put up with our poor Italian. A
fitting close to my wifes birthday and
my childrens introduction to Rome.
But our time in Italy is far from
over. For, the following day, we taxi
it back to the airport not to catch a
plane, but to pick up our hire car.
A villa in Le Marche beckons, some
500 or so kilometres away and
you can read about the familys
experiences of (very) rural Italy in
a forthcoming issue of Italia!

Photo

graph

Hote

l Savo

y Rom
a

CENTRAL ITALY Rome

We stayed in the really rather luxurious

74 CITY BREAKS

The elegant interior


of the Savoy Hotel

GETTING THERE
There are flights to Rome from most
major UK airports. We flew with Easyjet
from Bristol not the cheapest of options
(especially as we booked just a month or
so in advance), but certainly convenient
for us as a private hire car to and from
the airport worked out a lot cheaper
than driving to one of the London airports
and paying for parking.
From Fiumicino airport, you have
several options for getting into the city
centre. Wed advise against driving, unless
youre experienced with driving in Rome.
You can get the bus for 5 per person, but
be prepared to wait for a while (outside
Terminal 3). It can take a very long time
in heavy traffic (45 minutes is an absolute
minimum in light traffic double that, at
least, most of the time).
The train is another option: the
Leonardo Express costs 14 per person
and takes just 32 minutes, delivering
you to the Rome Termini main station
from which you can take the Metro to the
station nearest to your hotel. If there are
four of you then a taxi is a reasonably cost
effective option its a fixed price of 48
to anywhere in central Rome (no need to
tip). Taking a cab means your luggage is
delivered to the door of your hotel, you
can enjoy the views as you approach the
centre, and you get to experience the
white-knuckle ride that we did.

D I S C O V E R I TA L I A !

Crossing the River Arno at the Ponte Vecchio, Catherine


Sidwell walks south through the Oltrarno to the Pitti
Palace to explore the Boboli Gardens, nearly 250 years
after they rst opened to the public

CITY BREAKS 75

CENTRAL ITALY Florence

GARDENS
OF THE
MEDICI

CENTRAL ITALY Florence

D I S C O V E R I TA L I A !

The Boboli Gardens survived Napoleons reign and can be


enjoyed today as they were four centuries ago

Photography Catherine Sidwell unless otherwise stated

Above, main
image: The view
towards the Pitti
Palace from the
hill behind the
Gardens. Inset,
from top: The
Knights Garden;
view of the main
gardens axis
from the Pitti
Palace

he poet Shelley
described Florence in
the early 19th-century
as a Babylon of palaces
and gardens. This was
his impression of the city as he saw
it from the perspective of the Boboli
Gardens, behind the Pitti Palace, on
the south side of the river.
Designed in 1549 by Niccol
Pericoli (Il Tribolo), for the Medici,
this 16th-century park of many
gardens inspired the landscape
of many European court gardens,
even as the changing tastes of
subsequent rulers led to additions
and alterations. The Boboli Gardens
survived Napoleons reign and
can be enjoyed today as they were
four centuries ago. They are now
regarded as an open-air museum.
Referring to Italian renaissance
gardens, Edith Wharton noted in
the early 1900s: Of the period
in which the garden began to be
a studied architectural extension
of the house, few examples are to
be found near Florence. The most
important, if not the most pleasing,

76 CITY
ITALIA!
BREAKS
September 2014

of Tuscan pleasure-gardens lies,


however, within the city walls. This
is the Boboli Garden.
I am here to succumb to what
Wharton described as Italian
garden magic. I walk south,
across the Ponte Vecchio, to the
Oltrarno (other side of the Arno) and
approach the Pitti Palace.
Luca Pitti continued his fathers
ambition of 1341, building the Pitti
Palace and purchasing further land.
Their aim was to secure prestige in
the Florentine cultural and political
scene. Sadly, this vanity project left
debts for Pittis descendants, and
their rivals the Medici purchased the
palace and the Orto dePitti (Pitti
Garden) in 1549. Built to impress,
the imposing, austere palace is made
of warm golden stone blocks the size
of hay bales. Today it resembles the
palace of the 17th century.
THE HIGHLIGHTS
The name Boboli is believed to
have evolved from the purchase of
a garden by Luca Pitti in 1418 that
had belonged to the Borgolo family.

The final triangular site stretches


from the Forte di Belvedere and
hillside in the east, beyond the
Pitti Palace all the way to the
Porta Romana in the south-west.
Thousands of trees, evergreen avenues
and open parkland cover 45,000
square metres (some 11 acres).
Formal architectural gardens
reveal magnificent views of Florence
and the Tuscan hills. Holm oaks form
covered archways and provide shade
from the sun. A long cypress avenue is
punctuated by meandering pathways
where labyrinths were once a place
for dancing and revelry. Parkland and
woodland offer places to relax, play or
escape and you can rest overlooking
the fountains to reflect.
Clipped foliage provides
partial recesses for white stone
statues. Encountering classical
and mythological subjects in the
gardens or one of four grottoes while
wandering and daydreaming can
transport you back in time. Later
additions include a lemon house and
delightful Rococo coffee house, built
in the 1770s.

VISTING THE BOBOLI GARDENS

CITRUS IN THE BOBOLI GARDENS

Clockwise from below: The Gardens serve as


a museum that includes Roman antiquities
as well as later works; the Harvest Fountain
by Valerio and Giovan Simone Cioni; the
gates to the Fountain of the Ocean

PORTA ROMANA
THE ROMAN GATE ENTRANCE
The most level access to the Boboli Gardens
is from the Roman Gate entrance. A gentle
incline passes the Fountain of the Ocean,
the Lemon House, several signicant statues
and the Museum of Costume. Enjoy views
across the city just beyond the palace and
the amphitheatre. Follow the sloping gravel
path beyond the Artichoke Fountain and
down the slope to the Grand Grotto before
leaving through the Pitti Palace.
POLO MUSEALE FIORENTINO
Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens,
Piazza Pitti, 1
www.renzeturismo.it
The gardens are open every day of the week,
apart from the rst and last Monday of every
month. Check seasonal opening times, and
it is worthwhile to book tickets in advance
to avoid queues. The tickets are valid for
entry to the Costume Gallery, the Museo
degli Argenti, the Porcelain Museum, the
Boboli Gardens and the Bardini Gardens. Ongoing restoration and maintenance means
garden features may not be available and
copies of original statues may be displayed.
To book tickets, call Firenze Musei,  +39
055 294883
OTHER MUSEUMS AND GALLERIES
AT THE PITTI PALACE
The Palatine Gallery, Modern Art Gallery,
Silver Museum, Carriage Museum and
Porcelain Museum.
BARDINI GARDEN
Costa San Giorgio, 2
 +39 055 2006 6206
www.bardinipeyron.it
A greenway walk skirts the Belvedere and
links the Bardini and Boboli Gardens on the
hillside. The more intimate of the two is the
Bardini, a park of three gardens recently
opened to the public. Its long, terraced
Kaffeehaus is a shady place for afternoon
tea with views across the city.

Photograph
Turismo citt
metropolitana
di Firenze

CREATING THE
BOBOLI GARDENS
A portrait of Eleanora of Toledo
in the Uffizi Gallery intrigued me
on my last visit. The marriage of
Cosimo I deMedici, Grand Duke of
Tuscany, to the immensely wealthy
Eleanora in 1539 was a prudent
match. Their union enabled the
Medici to purchase the Pitti Palace
and embark on the creation of the
world famous Boboli Gardens,
I Giardini di Boboli.
The Medici employed Il
Tribolo, Niccol Pericoli, to design
the initial garden scheme. He used
geometry and repeated right angles
in his plans. Subsequent rulers
purchased further land and changes
in 18th- and 19th-century tastes are
apparent in the present landscape.

Citrus has been grown here


since the 14th century

CITY BREAKS 77

CENTRAL ITALY Florence

Though there is an absence of flowers for


enthusiasts of the English country garden, the
Boboli Gardens feature an abundance of citrus
plants. In 14th-century Florence, bitter orange,
citron and lemon plants adorned the gardens of
noble families. The beauty of the trees, flowers and
fruits, the enjoyment of their fragrance, and the
use of citrus were considered a luxury.
Plants were imported from the Middle East
and, ultimately, Asia. Bushes of bitter Seville
oranges (citrus aurantium) and lemon (citrus limon)
arrived in Europe via Sicily and Spain. With careful
transportation and cultivation, citrus began to
thrive here in Tuscany.
Interest in citrus peaked during the reign
of Cosimo III, who followed his fathers passion
for expanding the Medicis collection with new
varieties, including bergamot orange (citrus
bergamia) and pomelo (citrus grandis). Scientific
developments led to further experimentation and
classification of the collection by naturalists into
the 19th century. Many varieties are still grown.

ACCESS
Enter or exit the Boboli Gardens from any
of three points: through the Pitti Palace;
from beside the 14th-century Roman Gate,
Porta Romana, in the west (see below); or
near the 16th-century Belevedere Fort, Forte
di Belvedere, to the east. The gardens are
partly accessible to wheelchairs.

D I S C O V E R I TA L I A !

A BRIEF GARDEN TOUR

WHERE TO EAT AND STAY


GUSTA PIZZA

1 COURTYARD
CORTILE
Entering the palace through the tall
central doorway, I step into the late
16th-century courtyard designed by
Ammannati. Two stone wings in the
Mannerist style were built at each
side from 1558-1570. Looking up
they frame the Artichoke Fountain,
Fontana del Carciofo (1639-41), by
Francesco Susini, adorned with putti.
The perspective of the view beyond
draws the eye to the garden above.

CENTRAL ITALY Florence

Via Maggio, 46r


For a quick pizza near the Pitti Palace, try
Gusta Pizza. Owned by three brothers, the
atmosphere is warm and friendly and their
pizzas are amazing.

GELATERIA SANTA TRINITA


Piazza Frescobaldi, 11-12/r
www.gelateriasantatrinita.it
The Gelateria Santa Trinita overlooks the
Santa Trinita bridge. You can also buy
Tuscan foods and wines to take home.
PORTA ROMANA
GELATERIA YOGURTERIA
Piazzale di Porta Romana, 2
 +39 055 221121
Across the road from the Porta Romana,
the Porta Romana Gelateria Yogurteria
serves tea and coffee too. Sit in the cool
white contemporary interior and summon
the energy for the return walk through the
gardens. (Closed on Mondays.)

2 AMPHITHEATRE

ANFITEATRO
At the top of the curved staircase
to the gardens, the view widens to
the amphitheatre and hill beyond.
To the left is a view of the Duomo
to be remembered. I walk into the
centre of the arena, past an Egyptian

ANTICA TORRE HOTEL


Via de Tornabuoni, 1
 +39 055 265 8161
This fabulous hotel is a delight. Located in
a medieval tower, its roof terrace provides
360 degree views over Florence, the Arno
and the surrounding hills. Ideal for special
occasions or a short city stay, its a few
steps from Santa Trinita and the Ponte
Santa Trinita in an up-market shopping
district. Highly recommended for its
location, atmosphere, beautiful bedrooms
and marble bathrooms, there is a peaceful
breakfast room and bar with indoor and
outdoor seating. The breakfast selection is
sensational and the lift is an appreciated
asset. Friendly international staff help with
local information and tips and the visitors
book speaks volumes of praise.

obelisk, a Roman basin and am


surrounded by six tiered stands.
I imagine the courtly events
and performances that took place
here. Celebrations included the
wedding reception of Ferdinando
de Medici to Christine of Lorraine,
where the first opera was performed.
Composers Peri and Rinuccini set
the classical story of Daphne to
music, sung by actors. Later, in
1600, they staged Erudice here.
3 FORCONE BASIN
VASCA DEL FORCONE
The first garden axis leads to
the Forcone Basin, the bronze
and marble Neptune fountain
statue by Lorenzi (1565-68), and
to the marble statue of Plenty,
Abbondanza. Poised above, on the
1527 fortifications is the more
intimate Knights Garden, Giardino
del Cavaliere. In Cosimo IIIs time,
medicinal plants were grown here;
these were replaced by exotics, now
roses and peonies. The Porcelain
Museum has replaced a former
casino and there are views towards
Florence and the countryside. Below
the high medieval walls are olive
groves and vineyards.
4 THE CYPRESS AVENUE
IL VIOTTOLONE
The second garden axis includes Il
Viottolone, the Long Avenue, which
leads to the Ocean Fountain. To the
left and right, rows of espalier citrus
can be seen in the Lavacapo and
Sughera Gardens. The supporting
wall radiates heat and provides partial
shelter from cool air currents. The

78 CITY
ITALIA!
BREAKS
September 2014

1
7

CENTRAL ITALY Florence

6
3
4

Medicis interest in growing citrus


varieties is demonstrated in late 15th
century paintings of their gardens.
5 ISLAND POND
VASCA DELLISOLA
In the centre of the Island Pond
is Giambolognas Ocean Fountain
(1576). Ocean is surrounded by
figures representing the Nile, Ganges
and Euphrates rivers. The entrance
gates columns feature marble
Capricorns, a symbol of Cosimo
I deMedici. Seventeenth century
statues from the Florentine school can
be seen nearby. In summer, lemons,
citrons, grapefruits and bitter orange
plants in pots are placed around the
Ocean fountain and the lemon house.
6 LEMON HOUSE
LIMONAIA
7 AND COFFEE HOUSE
KAFFEHAUS
When the Grand Duchy of Tuscany
passed to the Habsburg-Lorraine
family, the Medicis fascination with
citrus continued. Peter Leopold
commissioned a lemon house. At
over 100 metres in length it became

the winter home for potted citrus


plants that decorated the gardens
during the summer. The pretty
rococo Kaffeehaus to the east of
the garden provides refreshments
for visitors and has been recently
restored. Both designs are attributed
to Zanobi del Rosso.
8 BUONTALENTIS GROTTO
GROTTA DEL BUONTALENTI
OR GROTTA GRANDE
My final stop is the Grand Grotto,
built in the 1580s to
Buontalentis design.
It replaced a nursery by
7
Vasari, who also designed
the corridor that leads from
the Uffizi across the Ponte
Vecchio. Vasaris nursery faade
was later decorated by Battista
del Tadda, and Bandinellis
statues of Apollo and Ceres
(1552-56) flank the entrance.
Sculptural scenes in a sponge-like
material by Pietro Mati, inspired
by ancient myths, and Bernardino
Poccettis paintings of nature
and wildlife decorate the interior
(1580s-90s).

o citt
Turism ze
raph
en
Photog litana di Fir
o
metrop

Map data 2015 Google

CITY BREAKS 79

CENTRAL ITALY Florence

D I S C O V E R I TA L I A !

My mind wanders back to Eleanora,


the Medicis love of citrus and
views of silver-green olive groves

Above: Espaliered
citrus. Inset,
from top: The
Grand Grotto;
drinking
fountain; Uomo
che vanga Man
gardening by
Valerio and
Giovan Simone
Cioli

THE PONTE VECCHIO


Turning to leave, I see orange
espalier citrus covering the adjacent
wall. As the sun descends in the
sky, I head back to my hotel via
the Ponte Santa Trinita. More
statues greet me on the bridge.
This is a perfect place to view the
Ponte Vecchio in the glow of the
afternoon light.
Noticing another glow, this time
of fluorescent orange in a glass,
I stop at Rivalta on Lungarno Corso
for an aperitivo. The caf is buzzing
with the energy that announces
the start of the weekend. Groups
congregate outside, looking over the
Arno in the sunshine.
I order a spritz, bitter Aperol
with prosecco and soda, decorated
with a slice of orange and a green
olive. Sipping slowly, my mind
wanders back to Eleanora, the
Medicis love of citrus and views of
silver-green olive groves and vines
below the Boboli Gardens. Then
I return to the medieval tower of my
hotel to watch the sun set from the
roof terrace.

80 CITY
ITALIA!
BREAKS
September 2014

GETTING THERE
BY PLANE
You can fly direct to Florence but it tends
to be expensive. Most people approach
from Pisa, which has a major airport with
links from all parts of the UK. The 1-hour
bus ride through Tuscany afterwards is
hardly unpleasant.

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D I S C O V E R I TA L I A !

THE PROVINCE OF

Photography Comune di Viareggio, Archivio storico, fototeca, unless otherwise stated

CENTRAL ITALY Lucca

PUCCINI

With his old homes turned into museums and an annual


festival to celebrate his work, Lucca is the perfect place
to delve deeper the history of the great Italian composer
Giacomo Puccini, as Charlie Lyon discovers

Puccinis house at Torre del Lago, on


the shores of Lake Massaciuccoli

82 CITY BREAKS

A ferocious uncle disbands with a roar party guests celebrating the


matrimony of Cio-Cio San and Lieutenant Pinkerton
Unrequited love in
Madama Buttery

CITY BREAKS 83

CENTRAL ITALY Lucca

really is the place to experience


Italian opera: without pomp,
without snobbery, without
class boundaries it is an
unforgettable experience.
This really is the home
of quality Puccini singing,
says Vivienne Hewitt, head
of external relations for the
festival. Only here can you
see the composers operas
in the magical place which
inspired them, a stones
Puccini
s statue
sits in
front of
throw from the Puccini
his birth
place
Villa Mausoleum, on the
shores of beautiful Lake
Massaciuccoli, in untouched parkland.
But its not just the Puccini festival, which runs from
the end of July until the end of August each year, that
brings music lovers to this amazing place
Every Sunday evening, from May until the end of the
festival in late August, we put on concerts and events in

Charl
ie Lyon

onight, the usual tranquility of the banks


of Lake Massaciuccoli is broken. On the
open-air stage of the Gran Teatro allAperto,
which backs right onto the serene waters, a
ferocious uncle disbands with a roar party
guests who have gathered to celebrate the matrimony
of 15-year-old Cio-Cio San and Lieutenant Pinkerton.
The powerful tenor wreaks havoc on what had been a
pretty celebration of love, and even the full moon, which
hangs behind the scene in the ink-black sky like a wellpositioned prop, looks anguished to hear that it is all over.
The scene before us is part of a spectacular new
performance of one of Giacomo Puccinis great operas,
Madama Butterfly, and it is taking place as part of the 60th
Puccini Festival, which marks the 90th anniversary of the
composers death.
The wide, open-air amphitheatre, in the lakeside town
of Torre del Lago, in Lucca, northwest Tuscany, seats 3,400
people and is full of enraptured Italians of all ages and
backgrounds, as well as a sprinkling of European tourists.
Dressed in anything from cocktail frocks to jeans and
smart tops, this stylish setting, with its suave audience,

CENTRAL ITALY Lucca

Poverty and tragedy


in La Bohme

Puccini built his own villa on the shoreline of Lake Massaciuccoli


in 1900, when he was in his early 30s, and moved in with his wife and son
the park or theatre foyer, says Vivien. This August there
were concerts with young artists, book presentations and
piano concerts using the magnificent 300,000 Fazioli
grand piano in our newly built foyer.
The foyer doesnt sound too exciting,
but it is a destination in itself. With
Puccini
s house
huge, lofty ceilings, a tempting bar
today
and nibbles and members of the casts
and production team milling around
pre- and post-performance, you can
while away hours there.
Theres even an open-door policy for
the opera dress rehearsals, says
Vivien. So you can call
in on the day
y
toda
ago
to find
del L
Torre

out the times and pop along for free to catch full runthroughs of any of the performances.
PUCCINIS PATCH
Torre del Lago now has a population of around 11,000, but
back in 1891, when Puccini started spending more and
more time here, the hamlet boasted a mere 250 inhabitants
mainly fishermen who made their living from the lakes
produce. Puccini built his own villa on the shoreline in
1900, when he was in his early 30s, and moved in with his
wife and son. He said he loved the area for its isolation. It
was a place, he said, where he could pursue in peace the
two pastimes he was most passionate about: hunting and
driving fast motorcars.
I find evidence of his daring hobbies at the Villa
Puccini Museum, just across the road from the theatre.
Puccini did build his villa right on the banks of the
lake, but since then the water level has lowered and
the shoreline retracted. I stand in a room filled with
gigantic rifles almost twice the size of me (who knows
how the prey didnt see him lumbering through the
forest with these!), and photographs of Giacomo
Puccini next to his latest automobile.
The intimate space also houses the very piano
on which Manon Lescaut (1891), La Bohme
(1896), Tosca (1900) and Madama Butterfly
(1904) were composed, and the many more
artifacts reveal a personal side to Puccini that
other residences-turned-museums dont
muster nearly as well.
Puccini lived here happily until 1921,
surviving a car crash in 1903 that badly
injured him and set back his work on
Madama Butterfly. He moved finally
in 1921, when peat extraction and

Puccini at his house


at Torre del Lago

CENTRAL ITALY Lucca


CITY BREAKS 85

D I S C O V E R I TA L I A !

WHAT TO SEE AND DO

industrialisation of the lake made it too noisy and polluted.


He moved to the seaside city of Viarregio, where he began
work on Turandot.
It was to be his final opera, and he was to never see it
through, as in 1923 he contracted throat cancer. He died in
1924 following unsuccessful surgery in a Brussels hospital.
His body was taken back to a specially created chapel in the
Torre del Lago villa, and is buried there now, along with his
wife and son, who died later. The opera was completed by
Franco Alfano in 1926.

DINE WITH LUCCAS MOST SUAVE


Ristorante Enoteca Marcucci, in the famously artistic town
of Pietrasanta, is a favourite haunt of designer Paul Smith. (And this
isnt just a fanciful boast from the owner, he was actually dining
while we were there!) The seafood panzanella overows with tasty
mini octopus, mussels and juicy prawns, and the milk-fed veal is
juicy, buttery and salty. Delizioso! Take a seat outside and watch the
bustle of the street. www.enotecamarcucci.it

THE TOWN OF LUCCA


Puccini was born in Lucca, a town northwest of Florence,
about 30km from the coast. Its a beautiful walled city, with
cobbled streets, sizeable piazzas and ancient architecture.
Lucca is known as the Medieval Manhattan, a result of
the fact that property owners used to be taxed according
to the width of their buildings, rather than their height.
So the buildings grew taller and taller and the taller
your building, the more power you held. And when
residents couldnt build any higher, families often resorted
to planting trees on the roofs, examples of which can still
be seen today. The buildings are indeed oddities, but
intriguing ones. The very brave, and fit, can climb the
stairs of a couple of the remaining towers. But be warned,
theres no lift should you not want to come back down the
40 metre high staircase!
You need 1,000 eyes in Lucca, and its not enough,
says our guide, Eleanor Pieruccini, as we trundle through
the shady streets, glad of the respite they give us from the
August sun. This is certainly true, for as well as marvelling
at the medieval architecture like Little Johnny Head-inthe-Airs, Luccas residents power around on push bikes.
There seem to be few rules as to speed or the side they ride
on, and if you dont leap out of the way of an oncoming
wheelie, youll be dinged rampantly.
More importantly to Luccas music history though, is
the house where Giacomo Puccini was born, and the very
bed where he came out wailing (in tune, most probably).

TASTE THE WINE OF THE OTHER TUSCANY


In between the Apuan Alps and the sea, Cantine Basile is
a vineyard that sits in Pietrasanta on steep terrain. The
calcium in the soil from the mountains makes sure the wine
does not have too strong a body, says winemaker Simone Basile.
Its the perfect combination of good minerals, salt and acid.
Dont miss the party on 15th August every year The Night of
the Shooting Stars where a feast is accompanied by music,
wine and dancing. www.cantinebasile.com
TAKE IN THE OTHER ARTS
From jazz interpretations of Carmen to amazing performances
by Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlos, the all-male drag ballet
corps, youll nd theatre thats a refreshing break from the norm at
La Versiliana Festival. Performances run through July and August
in open air theatres in Pietrasanta. www.laversilianafestival.com
COOK AN ITALIAN FEAST
Learn about Luccas specialities and how to make Tuscan staples
with air at Cantine Bernardini. The half-day courses are followed
by a meal where you sit down and enjoy every course youve
prepared. Paired with their specially selected wines, its the
perfect introduction to Lucca hospitality.
www.cantinebernardini.com
STAY IN STYLE
Add a amboyant twist to your Tuscan trip with a stay at 18th
century Villa de Lanfranchi. Its a villa with a brilliantly eclectic
style that sleeps 14. Escape the Italian heat in the large pool
or in the extensive lawns and gardens. Its all set in a dramatic
location at the foot of the hills that separate Lucca and Pisa.
Book this, or another equally gorgeous Tuscan villas that sleep
between 2 and 34 from www.tuscanynow.com

ie Lyon

RELAX AT THE SPA


The Bagni di Pisa, once home of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, is
a spa and thermal pools and the perfect place to recover after a
day of tramping around walled towns, or climbing Medieval tower
stairs! The waters are pure hot springs and reach a steady at 38C.
The restaurants spa menu offers light respite from any not-sohealthy Tuscan staples you may be enjoying. The hotel offers day
entry, plus a spa evening once a week. www.bagnidipisa.com/eng

Luccas
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CENTRAL ITALY Lucca

PERUSE PISA
Youre just 20km from Pisa. Climb the 260 steps to the top of the
Leaning Tower and marvel at the unparalleled views. Stand in the
spot inside the grand Cathedral where Galileo worked out what
pendulums could be used for. Trace the change of style of frescoes
in the Monumental Cemetery, which took 200 years to build one
side dates back from the 1300s, the other the 1500s.

Charl
ie Lyon

Away from the town of Lucca itself,


there is so much more to be enjoyed in
this province, the province the locals
know as the other Tuscany. Pisa is
just down the road, and the seaside
town of Viareggio, which served as
the composers last home, offers sun,
sand and a glimpse of 1920s frivolity.
And the regional parklands where
he would hunt wild hogs are open
for ambling. If you time it right,
the Puccini Festival can act as the
The Gig
lio
springboard to launch yourself
Theatre
, where
all of P
deeper into a trip full of history,
uccinis
operas
drama and entertainment. Q!
have b
perform
ed

een

INFORMATION
PUCCINI FESTIVAL 2017
The 2017 Puccini Festival runs from 14th July to 19th August
at Gran Teatro allAperto, Torre del Lago. For more information,
visit www.puccinifestival.it/en/

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rip t
e a t wn
n
i
b
com aunt do
can
j
You with a
a
c
c
u
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isa
to P

The Giacomo Puccini Foundation, and the residents of Lucca, are


doing all they can to preserve and promote Puccinis story

Ch

arlie

Lyon

The Villa Puccini as it


looked when it sat by
the waters edge

CITY BREAKS 87

CENTRAL ITALY Lucca

Its in Corte San Lorenzo, and a bronze statue of the


maestro at ease welcomes visitors. As well as costumes
and a working copy of Tosca, the house holds a huge
number of handwritten letters Puccini is said to have
written over 8,000 in his life, of which 800 are in this
house. The Giacomo Puccini Foundation is working on
turning them into a book.
The foundation, and the residents of Lucca, are
doing all they can to preserve and promote Puccinis
story. Eleanor tells us that the car park in front
of Teatro del Giglio, where all of Puccinis operas
were performed, has only recently been turned into
the handsome open space we see. And inside the
museum is running an entertaining, if a little unusual,
exhibition featuring mannequins dressed as characters
from the operas. They sit in the stalls and peer down
from the circle in a slightly eerie way. Its not the sort
of place you want to enter alone if youre nervy. Indeed,
theres even a mannequin of the composer himself in
the front box, from which he was known to sit and
oversee the staging of his works, barking orders to the
cast when things didnt go to his liking.

CENTRAL ITALY Bologna

D I S C O V E R I TA L I A !

Clockwise
from top left:
Strolling through
La Rossa; the
the market at
Quadrilatero;
Bologna is
compact yet still
offers a sense of
space; Gamberini
cakes; summer
shopping;
graduation at
the university;
open-air cinema;
and jewellery

88 CITY BREAKS

Photography Heather Crombie

CENTRAL ITALY Bologna

48 HOURS IN

Bologna
The city of Bologna la Grassa is just as famous for
its food and culture as it is for its ancient university.
Heather Crombie samples its delights

ologna is different things to different people, a city of many


names reflecting the many facets of its personality. To the
academics it is the learned city with university records
dating back to 1088, it is the oldest in Europe. Noble families
sent their sons to be educated at the Law faculty, which brought
great wealth to the region and set the scene for a university city that still
buzzes today with student life. To others it is the red city acknowledging
the masses of red brick that make up most of the citys buildings as well as
the historically left-leaning politics of the area. Most encouraging for the
48-hour visitor, however, is Bolognas reputation as the fat city, la Grassa.
The people of Bologna are famed for their enjoyment of good food and wine,
choosing to spend more on what they eat and drink than anything else, even
in times of financial hardship. Georgia Zabbini, a Bologna resident, says,
The people of Bologna are known as the goderecci people who like to enjoy
life. We work, we study, but we want to live well.
It is important to remind ourselves here that spaghetti bolognese is not a
traditional regional dish. No self-respecting Bolognese would serve a ragu
sauce with spaghetti, as the meat does not stick to the pasta. Spaghetti
would be served with a simple tomato sauce, or just with olive oil. Ragu,
in contrast, is usually served with tagliatelle and Bologna is certainly the
place to sample the best. To get some hands-on experience of pasta and its
CITY BREAKS 89

D I S C O V E R I TA L I A !

WHAT TO SEE AND DO

CENTRAL ITALY Bologna

THE TWO TOWERS 1


For fantastic views of the city, climb to the
top of the Asinelli and see how many more
towers you can spot. This is also a central
location in the city ve different roads
lead away from the towers so pick one and
see where it leads!

PASTA-MAKING COURSE 2
Il Salotto Di Penelope, Via San Felice 116
+39 51 649 3627
www.ilsalottodipenelope.it
At the Salotte di Penelope you will be
guided every step of the way to making
perfect pasta and sauces to accompany
each dish. Barbara and Valeria cater
for different group sizes and are uent
in English. Everything is very handson, and classes can be tailored to your
requirements. Choose a class to coincide
with lunch or dinnertime.

OPEN-AIR CINEMA 3
www.cinetecadibologna.it
A very special lm festival runs for
eight days in summer, with many of the
screenings taking place in the Piazza
Maggiore. See restored classics and hidden
gems across four venues (all within easy
walking distance of each other) which
attract crowds of lm-lovers from all over
the world. Get on the mailing list early to
buy passes, which also give you discounts
at selected hotels and restaurants.

BIBLIOTECA SALABORSA 4
Piazza Nettuno 3
+39 51 219 4400
www.bibliotecasalaborsa.it
A beautiful public building overlooking the
statue of Neptune. It is worth stepping
inside just to see the foundations of
ancient Bologna. The library is also
a peaceful place where you can nd
international newspapers.

PINACOTECA NAZIONALE DI BOLOGNA 5


+39 51 420 9411
www.pinacotecabologna.beniculturali.it
This art gallery is in the university quarter
of the city, housing a collection of works
by artists related to Bologna from the 13th
century onwards. Take a historical tour of
Emilia-Romagnas cultural heritage with a
collection that includes works by Raffaello
and Giotto. 4 entry. Tues-Sun, 9am-7pm.

GUIDED TOUR
Via Emilia Ponente 3380/3,
40024 Castel San Pietro Terme
+39 51 695 8504
zabgio@libero.it
Multilingual guide Giorgia Zabbini will show
you all the important sights and tell you
the history of the city.

90 CITY BREAKS

The Basilica of San Petronio

DONT MISS
LA BASILICA DI
SANTO STEFANO
In Piazza Santo
Stefano, a
large basilica
dominates
one side of
the square. Go
inside, and you
will discover
four churches
together,
amalgamated
from seven on
a site originally
dedicated to
Isis. Each edifice
houses artworks
and items
of historical
and religious
significance.
Do see the
stunning brick
dome of Chiesa
del San Sepolcro
and Pilates
Courtyard with
its decorative
font.
Via Santo
Stefano 24,
+39 51 223 256

sauces, go to il Salotto di Penelope,


a cookery school specialising in
pasta-making workshops. Under
the expert guidance of Barbara and
Valeria, I and my fellow novice pasta
chefs made tagliatelle, tortelloni and
gnocchi. The process was extremely
enjoyable and sitting together to
enjoy what we had just made with
a glass of wine after the class was
even better. But even if you dont
fancy cooking classes yourself, there
are so many wonderful places to eat

of the city. In the summer Piazza


Maggiore is home to an outdoor
cinema, with different films shown
each night for free.
The screen is adjacent to the
Basilica of San Petronio, a 14thcentury cathedral filled with
beautiful artworks and the worlds
largest indoor sundial, designed
by Gian Domenico Cassini in the
17th century. Just behind Piazza
Maggiore is Piazza del Nettuno,
with its famous 16th-century

There are enough spending opportunities to


keep you occupied for some time
in Bologna you will be spoilt for
choice. It would be a good idea to
start your exploration of the city at
one of the many cafs or restaurants.
At Zerocinquantello, not far
from Piazza Maggiore, you can get a
taste of traditional Emilia-Romagna.
Try tigelle, a traditional regional
bread, filled with mortadella ham
or cheese. From here it is an easy
saunter to Piazza Maggiore and
Piazza del Nettuno, at the heart

fountain designed by Giambologna.


I was glad to fill my water bottle at
the fountain on such a hot day!
This stunning and rather
cheeky monument has been subject
to superstition and rumour over
the centuries. Students at the
university are still known to run
two anticlockwise laps around the
fountain for exam success, and
visitors look closely at Neptunes
left thumb to assess its phallic

WHERE TO STAY

Neptune

At the Salotto
di Penelope

qualities. The Piazza del Nettuno


used to be the economic heart of
Bologna, and it still houses some
of the administrative offices of the
city. A popular place for locals and
tourists is the Biblioteca Sala Borsa
in the Palazzo dAccursio, which is
not only a multimedia library but
also offers a glimpse of the ancient
foundations of Bologna. You can use
the internet caf, have an espresso
and gaze through the glass floor,
back two thousand years in time.
It is an architecturally stunning
building and well worth a visit.
I visited Bologna in the summer,
when graduates were celebrating
their results with family meals and
drinks with friends. Wearing laurel
wreaths on their heads, one can
only assume they made an effective
circuit of their local fountain before
sitting their exams!
It is not only students and
epicures who are drawn to Bologna,
however. If you have a passion
for shopping, there are enough
spending opportunities to keep you
occupied for some time. Bologna has
been a centre of trade for centuries,
lying as it does in the heart of

northern Italy, with easy routes to


Milan in the north, Genoa to the
west and Florence to the south.
There is still plenty of trading going
on today, and Via dellIndipendenza,
leading out of Piazza del Nettuno, is
lined with high-street shops ranging
from local designers to global chain
stores. Via Clavature is the place
to go for jewellery and fashion, but
follow it to the Quadrilatero district
and the market area is a glorious riot
of vegetables, meat, cheese, fish and
fruit clashing colours and smells
amid the noisy chat of shoppers.
This has been the centre of
market trading since Roman times
and there is a lot to see and taste
down each cobbled street. There are
also some beautiful artisan shops
in Bologna to stock up on food and
wine, including Paolo Atti & Figli
on Via Caprarie, which specialises
in bread and pasta. Enoteca Italiana
on Via Marsala has a superb range
of wines and spirits and is open for
aperitifs in the evenings. Carpigiani,
the major ice-cream factory just
outside the city, runs a variety
courses in the art of gelato making.
This may explain why there are so

DONT MISS
THE GELATO
The Carpigiani
factory just
outside Bologna
attracts people
from all over
the world to
its ice-cream
university.
There is a Gelato
Museum there
too to see the
history of ice
cream (booking
is essential),
Sorbetteria
Castiglione,
Via Castiglione 44
Sorbetteria
Saragozza,
Via Saragozza 83
Gelato Museum
Carpigiani,
Via Emilia 45,
40011 Anzola

GRAND HOTEL MAJESTIC 7


Via Indipendenza 8
+39 51 225 445
www.grandhotelmajestic.
duetorrihotels.com/
This opulent ve-star hotel in the heart of
Bologna is the oldest and grandest in the
city centre. The building was designed by
Torregiani in the 1700s and is elegantly
decorated in the classical style. The on-site
restaurant, Il Carracci, is popular with
tourists and locals alike. If you are driving,
private parking is available if you request it
when you book.

HOTEL PORTA SAN MAMOLO 8


Vicolo del Falcone 6-8
+39 51 583 056
www.hotel-portasanmamolo.it
Although this hotel is right in the centre of
Bologna, it has a lovely outdoor courtyard
which makes for a pleasant retreat from city
life and provides a green space where you
can unwind. You can also eat your breakfast
outside, starting your day with fresh coffee
and homemade cake. Ask for a room with
a private terrace for some great views over
the city.

See our feature


on Bolognas
University of
Gelato on page
66 of this guide.

CITY BREAKS 91

CENTRAL ITALY Bologna

Bread at the market

PALAZZO DI VARIGNANA RESORT & SPA 6


Via CaVenturoli 1925, 40024 Varignana
+39 51 1993 8300
www.palazzodivarignana.it
This spa hotel has been open since autumn
2013 in the ancient town of Varignana
outside Bologna. It has 89 rooms in four
buildings, most of which connect to the
main building via underground tunnels.
There is a superb restaurant on site and
you can enjoy a magnicent breakfast
buffet by the pool. The spa boasts ve
treatment rooms, a wellness centre and a
gym individuals and couples can book
private spa rooms for an afternoon of
pampering with prosecco. The hotel
enjoys a beautiful outlook in stunning
countryside, where you can go walking or
borrow a hotel bike and follow the cycle
trail in the 20 hectares of private grounds.
It is very family-friendly hotel, with an
outdoor play area for children. There is
also a conference centre where the hotel
periodically hosts musical events and gala
dinners. The hotel is a 25-minute drive
away from Bologna, and offers a shuttle
service to and from the airport or train
station.

D I S C O V E R I TA L I A !

WHERE TO EAT

12 13 11

5
7
4

LA CAPRIATA 10
Strada Maggiore 19, Corte Isolani 1
+39 51 236 932
www.lacapriata.it
This restaurant has an outdoor seating
area at the rear and serves delicious
crescentine. It is a great place to sample
lots of local specialities such as mortadella
ham, squacquerone cheese and grilled
vegetables. They also serve gluten-free
pasta. The desserts are fantastic.
O
O

Price range O

TRATTORIA LA MONTANARA 11
Via Augusto Righi 15/a
+39 51 221 583
www.trattorialamontanara.com
This cosy restaurant is popular with local
people and serves regional pasta dishes
like rag alla bolognese and the best of
traditional Bolognese cuisine. Whether you
opt for a lazy lunch or romantic dinner,
booking is recommended.
O
O

Price range O

CAMINETTO DORO TRATTORIA 12


Via dei Falegnami 4
+39 51 263 494
www.caminettodoro.it
This restaurant has been running since
1927, and prides itself on serving seasonal
produce in a variety of recipes that have
been developed within the family. It has
always been popular with artists and
actors, being near the theatre. They have
a fabulous cellar specialising in natural
wines, and also serve artisan beers from
local microbreweries. Closed on Sundays.
O
O

Price range O

TWINSIDE BISTRO 13
Via dei Falegnami 4
+39 51 991 1797
Twinside sits next door to Caminetto dOro
and is owned by the same family. Here you
can have a more casual dining experience,
whilst enjoying the same quality of food. A
popular choice for theatre-goers, and those
with a nose for a good aperitivo.
O

Price range O

92 CITY BREAKS

1
10

6
9

Google

CENTRAL ITALY Bologna

PALAZZO DI VARIGNANA 9
Via Ca Venturoli 1925, 40024 Varignana
+39 051 19938300
www.palazzodivarignana.it
The poolside restaurant at this hotel is
open to the public and offers a selection of
tasty meals and snacks, together with a full
bar. The stylish dining room is the perfect
place to unwind. On the hotel site you will
also nd Il Palazzo, a gourmet restaurant
offering the best regional dishes and ne
wines. The elegant building boasts the best
views of the whole resort.
O
O

Price range O

DONT MISS
CRESCENTINE
A typical bread
from EmiliaRomana, these
are deep-friend
dough pockets.
Contrary to
what you might
expect, they
taste incredibly
light and not
at all greasy.
Stuff them
with meats,
vegetables and
squacquerone,
a local soft
cheese.

Map data 2014 Google

many fantastic gelaterias in Bologna,


like Sorbetteria Saragozza, heading
south out of the city, not far from
Giardini Margherita. The gardens
are a wonderful place to stroll, eat
your ice-cream and look out for
turtles swimming in the stream that
runs through the park.
If you were to walk down every
portico in Bologna, you would cover
a distance of 42 kilometres. These
covered walkways were built as a
way of extending the upper storeys
of buildings in a walled city where
no outward expansion was possible.
Most porticos have been renovated
over the years, but an original
wooden structure still exists at Casa
Isolani in Strada Maggiore. They
provide shelter from sun and rain
and a pleasing corridor of romantic
shadows to wander through. The
towers that punctuate some of the
porticos are legendary, and have led
to yet another Bologna moniker: the
city of towers.
In the Middle Ages there were
more than one hundred towers in
the city, reflecting the wealth of the
families who owned the buildings.
Nowadays there are far fewer, and

the most impressive are probably


the Asinelli and Garisenda towers,
which soar up from the intersection
at the end of Strada Maggiore.
If youre looking to work up an
appetite for another ice-cream,
climb the 498 steps of the Asinelli
tower and be rewarded by unrivalled
views over the city. If you want to
stay at ground level, it is dizzying
enough to look up at the two
towers, particularly as the Garisenda
is Bolognas own leaning tower,
soaring upwards at a precariouslooking angle.
In Bologna there is a great deal
packed into a small space, which
makes the city feel friendly and
accessible. I could spend a happy 48
hours within the space of one square
mile, but I am keen to go back and
explore the surrounding countryside
and the parks on the outskirts of the
city. Spend a few days in Bologna
and decide for yourself which facet
of its personality you like best. Q!
KEY TO RESTAURANT PRICES
(full meal per person, not including wine)
Up to 25
O
O
26-50
O
O
O
More than 50
O

CENTRAL ITALY Bologna

Fish market

The Asinelli Tower

GETTING THERE

Crescentine

Porticos provide shade

BY PLANE
You can fly to Bologna Guglielmo Marconi
from London Stansted, Heathrow and
Gatwick, and from regional airports
throughout the UK.

BY CAR
Bologna is easily reached via the A1 and
A14 motorways. Like most Italian cities,
however, the centre is not a great place
to drive around!
BY TRAIN
Bologna is served by high speed trains
on main lines. It takes half an hour to
get there from Florence, an hour from
Milan, an hour and a half from Venice
and two and a half hours from Rome.
The Metropolitan Railway System is also
connected to most cities and provinces
of Emilia-Romagna.
Piazza Medaglie dOro 2, 40121 Bologna
www.trenitalia.com
BY BUS
Aerobus services leave every 15 minutes
from outside the arrivals area of the
main terminal at Bologna airport and run
to Bologna central railway station and
the city centre. The journey takes around
20 minutes and a ticket costs 6 (you
can pay on the bus). Bologna bus station
is open from 4.30am to 11.30pm.
Piazza XX Settembre 6, 40121 Bologna
www.tper.it

CITY BREAKS 93

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Cala Goloritz

Su Gorroppu

In the sun-drenched season, with its long, warm evenings, there is a myriad of choices for the
eager walker. I have picked my three favourite day walks
Under the arch

The top 3

trekking
routes to
explore in
SARDINIA
Images Giulia Dessi

Giulia Dessi was born and raised in Sardinia, and


has spent countless hours exploring the islands four
coasts and its central mountains. Yet even now, she
nds that there is always another pristine beach or
hidden canyon awaiting its rst footprint

here is no better way to


explore Sardinia than
to step off the tarmac
and into the diverse
natural landscapes that
the island has to offer. And in the
sun-drenched season with its long,
warm evenings, there is a myriad
of choices for the eager walker. I
have picked my three favourite
day walks, a selection which I feel
encompasses the best of my island,
from a secluded beach on the east
coast, to a mesmerising canyon in
the Supramonte mountains, and
nally La Sella del Diavolo, a wild
promontory just a few minutes drive

from the centre of Cagliari.


CITY BREAKS 95

SOUTHERN ITALY Sardinia

La Sella del Diavolo

D I S C O V E R I TA L I A !

SOUTHERN ITALY Sardinia

From an earlier
trip in August
2010

Meet the locals!

A quiet spot for


a swim

The satisfaction of a dive in the crystal waters after a long walk has no equal,
and the fatigue is definitely repaid by the dramatic scenery
CALA GOLORITZ
Length
4.1 miles
Time
1:30h plus 2:30h return
Best to go week days or off season
(June, September)

ala Goloritz, a small but


marvellous bay on the east
coast, is a must for anyone
visiting the island of Sardinia. It is
made unique by an arch stretching
into the sea and a majestic pinnacle
of limestone. This, combined with
the turquoise water and white stony
beach, will make it a memory to
treasure for years after your visit.
Miles from the nearest paved
road, this secluded Mediterranean
gem offers no easy access, but this
is part of the magic. Renting a
self-drive boat, or going with an
boat excursion crew, might seem a
convenient option, but the beach is
off limits to engine boats which
have to keep 300 yards away
forcing you to swim or row if you
want to reach the shore.
Although the view of the coast
from the sea is spectacular, I would
recommend arriving after a hike
completely immersed in nature. The
satisfaction of earning a dive in the
crystal waters after a long walk has
no equal, and the fatigue is denitely
repaid by the dramatic scenery and
the view of the bay from the top.
THE PATH
The path is not signposted, but is
obvious and easy to follow. The trail,
paved by pebbles, goes through
the vegetation and runs up along a
mountain ridge, leaving behind you
a stunning panorama of the wooded
plateau. In 15 minutes you reach the
highest point, where you can gaze
from a privileged viewpoint at the

96 CITY BREAKS

glittering sea below your yearned


destination. The descent to the beach
starts here, made of stretches of
white angular pebbles widening and
narrowing with the vegetation.
The landscape borders on the
surreal, with majestic limestone
cliffs and boulders rising out of the
undergrowth. It is a wild place, silent
and solitary. On quiet days along
this route you are likely to meet
the locals wild goats, pigs, and
donkeys. Dont forget to observe the
Mediterranean ora, ranging from
century-old evergreen oaks to gnarled
junipers perched on rocks. Along the
mule tracks you will also nd old
refuges, cuiles, where you can rest and
imagine shepherds looking after their
sheep and making cheese up until 50
years ago. The trail carries on through
another gorgeous natural arch, where
two colossal boulders have fallen
into each other, followed by a steep
descent through thick vegetation,
before nally reaching the coast.
The sight upon arrival is
breathtaking: the massive pinnacle
of rock, which attracts climbers from
across the globe, dominates the white
pebbly beach. Have a stroll, sunbathe
on the rocks, and swim in the clear
waters, but remember to take a good
rest before heading back. The return
journey, which follows that same
track, is steep and uphill much
tougher than you would expect.
HOW TO GET THERE
Head towards the village of Baunei
on the SS125. If you are coming from
the south, take an uphill road on the
right to Su Sterru. Drive along this
road up to the Golgo plateau for 5
miles. Turn right at the sign Cala
Goloritz and drive for another 0.1
miles until you reach the car park.

Down to the beach

Immerse yourself in nature

WHERE TO STAY

TURISMO REALE SU CUILE

SU GOLOGONE

Localit Sulumu, Dorgali, Nuoro


www.tripadvisor.com
At this family restaurant everything is
locally produced, or home-made, including
cheeses, salami, wine, ravioli and the
speciality of Sardinia, suckling pig. The
price is 30 each, wine included.

Localit Su Gologone, Oliena, Nuoro


 +39 07 8428 7512
www.sugologone.it
A beautiful hotel tucked away in the
Supramonte mountains. It successfully
blends modern luxuries with traditional
Sardinian crafts and artwork.

SARZOLA

AGRITURISMO NEUL

Corso Vittorio Emanuele 82,


Orotelli, Nuoro
 +39 07 847 9303
www.pizzeriasarzola.com
The best pizza al fresco in the heart of
Sardinia is served here, but make sure you
book. With more than 60 types of pizzas
on the menu, you will be spoilt for choice.
Dinner for two from only 20.

Localit Neul, Dorgali, Nuoro


 +39 38 0728 3887
gisellu.g@libero.it
www.agriturismoneule.com
A family-run farm in view of the Cedrino
Lake, this is the place to go if you are
after excursions into the wild. Canoe and
mountain-bike rental is available, and even
donkey-back day trips into the foothills,
all of which are organised by the owner,
Giampiero.

STELLA MARINA DI MONTECRISTO


Via Sardegna 140, Cagliari
 +39 34 7578 8964
Wonder where the locals go to treat
themselves to fresh sh? Hidden in the
narrow alleys of the centre of Cagliari, this
small rustic restaurant offers some of the
best sh in town for just 20 a head, wine
included. The menu depends on what is
caught that day.

B&B IL CAGLIARESE
Via Vittorio Porcile 19, Cagliari
 +39 33 9654 4083
info@ilcagliarese.it
www.ilcagliarese.it
This B&B on the seafront of Cagliari
benets from a perfect position. In the
narrow and lively alleys of the historical
district of Marina, it is also a stones throw
from restaurants and the train station.

CITY BREAKS 97

SOUTHERN ITALY Sardinia

WHERE TO EAT

SOUTHERN ITALY Sardinia

D I S C O V E R I TA L I A !

98 CITY BREAKS

Europes Grand Canyon

View over the river

Spectacular shafts of sunlight penetrate deep inside the gorge, cutting through the cool, damp
air and illuminating the flora which sprouts from the boulder floor
SU GORROPU
Length
4 miles
Time
2h outwards plus 2h return
Best to go spring and summer
avoid winter

Flumineddu River

ithin the area between


Barbagia and Ogliastra,
nestled right up in the
Supramonte highlands, runs the
most stunning gorge in Italy, and
quite possibly Europe. Indeed, some
have gone as far as to describe Su
Gorroppu as the Grand Canyon of
Europe. The gorge runs for almost
one mile though, in some parts, it
can become as narrow as four or ve
metres across.
This immense 450 metre-deep
chasm of limestone has been carved
by the Flumineddu river over
countless thousands of years. But
looking at how calm and small the
river is in summer, it is difcult to
imagine the torrent of water that
thunders through the canyon during
the winter months.
As you look up at the thin slit of
sky above, hearing nothing but the
echo of your footsteps, you cant help
but feel dwarfed by the immensity
of your surroundings. At certain
times of the day spectacular shafts
of sunlight penetrate deep inside
the gorge, cutting through the cool,
damp air and illuminating the ora
which sprouts from the boulder oor.
The specicity of the place,
and its demarcation as a national
park, has created a unique natural
environment. One species of endemic
ower, aquilegia nuragica, commonly
known as the Nuragica columbine,
is endemic to Sardinia and cannot
be found anywhere else in the world
and even here, only the most

perceptive of botanists will spot it


growing from cracks in the rock.
THE WALK
Before arriving at the canyon, the
walk takes you through a pretty
valley of juniper bushes, cistus,
oleander and strawberry trees. On
arrival at the car park, cross the
bridge and follow the trail along the
right hand side of Flumineddu river.
Clear, slow moving water,
bordered by smooth rocks are too
much of an invitation to refuse a
swim, especially if the sun beams
reach the water. The trail is very
easy, sometimes in the open air, and
sometimes through dense vegetation.
Just before the canyon entrance
to which, it should be carefully
noted, is only permitted from
10:30am until 5:30pm you will
meet a group of local guides who will
advise you on how to carry on.
You do have to buy a ticket to
get in (5, cash only they dont
have card machines up here!) but rest
assured that the money they take goes
towards the conservation of the park.
Walking on the smooth limestone
boulders alternating with pebbly soil
is possible only for about 700 metres,
and that only with the help of good
walking boots and pegged ropes.
After that, you can carry on only with
appropriate equipment.
HOW TO GET THERE
From the village of Dorgali, follow
a narrow road downhill to Oddoene
region. After 7.5 miles, on the
crossroad, turn right at the sign for
Tiscali. Keep driving for 0.6 miles
until you reach the SAbba Arva
bridge. Park up here and you can

begin your hike.


CITY BREAKS 99

SOUTHERN ITALY Sardinia

Entering the gorge

SOUTHERN ITALY Sardinia

D I S C O V E R I TA L I A !

WWII fort and


SantElia tower

Still waters are


your prize

The path

Expect breathtaking panoramas of the gulf, archaeological sites, and a rich diversity of flora, all
View from the
finished off with a refreshing swim in the glittering waters
Devils Saddle

LA SELLA DEL DIAVOLO


Length
2.6 miles
Time
2:30h total
Best to go All year round, but avoid
the hottest hours of the
day in summer

a Sella del Diavolo the Devils


Saddle is a promontory that
encloses the western end of the
Gulf of Angels, il Golfo degli Angeli.
The origin of these names comes
from a legend saying that demons,
enchanted by the beauty of the Gulf,
tried to conquer it. In response, God
sent his angels, led by the Archangel
Michael, to chase the demons away.
During the battle, which was fought
in the skies above the Gulf, Lucifer
fell right onto the cape with legs
akimbo, and shaped it into a saddle.
This walk is a haven of nature
just outside Cagliari, and right above
Marina Piccola, a lovely harbour
where the locals go to windsurf, sail,
or just for a stroll in the sea breeze.
Next to this small port starts the
long beach of Poetto, a favourite of
Cagliaritans, where restaurants and
bars on the beach offer a nice stop
both in the day and the night time.

100 CITY BREAKS

THE WALK
The path is generously signposted
with yellow and green paint marks,
but it does become very confusing
when it splits into a series of
alternative routes. My advice would
be to avoid branching off to the right
and to follow the well-worn trail that
takes you across the promontory to
the high cliffs on the eastern side.
You can expect breathtaking
panoramas of the gulf, archaeological
sites, and a rich diversity of
Mediterranean ora, all nished off,
of course, with a refreshing swim in
the glittering blue waters.
As you walk up the promontory,
the spectacular landscape of the city
of Cagliari and its Saline Regional
Park, with pink amingos, opens
behind you. Walking towards the
peak, you pass between Chamaerops
palms, junipers and small olive trees.
A wooded valley stretches down to
the sea on your right, with not a
man-made structure in sight.
Sitting on top of the limestone
cliffs on the eastern side you can nd
ruins from various epochs, including
the SantElia tower, which was built
by the Spanish in the 16th century,
as well as the ruins of a Carthaginian
temple, which dates all the way back
to 500 BC, and also a cistern that was
made by the Romans after the defeat
of Carthage. To be fair, and hardly

surprisingly, none of these are in good


condition, but that just leaves all the
more room for your imagination!
At the end of the promontory
you can nd the secluded bay of Cala
Fighera, a pebbly beach rarely visited
by local beachgoers, and the perfect
spot for a picnic. From here, an uphill
trail will take you directly back to
Calamosca.
HOW TO GET THERE
First head to Calamosca beach, which
can be easily reached by the 5/11
bus throughout the summer, and on
weekends during the rest of the year.
In the small car park, take the road
on the left until the hotel. When you
see a map of the route on the wall,
take the rst path up that appears on
the left. Q!

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Paul Murphy

Paul Murphy

Paul Murphy

SOUTHERN ITALY Taormina

ENIT

D I S C O V E R I TA L I A !

Clockwise from
top left: The
Gardens of the
Villa Comunale;
Isola Bella;
Taormina
town centre;
examining
Etna honey;
Taorminas
centro storico;
a wedding;
desolate Etna

102 CITY BREAKS

ENIT

Taormina

Paul Murphy

SOUTHERN ITALY Taormina

48 HOURS IN

Paul Murphy

a sposa arriva, la sposa arriva! shouts a small suited child excitedly


as the hubbub from the crowd around the Chiesa San Giuseppe
rises noticeably and hands begin to dig into bags of rice in
readiness for the emergence of a newly married bride and groom.
On Corso Umberto, hardly anyone bats an eyelid though when a
small remote-controlled helicam rises up above the crowd to get aerial shots
of the event, a few eyebrows are raised. For the locals, its just another day in
Taormina, where almost every day between May and September an endless
parade of brides and grooms tread the Corso, accompanied by an entourage
of photographers, videomakers, stylists and assorted snappily dressed friends
and wellwishers. Why so many, and why here, I wonder as I nervously track
the helicam hovering over my head? Anna, who I get chatting to in the
Piazza IX Aprile, home to the sweet rococo church the happy couple have
just vacated, believes its partly because the town is the prettiest in northeast
Sicily, and shes probably right. For despite being chockablock during the
summer, when hordes of daytrippers, holidaymakers and cruise-ship tourists
swell the usual residential numbers from 8,000 to 200,000, Taormina
remains an utterly charming town, one that has been attracting tourists
since the 18th century. Annas other claim that the brides and grooms
flock here because the residents of Taormina are unfailingly welcoming,

polite, kind and unjaded is something that, as a worldwise traveller,

ENIT

Is the Sicilian town of Taormina the friendliest tourist


destination in Italy? Yolanda Zappaterra spends a long
weekend there to nd out

CITY BREAKS 103

Paul Murphy

D I S C O V E R I TA L I A !

WHAT TO SEE AND DO

SOUTHERN ITALY Taormina

ISOLA BELLA 1
It would be easy to miss out on a trip
to Isola Bella if you are on a short stay
in Taormina as you cant actually see it
from the town, but take the cable car
down to the beaches of Mazzar, turn
right and youll come to this perfect little
cove and island. A private property until
1990, Isola Bella has been bought by the
Sicilian government and is now a nature
reserve. You can take the cable car back
up into town or, if you are feeling suitable
refreshed, get some serious exercise
climbing the steps back up.

GIARDINO DELLA VILLA COMUNALE 2


Via Bagnoli Croce
If you crave a few little moments of peace
and quiet amid the hubbub of Taormina
town, head over to the public gardens,
which were created by English gardener
Florence Trevelyan. Elderly locals hang
out on benches and shoot the breeze in
the shade of the pretty mix of buildings,
originally designed as apiaries, and
the planting particularly the clever
Bougainvillea hedging bears scrutiny by
any keen gardener.
Open dawn till dusk, free.

With Roberto at the


Laboratorio Pasticceria
Roberto

TAORMINA-GIARDINI TRAIN STATION 3


We wouldnt normally consider
recommending a small provincial train
station as a tourist attraction, but Robert
Narduccis gorgeous art nouveau tiling,
wrought iron and marble oors, combined
with Salvatore Palmero Gregorettis
beautiful frecoes, easily make the 1928
building worth the enjoyable downhill
clamber from Taormina, two kilometres
away. From here the ve-minute coastal
ride to the beaches of Mazzeo and
Letojanni is a must.

CHIESA SAN GIUSEPPE 4


Piazza IX Aprile
Dont let the skulls and crossbones on the
arresting faade of the 17th-century church
on Piazza IX Aprile put you off. The inside
of this rococo church is a delight, with
lots of white stucco giving the distinct
impression of being inside one of the
wedding cakes that are eaten so frequently
here in the summer months.
Open 9am-7pm, free.

BAM BAR 5
Via di Giovanni, 45, 98039 Taormina
+39 0942 24355
This pretty granita and ice-cream bar is
something of a Taormina institution, and
offers a welcome respite from the heat and
crowds. Come for the traditional Taormina
breakfast of warm brioche and ice-cold
granita in lots of lovely avours, including
lemon, peach and moreish chocolate.

104 CITY
ITALIA!
BREAKS
September 2014

DONT MISS
MOUNT ETNA
A visit to
Europes highest
active volcano
is a must. A
number of tour
agents offer
excursions (for
around 35)
to the 2,000m
level, where
you can walk
round and into
a number of
craters, but
the ascent to
the very top
involves a cable
car and bus, at a
whopping extra
59. If its too
windy to explore
once youre up
there, there are
no refunds.

Im cynical of and keen to test


out albeit as an everyday tourist
rather than a bride.
And so I set off to spend a
weekend as a typical tourist in
Taormina. This isnt hard, for in
a town where everything radiates
off a swish central main artery, the
kilometre-long Corso Umberto,
almost every activity is a tourist one.
Shopping for something as mundane
as coffee filters at a picturesque
salumeria mid-Corso, the proprietor

much of the Corsos retail offer,


the staff are far more laid back and
approachable than their counterparts
in Paris or London would be.
At the other end of the Corso,
just outside the Catania gate, the
personable Nina at C&G Cioccolato
e Gelato patiently describes the
contents of each type of chocolate
on sale in a super-modern, pristine
white space where colour is
provided only by the eye-popping
elaborate celebration cakes on sale

We deliberate over the gorgeous selection of


nougats, biscuits and pastries on offer
wraps my purchase with as much
care as he would a piece of precious
jewellery, explaining that, as most
of his customers are tourists buying
gifts, he treats each purchase as
though it were a gift. Nearby, at
La Torinese sweetshop, the sales
assistant offers us numerous nibbles
as we deliberate over the gorgeous
selection of nougats, biscuits and
pastries on offer. Even in the highend designer shops that make up

including, of course, vertiginous


wedding ones. And nearby, at that
most touristy of spots, the Gelateria
OSciality, every ice-cream we ask
about is proffered to us on a tiny
neon plastic spoon to sample. Its
the same in the numerous bars and
restaurants all over town: friendly
staff and proprietors engage tourists
in chat and banter as though they
have all the time in the world.
Roberto, the owner of Laboratorio

Paul Murphy

WHERE TO STAY

ENIT

ENIT

EXCELSIOR PALACE 7
Viale Pietro Toselli 8, 98039 Taormina
+39 0942 23975
www.excelsiorpalacetaormina.it
The stately centenarian hotel that is the
Excelsior Palace just exudes olde worlde
charm, with its cocktail hours and elegant
grounds, but it certainly doesnt stint on
the more modern amenities either, which
include a swimming pool with sundeck and
a pretty little outdoor dining terrace.

The Cathedral

Pasticceria Roberto and arguably the


baker of the best cannoli in town,
even insists we take photos with
him and come back to meet to his
son the next morning, and promises
to put aside some cannoli for us to
pick up when we get back from
the beach, because, signora, my
cannoli sell out fast. And indeed,
when we come back, the vitrines are
empty, but Roberto fills our reserved
cannoli with mouth-watering
sweetened ricotta filling before
dipping them into the crunchy
pistachio nut and brittle mix that
define these local specialities.
What quickly becomes clear is
that everywhere in Taormina where
sales are the bottom line, people
seem less bothered about making
those sales than keeping tourists
happy, but of course they know
that happy tourists will nearly
always translate into happy and
repeat customers; we hadnt
planned to buy meringues when
we popped into Pasticceria Mangia
e Vinci, but when the baker urged
us to sample some of the glistening
and wonderfully chewy chocolate
meringues hed just taken out of the

oven, we couldnt resist. Combined


with tiny wild strawberries from
the market, they made a perfect
Eton Mess as dessert for that
evenings meal. Its a winning way of
interacting with visitors.
Less charming or patient
are the staff at Taorminas more
traditional tourist sites. At the
Teatro Greco, the surly ticketseller
refuses to give my 79-year-old
mother-in-law a discounted older
persons ticket despite our showing
him proof of our EU status, simply
because she doesnt have some form
of ID on her. Luckily, the arresting
beauty of the attraction quickly
help us forget him. The Teatro
Greco is often cited as one of Sicilys
most magnificent and important
sites, second only to Syracuse, and
it warrants it. Its still used for
music and theatre performances
throughout the summer (recent
shows have included the operas
Tosca and Cavalleria Rusticana, and
concerts by James Blunt and Simple
Minds) and each June hosts a weeklong film festival Italys oldest
which over its 60 years has attracted
numerous Hollywood A-listers

The Villa Comunale

DONT MISS
ALCANTARA
RIVER PARK
A short stop at
this national
park is often
included in Etna
excursions, but
its well worth
spending some
time among
the surreal rock
formations,
splashing
through the
freezing waters
of the river (in
hired waders)
at the bottom
of the 25m-high
gorge walls or
taking one of the
nature trails to
explore the park
in a bit more
depth. www.
terralcanta.it/en,
8am-sunset, 8.

METROPOLE 8
Corso Umberto, 154, 98039 Taormina
+39 0942 681330
www.hotelmetropoletaormina.it
Right on the Corso, the Metropole is the
hotel for you if you want to be right at
the heart of the action in Taormina. Built
in the 17th century, it has recently been
sympathetically restored and renovated to
include a spa and comfortable rooms, with
restrained dcor and all mod cons included.
The occasional jazz concerts and a stunning
terrace are both excellent selling points
as well.

SAN DOMENICO PALACE 9


Piazza San Domenico 5, 98039 Taormina
+39 0942 613111
www.san-domenico-palace.com
Antique furniture, a two-star Michelin
restaurant and a setting in an ancient
Dominican monastery with a stunningly
beautiful cloister are just part of what make
the ve-star San Domenico so special. If
youve just won the Lottery, splurge on the
garden suite, complete with an outdoor
plunge pool on its own private terrace,
from 1,640 per night.

MONTE TAURO 10
Via Madonna Delle Grazie 3, Taormina
+39 0942 24402
www.hotelmontetauro.it
A funky 4-star design hotel at walking
distance from the centro storico of
Taormina, located close to the lovely Villa
Comunale public gardens and the Teatro
Greco, and with a unique view of the sea
and Etna. It has arresting circular decked
balconies overlooking a pleasant pool area,
and a shuttle bus to the beaches.

CITY BREAKS 105

SOUTHERN ITALY Taormina

Taormina-Giardini railway station

TAORMINA PALACE 6
Viale San Pancrazio 56, 98039 Taormina
+39 0942 625557
www.taorminapalacehotels.com
This is the place to stay if you like your
hotel to be totally ultramodern and
upmarket. It has its own spa and sits in
a great location overlooking the Spizzone
beaches of Taormina. The rooms are stylish
and bright, and all overlook the sea, while
the superior rooms even have balconies
from which to enjoy the view.

D I S C O V E R I TA L I A !

14

WHERE TO EAT

13
6

8
7

LA GIARRA 12
Vico la Floresta 1, 98039 Taormina
+39 0942 23360
www.lagiarataormina.it
This is the place to seriously splash out,
if you can get in its a popular wedding
supper venue. In a stunning art deco
interior and rooftop terrace with gorgeous
views, impeccable waiters serve superior
versions of classics such as spicy tagliata
and frittura mista di pesce.
O
O

Price range O

TIRAMISU 13
Via Cappuccini 1, Taormina
+39 0942 24803
www.tiramisutaormina.it
At sweet ceramic tables on a semi-shaded
terrace, Tiramisu serves some of the
best pizzas in Taormina, as well as the
usual selection of local pasta and sh
dishes the linguine with mussels, mint
and courgette is very good. And as youd
expect, the tiramisu is one of the best
youre likely to taste. Theres also a more
informal trattoria at via Apollo Arcageta 9,
near Porta Catania.
O

Price range O

THE FLAMINGO BEACH BAR 14


Via Michelangelo Garu 34, 98037 Letojanni
+39 0942 36353
www.amingopub.it
With a raised terrace overlooking the sea,
the Flamingo beach bar is a great lunch
spot if youve wisely retreated from the
buzz of Taormina for a day at the beach.
Fish dishes are cheap and generous, but the
pastas are excellent too.
O

Price range O

LIDO LA ROMANTICA 15
Via Naxos, 98035 Giardini-Naxos
+39 0942 53077
www.lidolaromantica.it
Giardini-Naxos makes a nice short excursion
from Taormina, offering a good mix of
beach and culture. At the former, la
Romantica stands out for a ne selection of
sh dishes and a lovely setting.
O

Price range O

106 CITY
ITALIA!
BREAKS
September 2014

11 9

12
4

10

5
2
1

Google

SOUTHERN ITALY Taormina

LA PIAZZETTA 11
5/7, Vico Paladini, 98039 Taormina
+39 0942 626317
www.ristorantelapiazzettataormina.it
Nestled in the charming courtyard of
Piazza Paladini, this popular restaurant
has all the local dishes, including pasta
a la Norma (named after Sicilian hero
Bellini and featuring aubergine, basil and
smoked ricotta), but its best dishes are
undoubtedly the sh ones. Friendly staff
will talk you through the menu.
O
O

Price range O

3
15

DONT MISS
TEATRO GRECO
Built in the 3rd
century BC by
the Greeks, and
later modied
and enlarged by
the Romans, this
is a beautiful,
amazingly
well-preserved
horseshoeshaped theatre
whose nine
stands face a
stage backed
by surely the
most impressive
backdrop
imaginable the
majestic Mount
Etna. Via del
Teatro Greco 1,
98039 Taormina,
 +39 0942
23220, open
from 9am to
one hour before
sunset.

Map data 2014 Google

including, over the years, such


actors as Richard Gere, Colin Firth,
Melanie Griffith and Eva Longoria.
Theyre drawn, one suspects, not so
much by the status of the low-key
festival as by the chance of a few
days in this lovely area. For beyond
the charms of the town itself there
are some excellent attractions.
Walkers of most levels of
fitness will enjoy the five-kilometre
hike up to the hilltop town of
Castelmola, where expansive views
of the coastline can, on a clear day,
stretch as far as Syracuse almost
100 miles away. If youre feeling
lazy, you can always opt instead
for the shorter hike to the top of
Monte Tauro. We decide to do this
one before breakfast and clamber
gamely like mountain goats past
the pretty Santuario Madonna della
Rocca to the remains of a Saracen
castle above it. Here we stop for
some amazing views up and down
the coast, including our first look
at one of its local stars, Isola Bella.
This tiny rocky islet, joined by an
isthmus to the coast immediately
below the bluff on which Taormina
sits, is largely occupied by a house

and grounds that in the late 19th


century were created by Isola Bellas
owner, the Englishwoman and
conservationist Florence Trevelyan.
For more than two decades Florence
lived on the island, turning it into
a haven for unusual and rare flora
and fauna, much of which can still
be seen if you pay 4 to enter the
private areas of the island and the
house, now a small museum. Having
crossed the isthmus in bikini and
flipflops, I dont have 4 so decide
to save this treat for a return visit.
Instead, I splash about in the crystal
clear water of the cove in which Isola
Bella sits before gingerly making
my way over the large rocks to
eschew the Funivia cable car from
the nearby beaches of Mazzar
in favour of a vertiginous climb
up some 500 steps to the town
above me, stopping often to draw
breath and catch glimpses of gently
smoking Etna, 50 miles away.
Its probably Etna that first
drew tourists here in the 18th
century, but when Goethe
discovered the nearby town and
sang its praises in his Italian Journey,
it became an integral part of the

ENIT

SOUTHERN ITALY Taormina

Paul Murphy

The Greco-Roman theatre

View of the gardens

Grand Tour, drawing the likes of


Guy de Maupassant, Alexander
Dumas, Johannes Brahms, Gustav
Klimt, Richard Wagner, Oscar
Wilde, and DH Lawrence, who l
ived in the town for three years and
wrote much of Lady Chatterleys
Lover here. What this all means for
the 21st century tourist is amazing
hotels, great food, and charming
hospitality. Maybe Annas right.
Maybe, more than anything else,
it is old-school good manners that
make Taormina such a draw for
wedding parties. Q!

Filmscreen at the theatre

Isola Bella

GETTING THERE
BY PLANE
There are ights to Catania from
Gatwick, Luton, and other regional
aeroports around the UK. Catania airport
is 50 miles from Taormina. See www.
etnatrasporti.it for information about
direct buses between Catania airport and
Taormina. Buses leave every 90 minutes
and the journey takes about 90 minutes.
Paul Murphy

KEY TO RESTAURANT PRICES


(full meal per person, not including wine)
Up to 25
O
O
26-50
O
O
O
More than 50
O
CITY BREAKS 107

D I S C O V E R I TA L I A !

SOUTHERN ITALY Sorrento

The many faces


of Sorrento

Photos Hannah Bellis unless otherwise stated

Photo Laura McLean

Sunshine, sea, shopping and scooters the things you can


rely on in Sorrento throughout the year. Hannah Bellis
discovers the sides of Sorrento it may be easy to miss

108 CITY BREAKS

SOUTHERN ITALY Sorrento

Here is the heart of the city, tabled terraces, mopeds aplenty and long walkways
of grey swirled paving with decorative shapes like tidemarks on a beach

hatever time of
year you visit
Sorrento, it
always seems
to be sunny,
from the cheerful yellow faade
of the church of Santa Maria del
Carmine in bustling Piazza Tasso to
the equally bustling sun-dappled
shopping streets around via Cesareo.
Perhaps this is what makes the place
feel sunny it is frequently bustling
but never hurried. The beautiful
sea vistas and pedestrianization of
the centre that bans cars from 7pm
brings things back to a holiday pace
of life. The crowds can ll the roads
with no cars to worry about. The
trees are full of citrus fruit and the
terraces awash with holidaymakers
enjoying a drink or a coffee and
watching the world go by.
Any visitor will nd this place
charming it exists as a holiday
destination. On a map, it looks like
two triangles joined by points at via
Capo, so in reality it has six sides. It
is certainly a city of different moods,
all of them a treat.

Clockwise from far


left: Dusk in Piazza
Tasso; Hannah tastes
a tiny lemon sorbet;
tides in at Marina
Grande; Vesuvius
backs sunset views;
produce on via
Cesareo

I began as most visitors do at


the Piazza Tasso of the centro storico,
named after the 16th century poet
Torquato Tasso, who was born in
Sorrento. Most famous as the author
the poem Jerusalem Delivered, he
suffered from mental illness and
died a few days before he was due
to be crowned King of the Poets
by the Pope. The square is a tting
monument celebrating the citys
most famous son youll nd a
statue of him in its northeast corner.
When I visited, a Dal festival was
on and the square full of surrealist
sculpture alongside his statue,
vibrant and thought-provoking
amid the crowds, not unlike the
poetry of the man himself. Here is
the geographical heart of the city,
tabled terraces, mopeds aplenty, and
long walkways of clean grey swirled
paving with decorative white shapes
like tidemarks on a beach.
Venture towards the sea to
nd the small but calm green
space of the Villa Comunale park,
overlooking the Bay of Naples and
Vesuvius. Its another square

CITY BREAKS 109

SOUTHERN ITALY Sorrento

D I S C O V E R I TA L I A !

Fishing nets hang like bunting between the ornate street lights and fishermen
mend their nets alongside sleeping stray cats curled up in the boats
of statues, leafy and green this

time with street musicians and


strollers replacing the tables, though
you can enjoy a drink at the Bar
Villa Comunale as you take in the
view. Or else continue along the via
Marina Grande to enjoy the scenery
as the sea drops away from you down
towards the port.
Marina Grande itself is another
face of the city. Descending from

110 CITY BREAKS

Clockwise from top


left: Sun-drenched
limoncello bottles;
decorations at
Giardini di Cataldo;
yellow church of
Santa Maria del
Carmine; shing net
bunting at Marina
Grande; shopping
on via Cesareo; view
across Bay of Naples

the cliffs above you lose some of


the otherwise ubiquitous sunshine
as you are sheltered by the rocks
around you. A little grotto of our
Lady of Lourdes is carved into the
rocks as you descend and statues
and fountains grace the damp stone
walls. In the marina you are enclosed
by grey stone and coloured houses at
your back, and the beautiful water
of the cove in front. It is charmingly
dilapidated. Fishing nets hang like
bunting between the ornate street
lights this was the main port of
Sorrento when it was still a small
shing village and shermen still
mend their nets alongside sleeping
stray cats curled up in the boats.
Because of the steep decent, and the
peeling paint, this is a world away
from the busy, sunny streets above,
but still just as alluring. You can see
it captured in celluloid alongside
equally alluring Sophia Loren in
the 1950s lm, Scandal in Sorrento.
Dining here is cheaper than in the
main tourist area of town, plus
you are in the right spot to get the
freshest catch of the day!

EXPERIENCES YOU WONT


FIND IN SORRENTO
SWIMMING

CRIME
Of course, there are pickpockets in
Sorrento, just as there are along the whole
of the coast, but it is far less of a problem
here than it is in Naples. Tourism is what
fuels the whole economy of the place, so
petty tourist crime is not tolerated. Its
not a reason to throw caution to the wind,
but this is a relatively safe city, with very
little serious crime and, with the evening
pedestrianization, walking around is much
safer here too.

PUBLIC TRANSPORT
The trains and bus network is good, and
services cover a wide area. But dont expect
them to be reliable or to stick to any
published timetable they are very unlikely
to! The services are often very crowded too.
Public transport will serve you well only if
you are in full-on laid-back holiday mode
with no deadline to worry about. Sadly you
are not going to be able to avoid stress by
hiring a car, as the drivers here have all the
disregard for the rules of the road of their
Neapolitan neighbours.

WEIGHT LOSS
The local limoncello is essentially sugar and
alcohol avoured with lemon. Its fantastic
on a hot day, but far from slimming. You
can also nd Crema di Limoncello too,
with added cream, but Id avoid this and
not just for the calories, as it is not really
Italian. Youll nd the amazing Neapolitan
baba and sfogliatelle in abundance here,
as well as local dishes like scialatielli egg
pasta served with seafood. Sorrento can be
quite hilly in parts and there is fantastic
walking on the coast around the town
but its not enough.

SPEAKING ITALIAN
If you are struggling, Italians here will
speak English to you. They are trying to be
helpful, and they are keen to practise their
English too. But it is almost impossible
to practise beginner Italian here as the
Italians are so used to foreign visitors.

CITY BREAKS 111

SOUTHERN ITALY Sorrento

The sea is all around you, and looks


fabulous sparkling in the sun. But its not
easy to get to the water as you are so far
above it, and when you do, its expensive
to swim. There is very little beach to
speak off anywhere in the city the best
is the pebbles at Marina Grande, and you
can swim from pontoons erected beneath
Villa Comunale. You will have to pay for
the privilege though, around 25, which
includes use of a sun longer, so if you are
going to take to the water, plan to make it
worth your while.

D I S C O V E R I TA L I A !

WHERE TO STAY

SOUTHERN ITALY Sorrento

PALAZZO JANNUZZI RELAIS


Piazza Torquato Tasso 1
+39 081 877 2862
www.palazzojannuzzi.com
The Jannuzzi family have run the decorative
art and craft store on this site for more
than 100 years. The oors above, with
spectacular views over Piazza Tasso, was
a family residence, but they have now
been updated and converted into a lovely
design hotel. Black, yellow and white
dominate the dcor for a sunny nish
with a stylish edge, and Ive rarely had
a warmer welcome from staff, with a
fabulous breakfast on the hotels roof
terrace. Great location with a modern
luxury nish.

WHERE TO EAT
IL CONVIVIO
Via Correale 19
+39 081 878 3743
www.ristoranteilconviviosorrento.com
This peaceful restaurant has daily specials
on the menu dishes change every night,
depending on what is in season in the
restaurants kitchen garden, and the catch
of day. Handmade pastas, enormous pizzas
and fresh seafood. After dinner you can
adjourn for digestivi in the restaurants
courtyard garden.
O

Price range O

IL BUCO
2a Rampa Marina Piccola,
Piazza S. Antonino
+39 081 8782 354
www.ilbucoristorante.it
For Michelin-style dining in Sorrento, this is
the place. The restaurant is all white linen
and sparkling cutlery beneath the brick
archway colonnades of the cellars of an
old convent. Or you can ask to dine on one
of the outside tables leading down to the
port. The food is traditional Italian, served
exquisitely, and with a touch of theatre
I had scialatielli topped with sh sliced
so nely that the heat of the pasta below
made it undulate like a jellysh.
O
O

Price range O

DI LEVA
Via Marina Grande 31
+39 081 878 3826
For fresh sh and pasta, simply served,
this trattoria is one of the best options in
Sorrento. Set by the waters edge on Marina
Grande, sit and watch the light fade to dusk
over the water if you prefer not to eat
though once you are here, the tasty aromas
from other diners plates may well make you
change your mind.

Price range O

112 CITY BREAKS

SOUTHERN ITALY Sorrento

This is the authentic Sorrento experience today the fishing village is long gone.
But you can still find a slice of it tucked away in the Marina Grande
Back in the centro storico, you can
leave the open space and sea views
of Piazza Tasso and the Corso Italia
and enter the narrow cream streets
around via Cesareo. The shopping
and eating here is very appealing
lots of tourists shops interspersed
with produce, clothing and jewellery
stores, bars and restaurants. In some
ways it is a touristy area, but look
upwards you will spot traditional
Sorrento balconies, decorated in
drying fruit and squash. There are
still a good 15,000 inhabitants in
Sorrento, and they often live right
above the tourist hubbub.
Today the tiny shing village
of Sorrento has evolved into a
prosperous town of 15 churches,
which exists because of its many
charms and its huge appeal to
visitors. Most of the voices you
hear in the street will be speaking
English, or German, or even Chinese
the Italian language is not heard
so often. But the welcome you
receive and the safe friendly streets
of the city more than make up for
this. This is the authentic Sorrento

Clockwise from far


left: Cloister of San
Francesco; scooters
line the decorated
paving by day;
cats in the shing
boats at Marina
Grande; stylish kiosk
in Piazza Tasso;
grotto of our Lady
of Lourdes on the
steps to the Marina
Grande; a baba
embellished with
lemon cream

experience today the shing


village is long gone. But you can
still nd a little slice of it tucked
away in the Marina Grande. Its
impossible not to be charmed by
this small city with its many faces
and amazingly you can discover
them all on foot within a couple of
hours. But youll want to spend a lot
longer here than that. Q!

CITY BREAKS 113

SOUTHERN ITALY Matera

D I S C O V E R I TA L I A !

114 CITY BREAKS

Clockwise
from top left:
Artichoke seller
at the market;
frescoes can be
found exposed
in the many rock
churches; the
abandoned area
of the Sassi; cats
at night; new
churches were
built when Matera
became capital
of Basilicata; all
buildings are built
into, and from,
the same rock;
sh stall at the
market, vehicle
outside bar
Area 8

Photography Sally FitzGerald

SOUTHERN ITALY Matera

48 HOURS IN

Matera
Sally FitzGerald takes a trip to Basilicata to explore
the picture perfect area of Matera and its increasingly
famous Sassi just before the tourist hordes arrive

n Matera there is a saying that the living always stay beneath the
dead. As our local tour guide Antonio utters these words I suddenly
realise that the heavily cratered surface we are standing on that I had
mistaken for volcanic rock just moments earlier is in fact a graveyard.
The indentations of tombs that were dug out of the rock centuries ago
and have been worn away by the feet of generations surround us. But this is no
ordinary graveyard: it is also the roof of the next layer of cave houses beneath us.
Italy is littered with picturesque hilltop villages, but you will rarely
experience anything quite like Matera. Located in southern Italys Basilicata
region, between the countrys heel and toe, Matera is something of a
phenomenon. Not only is it one of the oldest continually inhabited settlements
in the world, with the first residents taking root in the Palaeolithic times, but,
unlike many hilltop towns which are built onto the rock, Matera is built into it.
Its history has literally been carved in stone.
Today Matera is made up of several small districts, the oldest being the
Sassi, the Stones or Rocks. Seen from above, the two Sassi Sasso Caveoso and
Sasso Barisano join to form the wings of a dove. The Byzantine monks were
the first to properly start building here, which is one of the reasons why Matera
now boasts more than 150 rock churches! But the city really came into its own
in 1663 when Matera was made capital of Basilicata. The area of town at the top
of the hill was completely renovated with ornate faades, while new palaces
CITY BREAKS 115

D I S C O V E R I TA L I A !

WHAT TO SEE AND DO

SOUTHERN ITALY Matera

CASA NOHA 1
Recinto Cavone, 9
www.fondoambiente.it
Learn the fascinating story of Matera
in this old cave house converted into a
museum. The Fodale and Latorre families
donated Casa Noha to FAI (the Italian
equivalent of the National Trust) so the
building wouldnt go to ruin but would
be faithfully preserved as a living memory
of those who have lived within its rooms.
Materas history is now told through
videos in three rooms a poignant way
to learn more about this citys tumultuous
history. Although there is no entry fee, a
donation of 4 is suggested.

THE CRYPT OF THE ORIGINAL SIN 2


 +39 3203 345323
info@criptadelpeccatooriginale.it
Around 10km from Matera, the rock
church often referred to as the Sistine
Chapel of Rock Art is a real must-visit.
A tour must be pre-booked and you
will arrange to meet the guide at the
Grifo Gas petrol station on the SS7. The
painters responsible for the frescoes are
fondly known as the ower painters of
Matera thanks to the blossoms that link
the biblical scenes and saints painted
onto the rock, and ancient preservation
methods and sympathetic restoration
mean that the colours in the paintings
are nearly as impressive today as they
would have been when they were created.
Entrance fee 10. Closed Mondays.

MURGIA TIMONE 3
Look out over the ravine from the Sassi
and you will marvel at the primitive caves
on the hillside of Murgia Timone, which
were often used by shepherds tending
their ocks. Cross over the ravine into
the natural park and you can explore the
caves on foot, marvel at fauna and ora,
and get the chance to take the postcardperfect photo of the Sassi. Offering
different plants throughout the year, this
is a great place to visit in any season. It
is also one of the locations used to lm
the recent Ben-Hur movie.

TAKE A TOUR 4
With Sassis streets all looking fairly
similar, get the best from a short visit to
Matera by booking a guide. I had tours
with two different guides, both of whom
I would thoroughly recommend. Antonio
Manicone was born in the Matera area
and speaks impeccable English nd him
at www.materatourguide.it. If youd like
to take a themed tour of Matera, eg, a
culinary trip, or youd prefer to take in
the sights by bike, get in touch with Dora
Cappiello at www.ferulaviaggi.it

116 CITY BREAKS

Panoramic view of the Sassi

DONT MISS
BEN-HUR
Following on
from its starring
role in Mel
Gibsons The
Passion of the
Christ, Matera
has been chosen
as a film set
once again,
this time in the
remake of the
epic Ben-Hur.
Stars Jack
Huston, Morgan
Freeman and
Toby Kebbell
could be found
wandering
the streets of
Matera during
filming. The film
was released in
August 2016.

and government headquarters were


constructed from the beautiful creamy
mix of sandstone and limestone.
With new places of worship being
developed, the older rock churches
further down the hill were turned into
more basic dwellings. So the rich lived
at the top of the hill and the poorer
further down, a system which worked
well for a while.
But at the time of the French
Revolution Matera lost its position
as capital of Basilicata and with its

the infant death rate was high. And


this continued until the 1950s.
It was then that a government
investigation uncovered the true state
of Materas slums and, as word of the
conditions spread, TV crews flocked to
the area. Matera soon became known
as the shame of Italy and the slums
were declared uninhabitable. New
districts had to be built on the edges
of the Sassi to rehouse everyone from
the slums, and most of the Sassi were
left abandoned.

Families lived in one-roomed cave houses,


with the animals sleeping at the back
decline in status followed its residents
living conditions. The areas where
the poorer classes lived soon became
slums. There was no sewer system or
running water here. Families lived
in one-roomed cave houses, with
the animals sleeping at the back and
the adults and children at the front.
There was only one window in each
rock house, so families would have to
sleep with the doors open, even in the
harshest winter. Malaria was rife and

Walking the cobbled streets today


there is still an element of a ghost
town about the Sassi. In certain areas,
wire fencing covered windows hint
at the scenes of happiness and sorrow
that have played out within, while
silence echoes around courtyards that
would once have been filled with
children. But there are also many
signs of the renovation plan that is
taking place to restore the Sassi to
their former glory. Rows of one-room

WHERE TO STAY

Miniature model of the Sassi


built from the same stone

houses are now being sympathetically


combined and restored to create
bigger, modern homes, and much of
the top half of the Sassi is thriving
and lived in once again. As we wander
the narrow walkways we see some
of the new homes, the residents sat
outside with makeshift stalls selling
miniature versions of Matera that have
been carved from the stone, hopeful
to attract a few passing tourists. Prices
are incredibly cheap yet stocks are still
high, which is unsurprising as in the
last five minutes we have seen but a
handful of other tourists the joy of
early season Matera. There is only one
main road running through the town,
so even the roar of cars is non-existent.
Our next stop is the church of
Santa Lucia alle Malve, one of the
many former rock churches. Built in
the 9th century by the Benedictine
monks, it was later converted into a
residential building, signs of both uses
still apparent in the stone. Crosses
remain carved into the rock, while
the ceiling is domed to echo the
appearance of a traditional church.
But it is the frescoes that catch my
eye. Between patches of green algae
covered stone lie several perfect

The Palombaro water system

depictions of saints, including one


which had another fresco painted
directly on top, but the face of the
latter fell off to reveal the much finer
painting beneath. The art has been left
as a merging of the two.
From here we make our way back
to the main square, Piazza Vittorio
Veneto, to go deeper underground
in Il Palombaro Lungo, the citys water
system. Built in the first half of the
19th century, the system was excavated
15 metres into the rock, is fed by rain
water and stretches from the square to
the castle. Today you can only explore
a small part of the system via specially
constructed metal walkways, but the
sheer size of the construction is enough
to leave you in awe. The soaring
ceilings make you wonder how exactly
they managed to carve out this fivemillion-litre cistern, while the eerie
lighting sets my imagination going,
ready to spot the Italian equivalent
of the Phantom of the Opera sailing
around the corner. Its no wonder this
incredible construction helped Matera
to achieve UNESCO World Heritage
status in 1993.
As early evening approaches and
we emerge back into the daylight,

DONT MISS
CAPITAL OF
CULTURE
Matera has been
picked as one of
Europes Capitals
of Culture in
2019, along
with Plovdiv,
Bulgaria. It
is the perfect
chance for the
town to show
how times have
changed since it
was called the
shame of Italy
in the 1950s,
and for Matera
to promote its
rich history,
beautiful
scenery and
diverse culture.
www.materabasilicata2019
.it/en

LHOTEL IN PIETRA 6
Via San Giovanni Vecchio, 22
 +39 0835 344040
www.hotelinpietra.it
This boutique hotel in the Sassi is housed
in an old church, with the building dating
back to 1300. With only seven rooms and
two suites you need to book early, but
each exudes character and style. Beautifully
renovated in 2008, if you like the idea of
staying in one of the old cave dwellings,
but also enjoy a touch of luxury, this is the
choice for you! The suite offers a two-storey
room with bathtub built into the stone and
rain shower on the ground oor, plus kingsize bed on the rst oor, while the more
basic room has a bed carved into the stone
framework and panoramic views of the city.
Theres something to suit most budgets.

SEXTANTO LE GROTTE DELLA CIVITA 7


Via Civita, 28
 +39 0835 332744
www.sextantio.it
The perfect choice for a romantic getaway
in Matera, this cave hotel promises a stay
youll never forget. Cave rooms are designed
to give you the experience of staying in
a cave, but with all the modern comforts
we all desire in particular a good bath!
Lighting is kept to a minimum to add to
the atmosphere, with candles providing a
romantic glow at night. A generous buffet
breakfast is served in the picturesque
chapel, and the staff are friendly and
very helpful. Fantastic views make this
a wonderful choice for the full Matera
experience.

INFORMATION
To find out more about Matera
and the surrounding area, visit
www.discoverbasilicata.com

CITY BREAKS 117

SOUTHERN ITALY Matera

The Casa Noha video rooms

HILTON GARDEN INN 5


Via Germania, Borgo Venusio
 +39 0835 215111
http://hiltongardeninn3.hilton.com
This hotel is about a 15-minute drive from
the Sassi, located in the countryside of
Matera, so a car is recommended if you
stay here. The hotel itself is well equipped
and elegantly decorated, with the 360
degree glass lifts giving a great view of
the surrounding countryside. Take a well
deserved rest in the hotel spa after hours
of exploring the city, and enjoy a good
breakfast in the restaurant before you
set off again the next day. The food here
is good too, if youd prefer to have an
evening meal in the restaurant rather than
heading back into the Sassi. Everything
youd expect from a trusted Hilton brand.

D I S C O V E R I TA L I A !

5
3

WHERE TO EAT

SOUTHERN ITALY Matera

OI MARI 8
Via Fiorentini, 66
www.oimari.it
Oi Mari is a real favourite with the locals,
and once youve eaten here youll understand
why. A pizzeria in a lovely cave setting,
the pizza is just as good as youd expect,
but the rest of the menu is worth exploring
too! We enjoyed a delicious Italian version
of sh and chips, with battered salt cod
and sun-dried red pepper crisps, artichoke
croquettes, and thin fried potatoes with
ham, onion relish and reduced wine drizzle.
The desserts are to be recommended too!
Thoroughly recommended.

11
4
6 8 7
1
9
10

2
Map data 2015 Google

BACCANTI RISTORANTE 9
Via SantAngelo, 58-61
 +39 0835 333704
www.baccantiristorante.com
Elegant dishes created from local ingredients
are order of the day at Baccanti Ristorante.
If you like contemporary twists on regional
classics, youre spoilt for choice, with dishes
ranging from homemade tortelloni stuffed
with ricotta and artichokes to sausage and
mushroom risotto and slow-cooked veal
cheeks. Locals claim that Italian sausages
actually originated from this region, so
theyre denitely worth a try!
O

RISTORANTE DA FRANCESCA 10
Vico Bruno Buozzi, 9
 +39 0835 310443
www.ristorantefrancescasassi.com
If youre looking for a full-on feast, this
is your restaurant. Sample local cheeses,
salamis and antipasti in hearty quantities,
followed by delicious pasta dishes such
as orecchiette with bean pure. A good
choice of wines are available to choose
from, and the busy atmosphere in this
cave restaurant makes for a very enjoyable
dining experience.
O

LA CUCINA CASERECCIA STANO 11


Via Santa Cesarea, 67
 +39 0835 344101
www.stanoristorazione.it
This family-run restaurant is one of Materas
hidden gems. Opt for the mixed antipasti to
try a range of regional specialities, followed
by deliciously traditional main courses. All
the desserts are homemade, and the family
connection gives the whole restaurant a
welcoming feeling.

KEY TO RESTAURANT PRICES


(full meal per person, not including wine)
Up to 25
O
O
26-50
O
O
O
More than 50
O
118 CITY BREAKS

DONT MISS
WRITTEN IN
THE STONE
When wandering
around Sassi,
keep your
eyes peeled
for interesting
shapes in the
stone. Thanks to
this area being
under water
at one point,
many shells and
creatures were
calcified into
the stone, signs
of which can
now be found on
the street paths
and side walls of
houses, creating
an interesting
addition to the
stone. We even
spotted signs of
a sea urchin on
one street!

the square has become filled with


the old men of Matera, who are more
than ready to take willing tourists on
a magical mystery tour around the
old abandoned streets. Language is no
barrier as they use hand signals to point
out where they used to live and play,
reminiscing about the times they lived
in the cave dwellings.
When night descends on the
city the atmosphere changes. The
streets become even quieter and, as we
position ourselves on one of the many
balconies to get a panoramic view of
the city, lights twinkle across the vista,
casting an orange glow over the stone.
It feels like part of an elaborate dream
as I look at the setting which could be
mistaken for Bethlehem. Its magical.
Im only tempted back to reality by the
comforting aroma of pizza filtering out
from wood fired ovens, inviting us into
a nearby cave pizzeria.
The following day we get in the
car to explore the many hidden gems
just outside Matera. Our first stop is
the Crypt of the Original Sin. Located
around 15 kilometres from Matera, the
crypt is often referred to as the Sistine
Chapel of rock art, and is well worth
the trek! It was discovered in the
1990s and restored in 2005, and as we
are seated on wooden steps stretching
the width of the cave we discover
why it is so special. Spot lighting
reveals some of the earliest examples
of medieval art in southern Italy, still
incredibly well preserved thanks to
early foresight by the monks who
painted them, and then coated them
with a protective layer of marble.
One of my favourites is the
depiction of Adam and Eve that the

crypt is named after. Here, rather than


an apple, Eve holds a fig. It is one of
just five known depictions of the fig as
the fruit of temptation (another being
Michelangelos in the Sistine Chapel),
and by far the oldest.
Next we head to the Parco
Scultura della Palomba. Here the
basin of one of Materas stone quarries
has been transformed into an open-air
art gallery filled with sculptures by
Antonio Paradiso. Again we are the
only visitors as we peruse the dovethemed iron works of art, and I am
particularly glad about this when we
reach the far end of the quarry, where a
state of reverie descends.
In 2009, the port authority of
New York and New Jersey invited
artists from across to the world to
submit designs for a sculpture using
twisted metal and debris remains
from the World Trade Center after
the attack on September 11, 2001.
Antonios design, entitled Global
Last Supper, was picked as a winner,
and the sculptor was given 20 tons
of twisted metal, steel girders and
bars to transport to Italy to create his
installation. The only alterations he
made to the metal were to cut the
pieces to size the twists, dents and
corrosion that appear in each element
were created by the heat and impact
of the collision, a sobering reminder of
what caused each of these marks and a
touching tribute to the event that sent
ripples across the world.
Our final stop is the Parco della
Murgia Materana, a photographers
dream when it comes to capturing the
beauty of the Sassi. As we stand on the
edge of the hill, looking out over the

The Last Supper sculpture at the


Parco Scultura della Palomba

The restaurant Oi Mari

The Sassi by night

SOUTHERN ITALY Matera

ravine to the streets that we wandered


yesterday, it puts into context the scale
of Matera, and also how incredibly
unique it is.
Matera may have the looks of a
movie star, but it also has a very real
and at times harrowing past. And this
is what gives it so much character.
Rather than turning its back on the
thousands of abandoned homes and
leaving them to fall into disrepair,
new life is being breathed into the
ghost town. The magic of the Sassi is
fragile and it has to be preserved so
it can continue to tell its story. And
with Matera being awarded the title of
European Capital of Culture for 2019,
things are only going to improve.
But with that comes tourism. So my
advice? Go to Matera now. Explore
it while you can still feel like youre
the first person to discover its charms.
Because soon everyone will be talking
about this magical area of Italy, and
the endless queuing is bound to take
the shine off just a little!

Visitors explore Piazza


Giovanni Pascoli

Even new houses must be


sympathetically restored

GETTING THERE
BY PLANE
The nearest airport to Matera is Bari.
Ryanair fly to Bari from Dublin and
Stansted, BA and easyJet from Gatwick.
Matera is a 45-minute drive from Bari
airport, but if youre planning to hire a
car, check with your hotel about parking
as this is limited in the Sassi.
BY TRAIN
There is a privately run train service
from Bari to Matera but trains arent
frequent, so if youre hoping to travel
by train, check the timetable before you
leave home. The journey will take just
over an hour. There is a bus service too.

CITY BREAKS 119

Image Shutterstock

SOUTHERN ITALY Capri

D I S C O V E R I TA L I A !

Clockwise from
top left: Bright
platters of
seafood at Il
Riccio restaurant;
Capris stunning
topography;
a glamorous
partygoer arrives
in Capri harbour;
faraglioni rock
stacks; Fleur rests
her weary legs
after a long climb;
caf life in Capri
Town; a tree-lined
path leads gently
upwards; a rare
sighting of some
fellow walkers
120 CITY BREAKS

Photography Fleur Kinson

SOUTHERN ITALY Capri

48 HOURS IN

Capri
Fleur Kinson discovers the islands best-kept secrets its
wonderful walking routes, far from the crowds, with stunning
natural beauty in every direction

owering out of the Bay of Naples, Capri has long seemed a


distinctly enchanted island. It was from here that the sirens of
Greek myth reputedly called to Odysseus. And the seductive aura
of the place hasnt abated since. The Emperor Tiberius famously
built a pleasure palace on Capri, where he entertained lovers till he
tired of them and threw them off the high cliffs. Various sensualists were later
drawn ineluctably to the island, including the Marquis de Sade, and throughout
the 20th century a long succession of artists, writers, actors and politicians all fell
under Capris spell.
And how could a place so beautiful incline the mind to anything but
pleasure? Capri is a sensual delight. Gentle sea breezes and hot sunshine take
turns to caress your limbs, flowers and pine trees sweeten each inhalation, and
the eye is constantly assailed with high white rock and wide blue sea, with fruitcoloured villas and teeming greenery. It was this aspect of Capri that I wanted
to explore not the yachts and luxury boutiques, not the spa-pool idylls and
exquisitely-dressed evening passeggiata. I just wanted to walk for hours across
the islands exceptionally beautiful terrain. And so, armed with a map of Capris
various paths and trails, I set out for two days of blissful walking.
My boat sweeps into the harbour at sunset, and up in Capri Towns piazzetta
I find the glamorous pre-prandial passeggiata in full swing. The honeyed light of
a warm September evening gilds the locals in their effortlessly elegant clothes
CITY BREAKS 121

D I S C O V E R I TA L I A !

WHAT TO SEE AND DO

SOUTHERN ITALY Capri

THE BLUE GROTTO 1


Via Grotta Azzurra, Anacapri
This brilliantly illuminated sea cave mustnt
be missed. A trick of sunlight passing
through rock apertures oods the water
with a barely credible luminescence.
Getting there is a mini-adventure, too, with
exuberant boatmen playing up the drama
as they man the oars to squeeze you in
and out of the tiny entrance. If youre lucky
theyll also sing opera. Open 9am to sunset;
boat fare/entry 13.

VILLA JOVIS 2
Via Tiberio
Its worth coming here for the walk alone
a wonderful 45-minute stroll from Capri
Town along attractive pedestrian lanes
anking villas and domestic gardens. The
sea views grow steadily more panoramic
before climaxing at the high clifftop ruins
of the villa itself a huge, sprawling
complex of ancient Roman brick. Open
9am-1pm; entry 2.

VILLA SAN MICHELE 3


Viale Axel Munthe 34, Anacapri
+39 081 837 1401
www.villasanmichele.eu
This divine n-de-sicle villa was built by
the Swedish philanthropist, doctor and
writer Axel Munthe and still serves as a
Swedish cultural institution. The gardens
are the very embodiment of serenity, with
Classical and Egyptian statuary musing
upon the breathtaking views out to sea.
A sighingly beautiful place. Open 9am3:30/6pm; entry 7.

CASA ROSSA 4
Via Giuseppe Orlandi 78, Anacapri
+39 081 838 2193
This striking Moorish-cum-Venetian
structure with its distinctive deep red
walls was built by an American colonel in
the late 19th century. Its a fascinating
place to while away an hour admiring
its ne collection of historical paintings
of Capri and its various archaeological
nds the most unforgettable being
the sea-eroded statues that once formed
a Roman-era nymphaeum beneath the
waters of the Blue Grotto. Open 10am4/5/8pm; entry 7.

CHURCH OF SAN MICHELE 5


Piazza San Nicola, Anacapri
This outwardly unremarkable 18th-century
church is famed for its mesmerising
majolica oor depicting Adam and Eve in
the Garden of Eden backed by a towering
Tree of Knowledge and surrounded by
birds and animals. You can view the whole
from a small balcony above, then follow a
surrounding boardwalk to view the tiles up
close. Open in daylight hours; entry free.

122 CITY BREAKS

Glistening rain-coated pines

DONT MISS
TAKING A DIP
Capris cute
bijou beaches
consist of tiny
strips of pebbles
or platforms
between rocks
rather than
expanses of soft
golden sand. They
have an intimate,
secluded charm,
and a clubby
atmosphere. Try
the areas around
Marina Piccola, i
Faraglioni, Faro
and the Blue
Grotto.

and the tourists in their adequateto-shabby travel-rags. Everyone is


happily milling about, perusing
shop windows, sipping aperitifs and
plotting where to have dinner tonight.
Vesuvius broods across the water, and
a small volley of fireworks goes off
from the roof of a large yacht in the
port below some private celebration
made suddenly public.
Reluctantly tearing myself from
the happy hubbub, I board a taxi and
am whisked away to the islands other

When I awake and open the


curtains, a monsoon is pounding onto
my balcony. The nearest hillside has
vanished beneath a shroud of vapour,
and the sky is a ragged, low-hanging
mass of hostility. Im English and so
I know every shade of rain, but Ive
never seen anything like this. Its
violent, tropical rain. Exotic, alien
rain. It pours like a waterfall and
roars like a lion. Its thrilling, but its
no good for walking in. I close the
curtains and go back to bed, expecting

I bound through a wild pine forest with a


layer of red-orange pine-needles underfoot
main settlement the quieter and
possibly even prettier Anacapri, set
at the towering highest point of the
island. Here Im enfolded into pure
luxury at the Capri Palace Hotel, and
after a magnificent meal followed
by stupefied strolls round glowing
turquoise pools, I fall asleep to dreams
of tomorrows long, sun-kissed
walks, where I shall be surrounded
by fragrant vegetation and enjoy
spectacular views across a cobalt sea.

it to pass over in an hour or two.


But it doesnt. Its a freak storm, and
baffling to the locals. I hear that on
the mainland, the road to Sorrento is
impassable. How exciting. But what
to do? Will I let a soaking scupper
my days walking plans? I will not. I
gamely don my leather jacket, swathe
my camera in plastic, and set out.
Clearly impressed by my
fortitude, the rain pulls back a little,
downgrading its mood from furious

WHERE TO STAY

HOTEL LA REGINELLA 7
Via Matermania 36, Capri
 +39 081 837 7283
www.hotellareginella.com
A rare example of a low-priced hotel
on Capri, La Reginella is in the hills
above the town and very friendly.
Rooms are simple but clean and
comfortable and great views.

The Blue Grotto

to sullen. I follow a series of charming


pedestrian alleys out of Anacapri,
admiring the fecund back gardens
of passing homes fig trees, vines,
fat orange marrows lying on the soil,
tomatoes and fruits heavily pendant
from bushes. The views out across the
sea to other islands and the mainland
would be breath-taking in clear
weather. But rain or no rain, the air
is beguilingly soft and sweet, and my
spirits are high. My shoes become
squelching sponges, my soaked
trouser-ends slap against my ankles
and my hair hangs in wet rat-tails
round my face, but truly, the walk just
gets lovelier.
After admiring a dramatic
clifftop vista of the distant Punta
Carena lighthouse which marks the
southwestern tip of the island and the
intended end of my walk, I bound
downhill through a fragrant wild pine
forest with a springy layer of vivid
red-orange pine-needles underfoot.
The rain-shiny tree trunks twist at
pretty angles, and theres a halo of
radiant green needles overhead. Its
an arresting, Arcadian landscape in
any weather. I navigate through a tiny
village then down a whole hillside of

La Casa Rossa,
Anacapri

steps that leave my legs trembling


by the time they spill me out onto a
tiny road. I can hear the occupants of
the few passing cars thinking Who
is that crazy, sodden blonde woman
marching through this downpour,
and why? The rain finds renewed
vigour as I make a final push to the
lighthouse, where I whoop defiantly at
the sky and then throw myself on the
mercy of a passing bus to deliver me
to a hot bath back at the hotel.
The next day, its a tense moment
when I roll up the electric shutters.
Hot light sweeps across the room.
Sun! Sun! I leap onto a bus to Capri
Town, intending to walk the entire
east of the island. The tall, narrow bus
merrily rattles me down the hairpin
bends of tight little roads evidently
built with no expectation of twoway traffic. Theres an audible gasp
from my fellow passengers whenever
we pass an oncoming vehicle only
inches away, with nothing but a solid
rockface on one side and a deathplunge on the other.
I alight into the scrum of Capri
Town and squeeze my way through
once-lovely streets now flanked with
the nauseating glitz of millionaire-

DONT MISS
MONTE SOLARO
At 600 metres
above sea level,
this is the very
highest point on
Capri. It enjoys all
the gobsmacking
views of the
island and its
surrounding
landmasses
that you might
imagine. You can
climb up here on
foot, or take the
scenic chairlift
ride up from
Anacapri.

CAPRI PALACE HOTEL 8


Via Capodimonte 14, Anacapri
 +39 081 978 0111
www.capripalace.com
Poised at the top of the island, this
large, sumptuous hotel is one of Capris
best. The elegant arches, vaults and
columns of the building are offset by
luminous pools and striking works of
contemporary art. Rooms are decorated
in luxurious natural fabrics in serenely
muted colours. Theres a spa and designer
boutique shops, plus three restaurants
two with Michelin stars.

HOTEL VILLA BRUNELLA 9


Via Tragara 24, Capri
 +39 081 837 0122
www.villabrunella.it
Perched not far from the panoramic
Punta Tragara, this very pretty and
secluded-feeling hotel enjoys fabulous
views. Sea-facing rooms all have private
terraces, while garden-facing rooms
have private patios. The dcor is bright
yet homey, with oral colours vivid
against white majolica. Theres a spa,
and a good restaurant.

HOTEL VILLA KRUPP 10


Viale Matteotti 12, Capri
 +39 081 837 0362 / 7473
www.villakrupp.com
This lower-priced, family-run hotel
enjoys a lovely location on a clifftop
near the Gardens of Augustus. The white,
airy rooms gaze out onto the sea, the
gardens or Capri Town in the near-distance.
Theres a panoramic clifftop breakfast
terrace and a belvedere where you can
sit and dream.

CITY BREAKS 123

SOUTHERN ITALY Capri

The pretty streets


of Anacapri

GRAND HOTEL QUISISANA 6


Via Camerelle 2, Capri
 +39 081 837 0788
www.quisi.com
This elegant, historic landmark of a
caprese hotel has been accommodating
celebrities and heads of state for more
than 150 years (although they infamously
turned away Oscar Wilde). The place is a
delirium of bright luxury with all the lush
gardens, arresting vistas, perfect pools
and ne restaurants you might imagine.
Bedrooms are white-tiled and dazzling.

D I S C O V E R I TA L I A !

1 11

WHERE TO EAT

SOUTHERN ITALY Capri

RISTORANTE IL RICCIO 11
Via Gradola 4/6, Localit Grotta Azzurra,
Anacapri
+39 081 837 1380
www.ristoranteilriccio.com
Spectacularly set on sweeping terraces
atop a sea-gazing cliffside, this stylish
and friendly Michelin-starred eaterie
enjoys spectacular views of the entire Bay
of Naples. Glorious seafood is served in
lavish abundance. Do not miss the chance
to visit the majolica-tiled dessert kitchen.
O
O

VERGINIELLO 12
Via Lo Palazzo 25/A, Capri
+39 081 837 0944
www.ristorantepizzeriaverginiellocapri.it
Its not easy to eat well at modest cost
on Capri, but here you can. Classic local
dishes, seafood and pasta, plus great
handmade pizzas. There are wonderful
views of the Bay of Naples outside, and
cheery-bright, homey dcor within.
O

IL GERANIO 13
Via Matteotti, Capri
+39 081 837 0616
www.geraniocapri.com
Passing pretty shops then winding along a
fragrant avenue of trees, you nally arrive
at a deeply romantic spot with ne views
over the tall, sea-girt white rocks called
I Faraglioni. The cuisine is high-quality
Mediterranean and international fare, and
the atmosphere is serenely celebratory.
O
O

LOLIVO 14
Capri Palace Hotel, Via Capodimonte 14,
Anacapri
+39 081 978 0111
www.capripalace.com
Boasting two Michelin stars, this
sumptuous restaurant immerses you in
luxury. Warmly lit and as comfortable as
a living room, you experience sensual
delight long before the food arrives. And
then, oh wow! Wait until you taste the
desserts, though these are better than
anything. Outdoor diners can enjoy the
terrace beside the illuminated pool.
O
O

EL MERENDERO 15
Via Marina Piccola 74
+39 338 148 6979
Set beside the public beach of Marina
Piccola, theres a distinctly tropical vibe,
underscored with upbeat Latin music. P
iles of fresh fruit lie about, waiting to
be pulped into juices, piled onto yoghurt
or mashed into ice-cold granitas.

124 CITY BREAKS

14 3
8
12
15

6 7
13 10
9

Map data 2015 Google

DONT MISS
INSALATA
CAPRESE
Named after
the island
but popular
throughout the
wider region,
this simple salad
is rendered
sublime by the
sheer quality
of its locallygrown/made
ingredients:
velvety, moist
buffalo-milk
mozzarella,
intensely
flavoursome
tomatoes,
torn leaves of
fragrant basil,
and good olive
oil.

boutiques and awash with slowmoving backpacks and baseball caps.


Things improve considerably as I
leave the town and join the network of
quiet pedestrian paths that weave all
over the island. Relishing the warm
sunshine on my legs and arms, I stride
past teeming gardens and pretty villas,
deeply breathing in the sweet, delicate
smell of the pine trees. I stop only to
admire a clifftop panorama of offshore
rock stacks and a yacht-dotted marina
its inky blue depths ceding to
turquoise shallows, all streaked with
the white trails of travelling boats.
From this blessed vantage point, I
head down and along a paved hiking
trail that sinuously curls around the
southeastern edge of the island
sloping up and down, and periodically
breaking into steep steps. I pass very
few other walkers. Its all shrieking
cicadas and bushy trees, the sudden
flash of coppery lizards across white
rock or grey stone. Its all solitude and
space, an exhilarated immersion in a
perfect natural world. Capri Town is
less than a mile away, but its a million
miles away. The magnificent haughty
lump of the Sorrento Peninsula looks
approvingly at me from across the
water ahead.
I want to see how much ground
I can cover in four hours, so I power
onward. Rest-stops are for weaklings.
I round the islands southeast corner
in a blur of a billion steps and carry
on higgledy-piggledy northward,
passing an ancient grotto-temple and
climbing up, up, up to the arresting
Arco Naturale a high natural arch
of white stone with the sea at its feet
and endless tumbles of leaf all around.
The sole viewing point for the arch
is a tiny terrace in the sky, almost
abutting the rock of the arch itself
making it a spot both vertiginous and
claustrophobic. Here I allow myself a

five-minute break to stand agog, catch


my breath and ward off a feared heart
attack after all the climbing.
The plan now is to go all the
way up to the ruins of Tiberiuss
Villa Jovis, at the northeastern tip
of the island. I plough heroically on,
joining new pedestrian alleys that
carry me past curlicued gates guarding
the jungly front gardens of heartmeltingly lovely villas. Rampant
bougainvillea spill fluorescent pink
and purple across white stone walls
backlit by vivid blue sky. Out across
the bay I can see the hazy tump of
Ischia and the distant blur of Naples.
The path climbs steadily all the way
to Villa Jovis, adding to the sense
of rising towards some wonderful
final goal. Which of course it is a
sprawling mass of Roman bricks worn
smooth by sea wind and millennia, set
on cliffs halfway to the sky.
Full of endorphins, glowing
with exercise and sun, I crunch back
through a sloping hillside wood.
The branches suddenly open out to
reveal a huge view across the entire
length of the island down to Capri
Town and up the high hulk of rock
beyond it with Anacapri perched on
top. Im seized by a delicious rollercoaster feeling of having crested one
high point and rolling giddily down
before escalating towards another. The
island feels like a great tilting entity
undulating, full of high climbs
and fun plunges. Its a playground
you can ride around on foot. You
could do a different long walk here
every day, until you knew the place
intimately. The island is small enough
to be knowable in its entirety, but
topographically exciting enough to
keep you always enchanted. Capri, you
great beguiler, you siren of the bay.
Among everything else you are, youre
a walkers paradise.

SOUTHERN ITALY Capri

Souvenir liqueur bottles

The ruins of Tiberiuss


Villa Jovis

View of the sea


through a natural arch

GETTING THERE
BY PLANE

The oor of San


Michele Church

You can fly to Naples from all over


the UK with BA, easyJet, Thomson,
Lufthansa, Alitalia and Monarch.

BY BOAT
There are regular hydrofoil and ferry
services to the island from Naples and
Sorrento, and further summer services
from Positano, Salerno and Ischia.
BY CAR
Driving is greatly restricted on the island
and you dont need a car anyway.

KEY TO RESTAURANT PRICES


(full meal per person, not including wine)
Up to 25
O
O
26-50
O
O
O
More than 50
O
CITY BREAKS 125

D I S C O V E R I TA L I A !

SOUTHERN ITALY Syracuse

The faade of the


Duomo at Ortygia

Images Gretta Schifano

Syracuse
A city that was once famed and feared throughout the Mediterranean,
Syracuse offers an abundance of archaeological sites to explore.
Gretta Schifano ew down to Comiso to discover them

126 CITY BREAKS

Gretta at the Greek


amphitheatre

The main historical sites of Syracuse


are concentrated on the island
of Ortygia and the Neapolis
Archaeological Park

The market at
Ortygia

Byzantines, Arabs, Normans and Spanish have all left


their mark. In 1693 a huge earthquake destroyed around
50 towns in the area and killed half of the population.
This disaster was the catalyst for the regeneration
of many of the affected towns and cities, including
Syracuse. In the years that followed the earthquake
many structures were rebuilt with limestone in the
Sicilian baroque style.
Syracuse today is a UNESCO World Heritage Site
and a fascinating place to visit. The city is served by
both Catania airport and the new airport at Comiso,
which offers direct ights to London with Ryanair.
I travelled to Comiso with Ryanair when I went to
Syracuse in April and I was pleased to see that the
budget airline now gives every passenger an allocated
seat. Ryanair now also allows passengers a small handbag
as well as a cabin bag. These new ights and the
popularity of the Inspector Montalbano TV series, which
is lmed in the area, have led to an increased interest
in this part of Sicily.
ORTYGIA
The main historical sites of Syracuse are concentrated on
the island of Ortygia and the Neapolis Archaeological
Park. The original city of Syracuse was founded on the
island of Ortygia and this is the heart of the city today.
Ortygia juts out into the Ionian Sea and is linked to
the mainland by a couple of bridges. The island still
has the ancient Greek street layout and is partly

CITY BREAKS 127

SOUTHERN ITALY Syracuse

The Roman amphitheatre,


Neapolis Archaeological Park

yracuse was one of the most powerful cities


in the ancient world and at one point even
rivalled Athens. Syracuse is in the southeast of
Sicily and was founded on the island of Ortygia
by Corinthian settlers in 734 BC. By the 5th
century BC it had an empire stretching around the
Mediterranean and was a thriving artistic and cultural
centre. The Roman philosopher Cicero said it was the
most beautiful city in the world.
Syracuses most famous citizen is probably the
great Greek scientist and mathematician Archimedes,
who was born here in 287 BC. Archimedes worked
for Hieron II, tyrant ruler of the city from 270-216
BC. One of Archimedes best-known inventions is the
Archimedes screw, which is still used today for pumping
liquids. He also invented war machines which helped to
defend the city when it was besieged by the Romans for
three years.
Despite Archimedes inventions the Greek
domination of Sicily ended in 211 BC when the
Romans defeated Syracuse. The city was then ruled by
a succession of powers over subsequent centuries: the

D I S C O V E R I TA L I A !
A hole from a wooden
scaffolding pole

SOUTHERN ITALY Syracuse

pedestrianised. Its interesting architecture, narrow


streets and elegant squares make it a great place to
explore. The locals go about their everyday business here
against a background of ancient ruins, baroque palaces
and places where legends began.
The Temple of Apollo covers a large, fenced-in area
of Piazza Pancali as you enter Ortygia. Built in 565 BC
its the oldest Doric temple in Western Europe. The
temple has been used as both a mosque and a church,
and its ruins were discovered in 1860 inside an old
Spanish barracks. The barracks and other later structures
have now been removed to reveal the remains of the
original temple. Theres a colourful fresh food market
in the streets around the temple from Monday to
Saturday starting at 7.30am. Its an interesting and
friendly place to wander around and some of the stalls
have cookery demonstrations.
At the centre of Ortygia is Piazza del Duomo, an
expansive, rectangular piazza surrounded by elegant
baroque palazzi, which were rebuilt after the 1693
earthquake. The piazza sits on the site of the ancient
acropolis, the heart of the city, and has been used as

Looking out to
sea from Ortygia
harbour

The citys main water supply in


ancient times came from the
Fonte Aretusa, a freshwater spring
next to the sea
a location for the Inspector Montalbano TV series. My
guide, Lucia Iacono, tells me that the cathedral on this
square is the best place in Sicily to see the story of the
island. When I go into the cathedral I understand what
she means. The building is like an encyclopaedia of
the citys history, from its baroque faade to its Spanish
oor, Renaissance ceiling, Norman font and, encased
in the walls, Doric columns dating from a 5th century
BC temple to Athena and then Minerva. Im amazed to
learn that the cathedral has been in continuous use as a
religious place since 480 BC.
The citys main water supply in ancient times came
from the Fonte Aretusa, a freshwater spring next to the
sea. Theres a legend that the Fonte Aretusa was created
by the Greek goddess Artemis when she changed the
nymph Arethusa into the spring. Today the spring
bubbles up through the surface of a pond where papyrus
plants grow. The pond is enclosed by a wall and is a
popular meeting place on summer evenings.
NEAPOLIS ARCHAEOLOGICAL PARK
The Neapolis Archaeological Park was set up in 1955
to preserve some of the ancient sites of Syracuse
including the Greek and Roman amphitheatres, the
Greek stone quarries and the Altar of Hieron II. The
Spanish took many of the stones from these ancient
monuments to build defensive walls in the 16th
century but the remains are still impressive. The Greek
amphitheatre was at the centre of Syracusan life for
128 CITY BREAKS

The Temple of
Apollo, Ortygia

A supporting pillar
at the quarry

HOW TO GET THE MOST FROM


YOUR VISIT TO SYRACUSE

GO THIS YEAR


The annual Greek theatre festival which
takes place in the ancient amphitheatre
every May and June is a real spectacle.
The productions are organised by the
Istituto Nazionale del Dramma Antico
who stage classical play cycles including
works like Oresteia by Aeschylus and The
Wasps by Aristophanes. You can book
tickets through the INDA website at
www.indafondazione.org
HIRE A GUIDE
If you go to the Neapolis Archaeological
Park its a good idea to book an ofcial
guide as the ruins are quite spread out
and explanatory signs are thin on the
ground. The website for the ofcial
Syracuse tour guides association is www.
guidesiracusa.tk. Entrance to the park
costs 10 but EU residents who are under
18 or over 65 get in free so take your
passport or some form of ID with you if
you qualify for a free ticket.
BE AN EARLY RISER
It gets very hot in Syracuse in the
summer months so the best time for
sightseeing is rst thing in the morning.
Make sure you take water, sunscreen
and a hat with you, especially when
visiting the archaeological park where
most of the ruins are in full sun.
GO TO CHURCH ON SUNDAY
It costs 2 to visit Syracuse Cathedral
but its free to go in on Sundays. If
youd like to go inside the cathedral,
or any church in Italy, you need to be
careful about what youre wearing. There
are often rules forbidding vest tops or
shorts in churches and its best to have
shoulders and legs covered.

CITY BREAKS 129

SOUTHERN ITALY Syracuse

STAY ON ORTYGIA
If youre staying in Syracuse its best to
book somewhere on or very near Ortygia.
I stayed a couple of minutes walk from
the bridge to Ortygia at the comfortable
Grande Albergo Alfeo, which has free
wi and good breakfasts. www.alfeo.it

D I S C O V E R I TA L I A !

SOUTHERN ITALY Syracuse

centuries and is still used today. Also built in the


5th century BC, the theatre could seat up to 16,000
people. Today 7,000 seats remain but its still the third
largest ancient Greek theatre in the world. The theatre
was created by carving stone tiers out of the hillside in
a horseshoe shape. The tiers are divided into ten named
sections and some of the original Greek section names
can still be seen, carved into the stone tiers. In ancient
times those sitting in the auditorium would have been
able to see the Temple of Athena in Ortygia below. Some
of the greatest Greek playwrights staged their works in
this theatre: Aeschylus premiered some of his tragedies
here and it was the birthplace of comic Greek theatre.
The annual Greek theatre festival which takes place here
every May and June is now in its 102nd year.
The Roman amphitheatre was built after Syracuse
fell to the Romans. It feels more compact than its
Greek counterpart and it seated around 18,000
people and was 30 metres high. In contrast to the
horseshoe layout of the Greek amphitheatre the seating
here encircles the stage. This is because the Roman
performances here were ghts and battles which
could be watched from any angle.

DETAILS FROM THE NEAPOLIS ARCHAEOLOGICAL PARK


GROTTA DEI CORDARI / ROPE-MAKERS CAVE
Local rope-makers worked in this cave from ancient times until recently. The cave
was good for rope-making because of its humidity. Winston Churchill came to paint
here every morning when he came to Syracuse on holiday in 1955.
VOTIVE NICHES
At the top of the Greek amphitheatre are votive niches carved into the rock.
These would have contained statues, images and offerings to the gods.
GREEK INSCRIPTION
The different sections of the Greek amphitheatre were designated by the names
of gods and well-known people of the time such as Queen Philistis, wife of Hieron II.
SUPPORTING PILLAR
A 40 metre-high stone pillar once supported the quarry roof and now towers over
fruit trees, caves and other, fallen pillars in the Latomie quarry.
HOLE FOR WOODEN SCAFFOLDING POLE
A hole left by a wooden scaffolding pole used by the Greeks in their quarrying
of the Ear of Dionysius cave.
Greek inscription at
the amphitheatre

Legend has it that Syracuses


tyrant ruler Dionysius used the cave
to imprison his enemies and listen in
to what they were saying
The Greeks quarried extensively here for the white
limestone they used for their monuments. Incredibly,
they quarried around ve million cubic metres of
limestone around Syracuse using only hand tools
and wooden scaffolding. The remains of the ancient
limestone quarry (Latomie) today are bursting with
olive and fruit trees. The caves created by quarrying
were used by the Greeks as prisons. One of the caves
is known as the Ear of Dionysius (lorecchio di Dionisos).
This 23m-high cave takes the form of a giant S shape
and any sounds made within it are amplied around
the gardens outside. Legend has it that Syracuses tyrant
ruler Dionysius used the cave to imprison his enemies
and listen in to what they were saying. You can actually
go inside this cave and I found it incredible to see the
marks of the tools on the cave walls and to think of this
huge space being chipped out by hand.
The vast Altar of Hieron II was built in the 3rd
century BC and was used for public sacrices to Zeus.
At 198 metres long its the biggest Greek sacricial altar
known today, although only the base remains. The altar
was used once a year at a festival to sacrice hundreds of
oxen. The animals were killed one at a time, the meat
cooked on a sacricial re and then eaten. Our guide
Lucia says it was a kind of sacred barbecue. Q!
Gretta travelled with Ryanair from Stansted to Comiso.

130 CITY BREAKS

The ropemakers cave

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