Tag Archives: Italy

Driving Across the Length and Width of Italy

Recently renovated Fountain of Trevi, Rome

The Fountain of Trevi, Rome

There is nothing quite like the freedom of a road trip, trundling along to wherever serendipity takes you. Perhaps more than any other country, driving across Italy lends itself to this type of exploring. The ever-changing succession of remote hill towns, winding mountain roads, coastlines, and castles ensures that there is always something new to see.

View of the Colosseum from the Hotel Palazzo Manfredi

The Colosseum by night

Our trip is ambitious – driving across Italy in a month, from Rome north to Tuscany and Liguria, from Liguria south along the Adriatic coastline, through Le Marche and the Abruzzo into Puglia before heading back to Rome. As winners of a seven-day Auto Europe Road Trip Sweepstakes (which is part of this journey), there are three specific locations we must visit – Rome, Camogli (Liguria) and Puglia. For the rest, we wander freely, visiting iconic landmarks and unknown corners, sampling the various regional cuisines, and enjoying life on the road.

ROME

The adventure starts in Rome on a beautiful sunny autumn day. No matter how many times we visit the city, there is always something new to discover or revisit. This time, recent renovations to the Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Circus Maximus and other iconic treasures make Rome shine.

Our hotel, the ultra-luxurious Palazzo Manfredi, overlooks the newly restored Colosseum. From its rooftop Michelin-starred restaurant, Aroma, spectacular sunrise and sunsets over the ancient arena, as well as mouthwatering cuisine, are a treat.

Sunrise over Monteriggioni

Hilltop town of Monteriggioni, Tuscany

A food walking tour of Trastevere (part of the prize) takes us through cobblestone streets with ivy-covered buildings to the neighborhood where the traditions of Roman cuisine are still preserved. Along the way, we stop at a restaurant/wine bar with a cellar that is 150 years older than the Colosseum, a trattoria with an eclectic menu and mismatched chairs, a shop specializing in pork sausages and a hole-in-the-wall selling Roman street food — fried rice balls and pizza! A cookie bakery and a gelateria round out the walk and our “meal.”

TUSCANY

Driving out of Rome is an adventure all on its own; however, we eventually find ourselves heading north to Monteriggioni. This spectacular Tuscan hill town near Siena is entirely surrounded by a wall, protected with 14 watchtowers. We make this our base for a week exploring the iconic areas of the Crete Senesi and Val d’Orcia, the wine country around Montepulciano and the Strada Chiantigiana between Siena and Florence, including a stop at the Castello di Verrazzano (home of the famous explorer) near Greve.

Iconic image of Pienza, Tuscany

Pienza, Tuscany

LIGURIA

From Monteriggioni the road takes us northwest towards Genoa. South of the city, the Riviera di Levante (Sunrise Coast) with its cliffs and bays is home to picturesque towns and villages. A hair-raising drive down the cliff road leads to the charming Cenobio Dei Dogi Hotel in Camogli. Its terrace overlooking the sea is the perfect spot to enjoy an evening aperitivo as the sun dips into the Mediterranean. Steps lead down to the beach where the water is warm enough to swim, even in October.

From here, a short walk along the colorful seafront promenade takes us to the harbor where ferries leave for Portofino, the quintessential, most luxurious, coastal village favored by the rich and famous, whose super yachts dot the harbor.

An aperitivo at sunset, Camogli

Camogli from the porch of Cenobio dei Dei

Just south of Camogli are the legendary Cinque Terre – five dramatic medieval cliff-top villages accessible only by train, ferry or on foot. Basing ourselves at the Hotel Pasquale, a delightful family-run residence on the edge of the harbor in Monterosso al Mare, we hike to the village of Vernazza and take the train to Manarola, Riomaggiore and Corniglia. Each has its special charms, and it is difficult to tear oneself away from the magnificent vistas.

ABRUZZO

From Camogli the road leads all the way east, to the province of Abruzzo, one of the least known in Italy. Its national parks, high mountains, deserted hilltop hamlets, medieval villages, coastal towns, and castles provide some of the most spectacular panoramas in Italy.

One of the five medieval villages of the Cinque Terre

Vernazza in the Cinque Terre of Liguria

In the mountaintop village of Civitella del Tronto, we are the only guests at the Hotel Zunica, housed in a 17th-century building under the brooding walls of the Fortezza, the largest medieval fortified castle in Europe. The views from our room extend from the Grand Sasso Mountain to the blue Adriatic coastline, shimmering in the morning sunlight.

Considered to be one of the best in the province, the hotel restaurant serves a menu that changes with the seasons. A private three-day cooking school provides a hands-on experience shopping for fresh ingredients and then working with the chef to prepare dinner.

The hilltop town of Civitella del Tronto, Abruzzo

Civitella del Tronto

LE MARCHE

Most recently in the news because of the spate of earthquakes that have devastated part of this area, Le Marche is another of Italy’s lesser-known regions filled with national parks, medieval villages, castles and a rich history. For us, it is a day-trip to visit the picturesque town of Ascoli Piceno.

Located on the banks of the Tronto and Castellano rivers, Ascoli Piceno is even older than Rome. Known as the ‘City of 100 towers,’ 50 medieval structures still stand over the “City of Marble,” with its expansive piazzas and unique architecture.

PUGLIA

The traditional fishing equipment in the Abruzzo.

A Trabucco in the Abruzzo, Italy

Puglia looks like a short drive from the Abruzzo. However, distances are deceptive because the narrow roads serpentine up and down the cliffs. What looks like a short 30-minute drive turns into a two-hour odyssey.

Our first stop is Vieste on the Gargano Peninsula, the spur on Italy’s boot. Built on top of the steep Pizzomunno cliffs, the city perches on a promontory jutting into the azure Adriatic.

Basing ourselves here, we explore the area with a number of day trips, including to the magnificent Castel del Monte, a 13th century citadel and castle built by Emperor Frederick II. Trabucchi, the old, traditional, fishing contraptions dot the coastline, while the rarely visited Tremiti Islands sit a few miles offshore in the Adriatic.

Our last stop in Puglia is the fantastic Masseria Il Frantoio near the so-called “White City” of Ostuni (in the Salento region). The region is filled with fantastical, conical, stone Trulli structures, medieval castles, and beautiful white sand beaches. Olive trees, some over a thousand years old, stretch to the horizon between ancient stone walls. From here you can explore the iconic towns of Alberobello and Locorotondo as well as several coastal towns, including Ostuni.

The rain washed entrance to the Masseria Il Frantoio, Puglia

Courtyard of the Masseria Il Frantoio, Ostuni, Puglia

The Masseria is a 500-year old fortified farm, its unique rooms decorated with some of the artifacts that Armando Balestrazzi and his wife, Rosalba, found when they bought the property some years ago.

The dining room is the scene of lavish eight-course meals prepared by an army of grandmothers in the kitchen, using the homegrown produce from the farm. In all our travels there are few places we have found as welcoming as the Masseria Il Frantoio. We leave reluctantly, having adopted a 1,000-year-old olive tree as part of a plan to preserve them for future generations.

Our road trip to Italy ends all too soon with a long drive back to Rome for our flight home. There is so much more to Italy than the major cities. If you are the slightest bit adventurous, have an open mind about wandering aimlessly with no firm destination and don’t mind getting lost from time to time, then consider an Italian road trip.

IF YOU GO

We spent a month traveling across Italy. Although this itinerary can certainly be done in a shorter period, there are some constraints such as the speed you can travel on the back roads and mountain roads, the sheer number of places to visit, and the desire to make the adventure about the journey as well as the destinations.

The following is a brief outline of where we went driving across Italy, and some of the places we stayed.

ROME

Ascoli Piceno in Le Marche, Italy

City of 100 Towers, Ascoli Piceno

Hotel Palazzo Manfredi
Via Labicana 125
Tel +39-06-7759-1380

Eating Italy Food Tours

1 Rome to Monteriggioni – Driving time 3 hours (156 miles)

MONTERIGGIONI, TUSCANY

Hotel Monteriggioni
Via Primo Maggio 4
Monteriggioni
Tel +39-0577-305009

DAY TRIPS FROM MONTERIGGIONI

Greve and Castello di Verrazzano (This is the correct spelling of the name)
Strada Chiantigiana
Pienza
Montepulciano
Val d’Orcia
Crete Senesi

2 Monteriggioni to Camogli, Liguria – Driving Time 4 hours (175 miles)

The Gargano Peninsula, the spur on Italy's boot

Vieste, on the Gargano Peninsula, Puglia

Hotel Cenobio dei Dogi
Via Nicolo Cuneo 34
Camogli, Genoa
Telephone: +39-0185-7241

SOME OF THE DAY TRIPS FROM CAMOGLI
Genoa
Portofino

3 Camogli to Monterosso al Mare driving time 1 hour (50 miles).

Monterosso al Mare is the only village in the Cinque Terre where you can park. Many hotels have parking available (for a fee) but you must be sure to reserve your spot when you book your room. They go very quickly.

Hotel Pasquale
Via Fegina 4
Monterosso al Mare
Tel +39-0187-817477

4 Monterosso al Mare to Civitella del Tronto, Abruzzo – Driving time 6.5 hours (400 miles)

Hotel Zunica 1880
Piazza Franciscus Filippi Pepe 14
Civitella del Tronto, Teramo, Abruzzo
Tel +39-0861-91319

SOME OF THE DAY TRIPS FROM CIVITELLA DEL TRONTO

Castel del Monte built by Frederick II

Castel Del Monte, Puglia

Ascoli Piceno in Le Marche
Gran Sasso National Park Abruzzo
Santo Stefano di Sessanio Abruzzo
Atri Abruzzo
Vasto Abruzzo

5 Civitella Del Tronto to Vieste, Puglia – Driving Time 4 hours (186 miles)

Vieste is a resort town with many luxury hotels but they are seasonal. When we traveled in October, very few were open. We stayed at

Rocca Sul Mare Bed and Breakfast
Via C. Mafrolla 32
Vieste, Foggia, Puglia
Tel +39-0884-70-27-19
Although the rooms are quite basic, the views from the seafront rooms are spectacular.

The best restaurant with the freshest, most delicious seafood  is just around the corner
Osteria Degli Archi
2 Via Ripe
Vieste, FG, Puglia
Tel +39-0884-705199

DAY TRIPS FROM VIESTE

Ostuni, Puglia

Ostuni, the White City on the Hill, Puglia

Peschici
Isole Tremiti (by boat)
Foresta Umbra
Mattinata
Trani
Bari
Castel del Monte

6 Vieste to Ostuni Driving Time 3.5 hours (167 miles)

 Masseria Il Frantoio
Strada Statale 16, Km 874
Ostuni, BR
Tel +39-0831-330276;

DAY TRIPS FROM MASSERIA IL FRANTOIO

Alberobello near Ostuni, Puglia

Trulli rooftops in Alberobello, Puglia

Ostuni
Alberobello
Locorotondo
Martina Franca
Brindisi
Polignano a Mare
Monopoli
Lecce

7 Ostuni to Rome – Driving Time 6 hours (335 miles)

For additional photos from this trip, visit http://www.allegriaphotos.com/EUROPE/Italy

 

 

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2017 Diana Russler

The Fosse Ardeatine, Rome

The Fosse Ardeatine

Courtyard of the Fosse Ardeatine, Rome

As a matter of principle, we try to write travel blogs that focus on the positive and upbeat. However, every once in a while during your travels, you come across something so compelling, it forces you to examine it and write about it, even if is tragic. Such is the case regarding our visit to the Fosse Ardeatine in Rome.

While there are certainly those who want to change facts to suit their narrative, those who do
not learn from history are not only destined to repeat it, they are fools. The thought crosses my mind as we enter the heavy, intricate, iron gate into the Fosse Ardeatine National Monument and Mausoleum. Few tourists even know that it is there, but for Italians, it is a national memorial.

Located across from the back entrance of the Catacombs of Callisto, off the Appia Antica, these limestone caves are the site of unspeakable horror. This is where Nazi troops carried out the mass execution of 335 Italians, before blowing up the entrance to hide their crimes. It was Rome’s worst atrocity of World War II.

Entrance gate and Statue at the Fosse Ardeatine

Gate to the Fosse Ardeatine Memorial Mausoleum

The Facts

The tragedy started on the 25th anniversary of the founding of Fascism by Benito Mussolini (March 23, 1944). That morning, a heavily armed column of the Police Regiment Bozen (from South Tyrol) marched back to their barracks near Via Rasella (across from the Palazzo Barberini). As they reached the midpoint of the road, Partisans (members of the Patriotic Action Group (GAP)) detonated a bomb hidden in a garbage cart, killing 42 police officers and a number of civilian bystanders. After the attack, the Partisans disappeared into the crowd.

German reaction was swift. Initially, Hitler wanted to destroy Rome completely as punishment. Instead, he was persuaded by his officers on the ground (SS Lt Col Herbert Kappler, Commander of the security police, and Lt. Gen Kurt Malzer, Commander of the Wehrmacht) to round up 10 Italian civilians for every German casualty. The plan to execute 330 men was approved by Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, Commander-in-Chief South.

The next day (March 24, 1944), SS Captains Erick Priebke and Karl Hass selected a number of victims from prisoners who had already been sentenced to death and who were being held at Gestapo Headquarters on Via Tasso. When there were not enough men to fill the required quota, the two officers selected prisoners who had been imprisoned in Rome’s Regina Coeli jail for political activity. Fifty-seven Jewish prisoners were amongst this group. Finally, civilians were arbitrarily rounded up from the streets of Rome. Amongst these were a 70-year old man and a 15-year old boy who simply happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Imagine sending your son out to buy a loaf of bread and never seeing him again or knowing what had happened to him!

The victims, whose hands were tied behind their backs, were driven to the Fosse Ardeatine, a series of caves in an abandoned quarry near the Via Appia Antica, unloaded from trucks and marched to the back of the caves. German soldiers were instructed to shoot each in the head at close range, five at a time, as they knelt on the ground. In the process, the Nazis realized that they actually had 335 hostages, five more than required. The officers decided that they couldn’t free the extra five for security reasons. They also were executed.

Statue in front of the Fosse Ardeatine

Statue of Bound Hostages, Fosse Ardeatine

When it was over, the Nazis dynamited the entrance to the cave to hide their crime. A farmer in the area witnessed what had happened, but it took until the Allies liberated Rome in June 1945 before the bodies could be exhumed and identified.

THE MEMORIAL

As you enter the gate of the Fosse Ardeatine, you walk past a statue depicting two victims, bound together, before they were murdered. It casts a long shadow across the courtyard in the beautiful, blue-sky morning. The immaculately-kept, tree-shaded,  garden is very quiet. Only the sounds of the chirping birds disturb the silence.

Ahead of you, the main entrance of the cave leads you down a tunnel to the back where the massacre took place. As you walk further into the dimly lit cavern, the cold air makes the hairs on the back of your neck bristle. It is as if the ghosts of the victims are still lingering in this place of indescribable evil, terror, and grief.

It is difficult to remain for very long; even after over 70 years, the feelings are too overwhelming. As you exit to the right, a pathway takes you to an enormous cavern-like room, under a massive concrete slab, where the tombs of the victims are lined up in rows, many with photos attached. Single flowers are strewn on the top, bouquets fill the space at the bottom. The names are listed on a wall. Nearby, a small museum contains some photos and artwork, as well as information about the victims.

THE PERPETRATORS

With such an egregious crime against humanity (not to speak of the other crimes perpetrated by the Nazis in Italy), you would think that the officers responsible would be punished after the end of the War. Although most of them were tried, some in Nuremberg, sadly, this was far from the case.

Melzer served a few years in prison; Kesselring was sentenced to death but was then pardoned; Kappler was sentenced to life imprisonment but was smuggled out of Italy by his wife. Pribke spent five months in prison before escaping to Argentina where he lived until he was exposed in an interview with Sam Donaldson of ABC News; he was extradited to Italy in 1995 where he received a life sentence that he served under house arrest until his death a few years ago.

A concrete slab over the tombs of the victims, Fosse Ardeatine

Row of tombs, Fosse Ardeatine

AND NOW?

It is an intensely emotional visit. In addition to the sadness, you feel incredible anger at the inhumanity of humans towards each other. You wonder how it was possible for the evils of Fascism and Nazism to swallow Europe unchecked while good people sat and watched and said, “it will be ok in the end, we shouldn’t get involved. Just wait. It will pass.”

And yet…. History repeats itself over and over. When will we finally learn to say “Never again” and mean it? What are the lessons from this tragedy at the Fosse Ardeatine that should make us all take pause, in 2017, and reflect on what is happening around us? Finally, will a few good men and women stand up and say “NO!” We will not let this happen again? Will you? The future of our children and grandchildren depends on it.

IF YOU GO

The National Memorial of the Ardeatine Caves is at Via Ardeatina 174.

The site is open every day, except major holidays, Monday to Friday 0815-1515, 16:30 Saturday and Sunday. Bus 218 towards Zanetta stops near the site but a taxi is faster.

There is an English language information sheet available in the guard house near the entrance; however, the descriptions in the Museum are all in Italian so an interpreter helps.

If you would like to learn more about the events at the Fosse Ardeatine, visit www.primolevicenter.org/printed-matter/the-fosse-ardeatine. Primo Michele Levi was an Italian Jewish chemist, writer and Holocaust Survivor (1919-1987).

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2017 Diana Russler

High Waters in Venice

 

Venice under Water, the Basilica San Marco

Basilica San Marco under High Waters

It rained heavily in Venice this weekend. Big deal! Rain is inevitable. Indeed! But combine the heavy rain with high tide and a strong Sirocco wind blowing off North Africa and Venice is quickly inundated under several feet of water – the infamous Acqua Alta or High Waters.

Yesterday’s flood was particularly intense, cresting at 1m40 or 4.5 feet before the waters began to recede. At that depth, you would need to swim to get through St. Mark’s Square.

The Venetians who still live in the city seem indifferent to it all. They have the appropriate barricades against the water on their doors and, when all else fails, they don their rubber boots and go about their business, cleaning up the ensuing mess as required.

Tourists, on the other hand, seem to think the flooding is an event to be experienced. They take off their shoes and wade through the salt water that covers Piazza San Marco. Some even go swimming when it is deep enough. You have to wonder what they are thinking. Apart from being very cold, the water is a maelström of garbage and debris not to mention having a high bacteria content. It may seem like a lark but this is deadly serious business.

Piazza San Marco underwater

Cafes on Piazza San Marco, High Waters

Built on Alder poles driven into the muddy lagoon, Venice is a collection of about 124 islands inhabited starting in the 7th century and gradually developing into the city we know today. Venetians have always had a number of strategies to defend their city from the sea either by building sea walls or even by diverting two major rivers.

They also developed a system of constructing their palazzos without fixed masonry (a feat of Medieval engineering) that allowed the buildings to move and adapt to the uneven settling of the ground beneath them. Or they built up the land to raise it above sea level. For example, there are at least five levels of stones beneath the existing Piazza San Marco.

A number of changes made to the lagoon in the 20th century, however, made the city more vulnerable to flooding. For example, until the practice was halted in the 1970s, industrial plants on the mainland removed groundwater from Venice to use in their production cycle, causing the city to sink at an accelerated rate.

Deep channels were dug into the lagoon so the cruise liners and oil tankers, so detested by the Venetians, could be accommodated – but that is another story.

However, the main cause of flooding today is not so much that Venice is sinking (it is) but that sea levels are rising – the result of climate change.

The net effect is that the city floods more frequently and more severely. Although there has not been a flood as devastating as the one that occurred in 1966 when the water level rose a record 76.4 inches, last year over 75 percent of the city flooded with saltwater, eating away at the canal walls and the foundations of buildings.

The lowest point in the city is Piazza San Marco, a mere 31-inches above sea level. It is the first to flood – over 200 times a year. Even when there is no Acqua Alta, it is common to see salt water gurgling up from the drains at high tide, leaving pools of water across the Piazza that Napoleon is said to have called “The Drawing Room of Europe.”

When the waters are high enough, city workers position long wooden walkways in the most “at risk” areas so that people can keep their feet dry. But the walkways are only two feet high and of limited use when the water is higher.

There seems only one hope for Venice – the construction of a series of underwater floodgates that are raised to keep out the high tides. Originally proposed in 1972, a Consortium of construction companies started construction of MOSE (Modulo Sperimentale Elettromecanico) in 1982. It is somewhat ironic that MOSE is the Italian name for Moses, of Red Sea-parting fame. It was supposed to be finished in 1995 at a cost of $2.1 billion. Thirty years later the costs have risen to $7.8 billion, and it is unlikely to be operational until 2018 or perhaps even 2020. Apart from the usual bureaucratic delays endemic to doing business in Italy, in 2014 an investigation into corruption led to the arrest of 35 individuals involved in the project, including members of the Venetian Government.

The premise of the project is similar to London’s Tidal Barrier. Seventy-eight steel gates, resting on the bottom of the lagoon at strategic locations fill with compressed air and rise to meet the incoming sea. Once the danger of flooding has passed, the gates refill with water and sink back down into the lagoon.

A central control center is already operational in a converted chapel in the Arsenale where staff members monitor charts and diagrams as well as cameras installed on the gates and determine when they should be opened and closed.

Multi colored flood boots, Venice

Visitors coping with High Waters

Environmentalists and Venetians are skeptical, but there doesn’t seem to be a better solution, bearing in mind that the MOSE will only protect the city from tides of up to 3 meters (about 10 feet) for about 100 years. Presumably, in that time humanity will have come up with a different, more permanent solution. As John Keats once wrote, “if the thought of Venice sinking captures the imagination, then it should be a wake-up call to save the city as an essential basis of the civilization we cherish.”

If you happen to visit Venice between November and April and hear a siren, find your way to higher ground since this is the signal that the Acqua Alta is about to engulf the city. Fortunately, it only lasts a few hours until the tide has peaked and then it seeps away until the next time.

IF YOU ARE IN VENICE DURING ACQUA ALTA

Venetians keep a close eye on the weather and the tide tables. Although most of the following websites are in Italian, it is possible to get the gist of the information. Check www.comune.venezia.it/maree/ for the 3-day forecast. You can also call 39-041-242-2996 for recorded information in Italian.

You don’t need to pack waterproof boots. The local merchants do a booming business selling multicolored knee-high plastic pull-on boots. Expect to pay anywhere from 6 to 10 euros depending on how close you are to St. Mark’s Square.

IF YOU WANT TO CONTRIBUTE

There are a number of organizations which accept contributions for the preservation of Venice. The UK based Venice in Peril is interesting because of the number of projects they sponsor. www.veniceinperil.org

 

 

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2016 Diana Russler
View of Piagnaro Fortress, Pontremoli

Discovering Pontremoli and its Museum of Mysterious Stone Statues, Italy

Piagnaro Fortress, Pontremoli, Lunigiana

Piagnaro Fortress, Pontremoli, Lunigiana

Pontremoli is the idyllic medieval town — the largest castle in the region is perched high on a hill, a bridge dating to Roman times spans the Verde River, another crosses the Magra River on the other side; cobblestone streets wend their way from north to south; tiny alleys take you through the city gate and up narrow, steep staircases carved out beneath the houses. Several churches and a bell tower punctuate the skyline. And then there is a unique museum, hidden away in the upper reaches of Piagnaro Castle, The Museum of Stele Statues of Lunigiana, where mysterious, enigmatic statues or ‘steles’ that have been found across the province, peer up at you.

Stele Group A

Stele Group A

The castle sits above the town, dominating the northern approach to the city. The original fortress, built between the IX and X centuries, was destroyed and rebuilt several times over the centuries. Most of the present structure dates to the 14th century. The oldest part of the castle is the semicircular north tower built in 1400. Below the tower are buildings and rooms that were probably used as barracks to house troops A large courtyard with an old well has a ramped set of steps leading up to the ramparts. Climb up for spectacular views over the surrounding countryside and picturesque town which is the gateway to the Lunigiana.

Inside the museum, stylized stones (photo courtesy of the museum) stand upright, gazing vacantly at you. There are three distinct groupings of these steles, dating to the Copper, Bronze and Iron Ages respectively (6 BCE to 3 BCE). Group A is the oldest group of statues. The human features are very rudimentary and minimally stylized with a head that is incorporated into the main body. The male statues have daggers, drawn in profile, with a triangular blade, short handle and semicircular pommel. The main feature on the female statues is their prominent breasts. Group B statues have more detail. The heads are separated from the body by a cylindrical neck, topped by a “space man” head. The weapons have longer handles and appear to be more “advanced.” The women sometimes have jewelry around their neck. Group C consists of male statues only. The head is round with a well-defined neck and features on both the face and body. The weapons are more detailed.

Stele Group B

Stele Group B

All these steles represent people. Once they stood on the hills and in the valleys across the region. Who or what were they? Real people? Celestial deities? There are  no clues and no archeological evidence was found with them to explain their origins or meaning. Until more research is done and further discoveries made, only your imagination will fill the gaps.

After you have visited the castle and museum, wander back down into the ancient town to the main square where you can find a local trattoria to dine on “torta d’erba” ( a pie made with Swiss chard, eggs, ricotta and parmesan) or pasta with  pesto or, if you are lucky enough to be in Lunigiana in the fall, fresh porcini mushrooms.

Pontremoli is one of the most beautiful medieval towns in the Lunigiana. As you wander its streets, you are walking in the footsteps of very ancient, enigmatic and mysterious people who once inhabited this region.

Stele Group C

Stele Group C

IF YOU GO
Pontremoli is located between La Spezia and Parma, off the A15. Exit onto the SS62 North (The Strada Statale della Cisa) to Pontremoli. Turn left onto Via Roma and cross the Bridge of Statues which will take you across the old section of town to the newer section where there is a large parking lot on the right, almost beneath the Roman Bridge. From here you can explore the town, working your way up to the castle on the top of the hill
The Museum of the Stele Statues of Lunigiana is located on the upper floor of the Piagnaro Castle in Pontremoli, Lunigiana. The Museum is closed on Mondays. On other days it is open from 0900 to 100 and 1500 to 1800 in the summer. Different hours apply in the winter (www.statuestele.org). One room of the museum has originals of Groups A and B while another Contains Group c statues. Other rooms have display boards describing where these and other similar statues from across Europe have been found.
The Osteria della Bietola is a great place for lunch or dinner (Osteria della Bietola, Via della Bietola 4; Tel 39-0187-831949). Follow the road to the right of the bell tower for about 20 feet and look for signs on the left side of the alley pointing to the Osteria.

 

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Looking down on Vernazza

Rebuilding the Cinque Terre, Italy

Memories of Vernazza

Memories of Vernazza

As any of you who have walked along the Sentiero del’Amore (the Path of Love) which connects the five medieval villages of the Cinque Terre, or dined at one of the tiny restaurants perched along the port front will know, there are few places as picturesque or charming. Yet charm does not stave off disaster.

Memories of the Cinque Terre

Memories of the Cinque Terre

On 25 October 2011, after 20 inches of rain fell in the space of a few hours, the villages of the Cinque Terre were hit by a massive flash flood and mudslide, 14 feet deep, that all but destroyed the towns of Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare.

The raging muddy water swept away cars, boats, the railway line and the lives of three people. In the process it destroyed the livelihood of so many who had lived in these villages all their lives. Although some villages escaped relatively unscathed, the inhabitants of Vernazza have been evacuated and will not be allowed to return for some time to come. As of this writing the villages of Riomaggione, Manarola and Corneglia are intact. The more modern neighborhoods of Monterosso al Mare appear to be somewhat back to normal but the old town will require exhaustive repairs.

The situation in Vernazza continues to be dire. Valiant efforts have been made to dig out the delightful old village. During the month of November 2011 alone, one million square feet of mud was removed. Underneath the damage is extensive, and the cost of repairs has been estimated at over 100 million euros.

Monterosso al Mare in happier times

Monterosso al Mare in happier times

You can help. The town of Vernazza has established a non-profit organization (Una Pietra per Vernazza , which translates as ‘a stone for Vernazza) to channel donations for the rebuilding (www.unapietrapervernazza.blogspot.com). The names of all contributors will be listed on a wall of thanks to be erected in the village. American expatriates living in Italy have also established a non profit organization — Save Vernazza– which is collecting donations (www.savevernazza.com)

Until Vernazza is rebuilt, those of us who have been captivated by it will only have our memories. Please help.

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A Hike Around Lago di Braies, Italy

A rowboat on the shores of Lago di Braies, Dolomites, Italy

A rowboat on the shores of Lago di Braies, Dolomites, Italy

The Dolomite Mountains north of Venice are some of the most beautiful in Italy. Sculpted by centuries of  wind, rain, snow and ice, the rocks have been carved into gothic-looking spires with peaks that soar over the green meadows in the valleys below. Spectacular mountain massifs hide tiny blue lakes that shimmer like pearls in the sunlight. You almost stumble upon them accidentally as you wander through these enchanting mountains. One of the deepest and most spectacular is Lago di Braies (Pragser Wildsee in German).

A hotel sits on the shores of Lago di Braies, Dolomites, Italy

A hotel sits on the shores of Lago di Braies, Dolomites, Italy

Located about 40 miles from Bolzano in the Fanes-Senes-Braies /Prags Nature Reserve (Trentino Alto Adige region of South Tyrol), Lago di Braies was formed after an avalanche on Sasso del Signore Mountain plugged up the Braies River. It is a magical place, rich in legends in the Ladin language, which speak of the Fanes people and the lake, home to a shimmering princess whose tribe made an alliance with the marmots.

This was also where one of the last stands of World War II took place when a number of high profile hostages (including the French politician Leon Blum) were rounded up and brought to this area to serve as a bargaining chip with the Allies.

Lago di Braies is the trailhead of the Alta Via 1 hiking trail in the Dolomites called The Classica (La Classica) which winds through valleys, up rock faces with the help of iron ladders (Vie Ferrate) and along ridge lines to reach Belluno about a week later.

There is an old hotel (Hotel Lago di Braies/Pragser Wildsee) on the edge of the water from where you can start a one-hour walk around the lake. A small chapel sits on the right side, and a boathouse with rowboats for rent is on the left. Trees line the shore and the scent of spruce and pine fill the air. A narrow path undulates along the shore, sometimes right along the edge of the lake, other times climbing onto cliffs high above the pristine, emerald green water. In parts, tiny white shingle beaches allow you to dip your feet or fingers in the icy cold water.

The play of light makes this a photographer’s dream. Sometimes the water is a shimmering turquoise, at others, an intense blue, mirroring the stark outline of the Coda del Becco mountains above it. After you have walked around the lake, rent an old-fashioned wooden boat and row out to the middle; stop and listen to the sounds of solitude, broken only by the clanking of cowbells on the hillside. You can almost hear the marmots chattering to their princess, calling her back to life. Then go back and have a delicious cappuccino before continuing to explore the Dolomites.

The chapel on the shores of Lago di Braies, Dolomites, Italy

The chapel on the shores of Lago di Braies, Dolomites, Italy

IF YOU GO
For additional information see www.lagodibraies.com. To get to Lago di Braies from Cortina d’Ampezzo, take the SS51 highway to Dobbiaco. Turn left onto SS 49 towards Brunico and follow the signs for Lago di Braies. The best time to go is between July and September. There is a fee-paying parking lot near the lake.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2014 Diana Russler

Turin’s Sweet Tooth — The Gianduiotto

A bowl of Gianduiotti chocolates

A bowl of Gianduiotti chocolates

It is hard to convey the sensation on your tongue as you place a luscious, ultra-silky smooth Gianduiotto in your mouth. It sits there for a few seconds, melting slowly before it explodes over your taste buds. You lean back in your chair, savoring every last drop, smacking your lips and — reaching for another one. It is hard to stop!

Opening a Gianduiotto chocolate

Opening a Gianduiotto chocolate

But what, you ask me, is a Giandu, Giandu, Giandu What? Gianduiotto (jan-du-yotto)!! Gianduiotti (jan-du-yotti) if you have more than one (and I guarantee you will).

According to legend, in the 1850s, taxes on imported cocoa beans were raised to such an extent that chocolate — long a favorite in this elegant northern Italian town — was beyond the reach of most people. The resourceful chocolatiers looked for another solution and came up with the idea of replacing a percentage of the cocoa beans with a smooth hazelnut paste (hazelnuts are a staple in Piedmont). And ecco! A new chocolate was born!

Again according to legend, one chocolatier decided to hire someone to hand out samples of the new treats on the streets of Torino during festivals. The person wore the costume of the Gianduja, a character from the Commedia d’Arte, who represents the Piemonte (Piedmont) region.

The name stuck and Gianduiottos are now almost synonymous with Torino where the smell of chocolate and hazelnuts wafts from nearly every part of the city. Shaped like an elongated triangle and wrapped in gold paper with the words “Gianduiotto di Torino” stamped on it, this bite-size taste bomb is available at every chocolate shop in town. If you can’t get to Torino, you can buy them around the world in most stores that carry gourmet Italian imports or by mail order.

Eating Gianduiotti chocolates

Eating Gianduiotti chocolates

And if you are ever in Torino (home to the “Slow Food” movement), be sure to stop by the ultra-gourmet store, Eataly (now also open in New York and Chicago) where, in addition to the chocolates, you can get a gianduiotto gelato that will make you swoon!

IF YOU GO
Eataly Torino is at Via Nizza 230; 
In New York it is at 200 5th Avenue; and 101 Liberty Street in south Manhattan near Freedom Tower. 

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