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Posts tagged ‘Italy’

Planning A Road Trip of a Lifetime Through Italy

Italian landscape
Photo by Angelo Amboldi on Flickr

Some places are best seen through the window of a train, on horseback or by hiking across their scenic countryside. However, Italy is a country that should be seen one way only – from the driver’s seat of an open topped sports car, preferably while wearing giant Audrey Hepburn sunglasses while your scarf whips out behind you. The country boasts incredible, diverse landscapes, winding roads, open fields and fantastic views.

So if you’re planning to drive across Italy, here are some of the routes you should be sure to check out.

The National Park of Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise

NATIONAL PARK OF ABRUZZO

Photo by Loigi Re on Flickr

The regions of Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise are relatively unknown, lying two hours rive to the east of Rome. However, come out here and you’ll see some of the most mind blowing countryside you’re likely to find in Italy.

As you drive into the park (Parco Nazionale d’Abruzzo) you’ll find the road ascends quickly into mountains where you’ll be surrounded by grazing white cows and forests fully of winding hiking trails. Along the way you’ll pass many small, virtually untouched towns, however, no matter how tempting it is for the best trip just drive straight on until you reach the town of Vasto, where there are outstanding views off the Trabocchi coast.

The Italian Riviera

Portofino Harbor Italian Rivera

Photo by Stan Shebs Creative Commons license

The famous Italian Riviera starts at the French border and works its way past seaside towns, farmer’s markets and some truly top notch restaurants all the way down to Tuscany. Enjoy fantastic views and woosh through a series of tunnels just like you’re in one of those car adverts.

Tuscany

Tuscany near ancient Sienna

Photo by Norbert Nagel  licensed under the Creative Commons

But why stop at the end of the Riviera? Tuscany is home to the finest of Italy’s restaurants, vineyards and holiday villas, to the point where you’ll really struggle to find a bad place to eat.

Sicily

Sicily, Italy

For Sicily you want a fast car and two weeks to drive it. Don’t just go from one end of the island to the other. Drive right around the coast, stopping off to see the islands famous vineyards at Cerasuolo di Vitoria and Mount Etna. See the ancient Greek theatres and temples, or simply find some great beaches and soak up the sun! This is a great place to really take your car exploring. As Direct Ferries director Matt Davies says, “It’s really worth getting your car on a boat and bringing it over the Sicily with you. There’s nothing quite like speeding along with the Sicilian breeze rushing past.”

The Amalfi Coast

Beautiful Amalfi Coast

Not all the famous hotspots on Italy are ones you should be drawn to however. It seems every travel guide out there recommends the Amalfi coast, and it’s true it’s one of the most popular tourist destinations in Italy, which is why the roads are clogged with tour buses and municipal coaches, usually with a tail of other holiday drivers honking their horns behind them. To make it worse, you’ll be dealing with this while riding round some extremely bendy roads, sometimes with a 200 foot drop on one side. We advise taking your car elsewhere.

By Sam Wright

Sam Wright is a journalist based in Norwich, Norfolk.

A travelers guide to Venice

Venice - an ancient seaport of historic wonderWHAT TO EXPECT:

CROWDS! How that many people pack themselves into those tiny spaces is beyond us, but remember, the nice thing about Venice is you can walk everywhere (unless you island hop in a boat) and the minute you move off the beaten path, you’re in a world of magic all your own. ARRIVE EARLY OR LATE… the middle of the day is hot, crowded, stinking, and miserable. (Go find a park and have a picnic to wait it out or, better yet, take a trip to PADOVA or VICENZA)

Don’t get me wrong, Venice is beautiful and mysterious and romantic, the trouble is finding it under the mounds of people that pile in every day. It was not a good first impression of Italy, I would have much rather gone to Florence first.
~Stella likes some personal space.

But Venice is unlike any other place on earth. Gondolas—a couple of great museums—and several quiet cafes with a nice breeze where you can sip iced coffee. But mostly Venice is simply walking around and getting to know it, and then walking some more.

WHERE YOU SHOULD GO:

LOTS OF TOURIST STUFF
Unlike London and Paris, the tourist stuff in Venice is legitimetly interesting. San Marco, the Rialto Bridge, the Accademia (the square over the bridge), the Domo’s palace… and if you want a whiff of the ocean try a boat to the coast and the beach.

Vitruvian Man, aka Canon of Proportions

Sometimes called “Canon of Proportions,” Leonardo Da Vinci drew this figure in 1487

THE ACCADEMIA
Here’s the place with painting that started the Renaissance, mostly Giotto and early Italians. But also wonderful paintings that show you how rich andimportant Venice was during that time. However, beware of its “modern” art section. It’s small and at the end- thankfully. Masters of art in one epoch… ridiculous sideshow in another.

PEGGY GUGGENHIEM MUSEUM

Dear Peggy lived here and collected a lot of famous artists she liked. You’ll find unusual works by many of them. There’s also an exhibition hall, but don’t expect anything too exciting. Then again, you might be surprised.

Picasso does Klee… Klee does Miro… Miro does Dali… Dali does… Picasso? This is the most bizarre collection of art I’ve ever seen.
~Isaiah  likes some consistency. Some.

Oh, who cares about any of that! This place is staffed entirely by young, attractive, intelligent foreign exchange students! Why can’t we have security guards like this back home?
~Tyson never did get that girls phone number.

Venecia

Venecia

THE CHURCHES

Palladio is one of the most endearing of the Italian architects and he built many of the best examples of his work here. Move around, take boats from island to island, and find the Palladios.

WHERE TO EAT:

Food in Venice comes in three flavors: real authentic food at reasonable prices, real authentic food at tourist prices, and tourist food. You need to get far away from the tourist hot spots (San Marco, etc.) if you want any hope of good pasta. As for the high prices, well, you don’t need to spend that long in Venice anyway. Just expect to pay a bit more for a few days. Important note: real italians don’t eat pizza.

Outside of Venice is a little easier. One of the most amazing restaurants is located in a little Pension on one of the main highways in Padova called the CAFE AT THE HOTEL VENEZIA. It’s an upscale place that really has some of the finest pasta and greatest fish dishes and you’ll find yourself going back and back. As for places to eat inside of Venice, well, just try to avoid the other Americans and you should be ok.

WHERE YOU WANT TO GO:

Murano canal, Italy

Murano canal, Italy

MURANO
In the evening, well after five, take a boat to Murano and experience what a peaceful place it can be. They blow glass during the day, but you can do without that. Just wander around, past the church, into the squares, stop for ice cream. Get the boat back at dusk (check the schedule so that you don’t miss the last one).

There was this kid, his mom was watching him from the window, and he was chasing butterflies around and she was hanging the laundry!
~Stella

The town was completely deserted, but we walked into this bar to find a bidet, and there were about thirty men sitting around playing poker! It was quite bizarre!
~Lily

PADOVA
If you find Venice full, or you just want to sleep somewhere less crowded and less expensive, try Padova. It’s less that a half-hour on the train, and a wonder all to itself. The town square fills with university students and townsfolk at night. They skate, but you can wander there as well.

Teatro Olimpico  Andrea Palladio

Teatro Olimpico Andrea Palladio

VICENZA You’ll want to go spend the day in this extraordinary town which has as many of Palladio’s buildings as any other. The town square is an architecturalwonder, and visit the TEATRO OLIMPICA which is the very first proscenium theater. And remember, Italians take siestas, which means that after noon, you simply rest, sit and drink iced tea, feel the breeze where you can find it, wander back to the train station, and return to where you are staying. You’ll thank yourself.

I fell in love with Palladio in Vicenza. Precision and fleury seem to collaborate to create the genuinely ancient atmosphere. You really loose the track of time.
~Stella

WHERE YOU WANT TO STAY:

Close to restaurants, cafes and shops, this Venice apartment overlooking Rialto and Piazza San Marco is only a few minutes walk from the Rialto Bridge and the ferry landing stage.

Cute apartment near Rialto Piazza, San Marcos, Venice

Cute apartment near Rialto Piazza, San Marcos, Venice

Photo credits from top:

City by the Sea by WTL photos

Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci

Venecia by Rodrigo_Soldon

Murano Canal by sonofgroucho

Teatro Olimpico by arch_ibd

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This story was brought up to us by the San Francisco Art and Film for teenagers

A travelers guide to Florence

Florence is a city full of charm and culture

Florence, Italy, is home to Michelangelo’s David

WHAT TO EXPECT:

It’s almost as crowded as Venice. But it’s bigger, and it’s PACKED with art. Everywhere you walk, practically, there’s a masterpiece glaring down at you—it’s a great place to feel intimidated, especially if you don’t know much about art history. (We suggest a little preparation in this department might help). You also need to escape from the general chaos of touristland. Head to “the other side of the river” from the Duomo, the “Pallazo Pitti” side and look for Piazza Santo Spiritu: one of many quiet, local square filled with little cafes. In the summer a stage offers local dance groups and music—at night the atmosphere is definitely what you expect of a real square and a real Italian city.

Florence is like a picture book Italy. From our loggia of our rental on the Piazza D’Espagna the view really did look straight out of a fairy tale: lush green mountains ornamented with stone castles and towers. [Sigh] The city itself may not be the party animal that Rome is, but you eat so well. Like the cafe’s in Paris, sitting at a restaurant in Florence with a warm wind blowing the night air is so mind numbingly amazing.
Stella

WHERE YOU SHOULD GO:

Consult any guidebook:

Il Duomo—all the beautiful marble, not to mention Brunelleschi’s spectacular dome.
The Baptistry—with it’s Ghilberti doors (We have near perfect copies on the front of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, but there’s nothing like the real thing.)
City Hall
Il Ponte Vecchio—waterfront property indeed.
Palazzo Pitti—the art collection is shruggable in comparison to elsewhere, but the gardens are… extensive.
Santa Maria Novella—Paolo Uccello’s masterpieces.
The Medici Chapel—do you know who the Medici were? You should be the time you leave Florence.
Michelangelo’s Library—well, Michelangelo’s staircase to the Laurentian Library anyway…
There is so much to see in Florence that you can easily be overwhelmed. Don’t push yourself too much. Give yourself plenty of time. It’s all good for a couple of days of perpetual tuorist rubbernecking.

THE UFFIZI

Giorgio Vasari's Uffizi museum

The Uffizi is an art gallery in Florence built by Giorgio Vasari

A must see. No, seriously. To do it right, line up an hour and a half before it opens—if you show up after they open, you’ll spend that much time in line anyway, and this way you’ll get a head start on the crowds. This is considered one of the greatest of museums in the world and for good reason. It’s THE Renaissance museum—you see more stunning first rate painting than almost anywhere, but do gear up for an awfully lot of Madonna and Childs. Notice how really different they are.

Art changed very little in subject matter during the early Renaissance, and most paintings were commissioned by the church, or patrons who wanted to appear pious (while they were plotting, killing and poisoning their enemies). You will probably get your Christ fix for the next few years. But you’ll be happy in a room filled with Botticellis, and some great battle scenes by Ucello and the like. And enjoy the Madonnas which are absolutely weird, suggestive and downright lewd. (Isn’t that right, Laurel?)

I promise I will never again say that all paintings of the Madonna and Child look the same… honest.
Laurel has a notebook full of Madonna and Child notes.
The Uffizi has an intriguing collection. I spent over forty five minutes in the first room alone. It is to Renaissance art what the D’Orsay is to impressionist. Forget the Louvre—it is so much easier to spend a day in the Uffizi.
Stella. Louvre? What Louvre?

WHERE YOU CAN EAT:

Il Santo Bevitore
Via Santo Spirito 64/66
Have the soup. Any of them. They had us in tears. Best to go early. The fill up—fast. Very reasonably priced for what you’re getting.

Boccanegra
Via Ghibellina 124/R
ph: 055 200 10 98
Another knockout. Not great for a group, but for two to four people, it’s excellent. A little more expensive.

Gelato:
By Piazza Santo Spiritu, facing the church, on the right hand side of the square is a terrific little cafe lined with painting in the shape of the church. You can get excellent quality gelato all over Florence, but this is the place we always go. The gelato might not be any better than anywhere else, but the staff are much cuter.

WHERE YOU WANT TO GO:

Piazza del Campo, Siena

SIENNA
Florence counts as being part of Tuscany, but if you want a better idea of the rolling hills and towns frozen in time like the ones talked about in “Under the Tuscan Sun” and such like, you’ll want to take a train out to Sienna and maybe a bus trip to one of the outlying villages from there. Visit the (other) Duomo, the town square, the tower in City Hall… have lunch in the square. Wander. You can’t go wrong and you’ll love it all. Eat any place that looks reasonably local.

Most of the main attractions are held in the main square. There I climbed 89 meters of twirling cavernous stairs straight up in to the heavens. Up top, the wind blew just enough to relive me of the oppressive heat down below and I found myself surrounded by Italy as far as I could see.
Stella has calves of steel.

WHERE YOU WANT TO STAY:

Located in a lovely area close to Piazzale Michelangelo and san Niccolò, in a quiet area walking distance from the most important cultural sites in Florence, Bastioni apartment comfortably accommodates six people.

Bastioni apartment in Florence Italy

Photo credits, Creative Commons:

Uffizi by eblaser

Piazza del Campo, Siena by PhillipC

This story was brought up to us by the San Francisco Art and Film for teenagers

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