Fiesole

Just a short bus ride from Florence up into the hills brings you to the town of Fiesole. The quick side trip lays fabulous views of Florence at your feet. The city is laid out before you as a marvel of the Renaissance in Tuscany that it is.

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The first thing you see upon arrival is the Medieval Cathedral.

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We spent the day exploring the ruins of the Teatro Romano an archaeological site that includes a temple, the Roman theatre and the Baths.

The Roman Theatre was built somewhere between the 1st century B.C. and the 1st century A.D.  The half-round ampitheatre allowed easy seat access and was used until the 3rd century A.D.

The thermal baths date back to the 1st century B.C. and included a Frigidarium to cool off after your hot bath, a Tepidarium which was the lukewarm space and a Calidarium the hottest water which was warmed by two ovens.

The Etruscan walls partially enclose the city of Fiesole and were a defense against enemies until 1125 when Florence conquered Fiesole.

After exploring the town on an insanely hot afternoon we walked partially down the hill to grab lunch at the Belmond San Michele. This is a very special property in the Belmond chain and again overlooks the city of Florence.  It was well worth making a reservation to join them for lunch. The property is stunning and I cannot wait to go back so I can experience the property properly as a guest!

Remember when travelling get off the beaten track! If you can’t afford to stay somewhere plan to go there for lunch. No restaurant that I have ever visited denies non-guests lunch.  Just make a reservation!

Then back to Florence!

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Lago di Como, a series, part 4

On the shores of Lake Como in the town of Cernobbia is the 16th century Tivoli Palace named, Villa D’Este.  This former palace from the Renaissance era was converted to a high end hotel in 1873 and consists of the Villa and a 25 acre park.  Be prepared for stunning views of Lake Como!!Cernobbia Villa D'Este-1

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Also on the shores of Lake Como in Como is the Hotel Albergo Terminus which dates back to the 19th century.  The views of the lake are fabulous and its central location in the historic center next to Piazza Cavour, the piers , the funicular and a small train station makes it very convenient.

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Albergo Terminus

Did you miss  Lago di Como, part 3

Lago di Como – Part 2; Lago di Como – Part 1

Lago di Como, a series, part 2 -Brunate

When you are in the city of Como, Italy on Lake Como don’t miss the chance to ride the funicular up to the small town of Brunate which sits 2346′ above Como. Of course, if you are in no hurry you can hike up! The funicular opened way back in 1894. The breathtaking views of the lake and the town below can’t be matched anywhere! While there walk around or hike to the Volta Lighthouse for more outstanding views.

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Funicular to Brunate
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View from Brunate north towards Switzerland
 
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Como Catheral from Bunate’s Panoramic viewpoint 

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Sitting high on the hill is the Church of Sant’ Andrea Apostolo in Piazza della Chiesa. This quaint lovely church is another nice place to stop and admire the view.

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Church of Sant’ Andrea Apostolo

Stay tuned for more from Lake Como! Did you miss Part 1? Lago di Como

Ready to go on to Lago di Como – Part 3

The Cinque Terre

The Cinque Terre can be found between Genoa and Pisa and is an easy train ride from Milan or Florence.

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The 5 towns of the Cinque Terre are a UNESCO World Heritage Site stretching for 6 miles on the Italian Riviera but are very different from their glitzy neighbors.  We will explore each of the towns as we go.

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Monterosso coastline

Many people who plan to visit these towns also plan to hike at least part of the trail so I’ll start there. Heads up- starting April 1, 2019 a new law takes effect banning hikers from wearing flip flops or face fines. This seems like a no-brainer to me since I had on hiking boots but we saw many people who probably decided on the spur of the moment to hike part of the trail and were not prepared either with the proper footwear, water, snacks, first aid for bees, cuts, etc.

Hiking trails are available from Monterosso to Vernazza to Corniglia.  Recently the path has been closed between Corniglia , Manarola and Riomaggiore due to landslides so be sure to check if they are open. You can hike in either direction.

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We hopped the local train from Santa Margherita Ligure, our home base, to Monterosso al Mare and hiked to Vernazza then after lunch grabbed a ferry to Manarola. Plan your time wisely! It was insanely hot when we were there in early September and we encountered quite a few hikers.  Move over and let people who are quicker pass.

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This was the easy part!

Don’t overestimate how much you can accomplish in one day! The hike is strenuous, no matter your age, and exhausting!

Don’t forget to enjoy each town you do visit remembering why you went there in the first place. This section of the Italian Riviera is breathtakingly beautiful but sadly, too much tourism, like in Venice, is threatening these gorgeous places.  Be considerate and don’t ruin it for the next guests.  The area is fragile and needs to be preserved for us all to enjoy. Goes without saying in my book!!!!

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Make sure when buying your tickets for ferries or hiking that you are paying for the right thing.  We were sold hiking tickets in Monterosso but after hiking about 15 minutes up a steep hill we were told at a checkpoint that we had the wrong tickets- more money and too late to turn back!

Be prepared as things run slowly here! Our train back was well over an hour late unlike the Trenitalia trains that run all over Italy.  The local trains are not as prompt where the Trenitalia trains are very prompt!!! Don’t be late! No one will wait for you! Buy your tickets in advance is great advice!!

Your choices are limited for staying in one of the 5 towns for the most part so you might consider staying nearby and making day trips to the Cinque Terre and Portofino. Some towns to consider are: Santa Margherita Ligure, La Spezia, Levanto, and Rapalo. Leave the car elsewhere.

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Santa Margherita Ligure

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Portofino

Monterosso al Mare

This town has a beautiful stretch of beach where you can just hang out and relax and then explore the town’s architecture in both the New town and the Old town or just start your hike.

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Monterosso al Mare

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Monterosso- play time!

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Monterosso al Mare coastline

Vernazza

This town is so picturesque with its beautiful natural harbor and tiny narrow cobblestone streets and cute restaurants flanking the small Piazza. Linger along the breakwater built only in 1972 that surrounds the harbor. Take in the sights in Piazza Marconi and watch the boats come and go as children play in the waters.

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In case you didn’t hike in from Monterosso be sure to take a few extra minutes to find the narrow stairs that mark the start of the trail that lead you up to the most quintessential view of Vernazza.

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Vernazza

The harborfront church of Santa Margherita is unusual for its east facing entry rather than the more traditional western orientation.

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Santa Margherita church

This town dates mostly from the 12th and 15th centuries. The color of the buildings are regulated (known as ‘Ligurian pastel’) MAGICAL!!!

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Just like many parts of Italy the hillsides around the Cinque Terre are dotted with olive and wine vineyards. Be sure to walk uphill in each town to avoid the crowds of the waterfront.

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Manarola

Manarola is the last town we visited as it was already late and our train ride back was about an hour and then we were delayed another hour plus. The town seems to hang in a ravine and is relatively quiet. These towns all seem to hang on the cliffs like on the Amalfi Coast and Positano. Manarola is probably the steepest of the 5 towns. Be sure when there to head uphill out of the harbor area where the crowds are less dense. The hills here are also covered with vineyards and lemon groves. For lovely views late in the day head up the trail towards the town’s cemetery.

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Manarola

Sadly we did not have enough time or an extra day to get to Corniglia or Riomaggiore but here is some information on both. Next trip!

Corniglia is the only town not on the coast. Wine is still the lifeblood of this town as it was in ancient times.  The hike from here to Vernazza is a challenging, hilly 1.5 hour hike. Check to see if the trail is open to Manarola before setting out!

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Corniglia

Riomaggiore offers lovely views back on the harbor from the breakwater. Have fun just strolling from the train station down to the harbor.  This town is very photogenic especially just around sunset.

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Riomaggiore by Kevin Mercier http://www.kevmrc.com

(sorry I couldn’t get there this trip) here is a great shot by Kevin Mercier

Where is your next trip?  My wish list is so long and made even more complicated by all the towns I really want to revisit. Hard to complain! See you in our next town 🙂

If you are planning a trip to Italy I have blogs on many towns some which I have visited 2 or 3 times often employing guides so I don’t miss the local highlights that most tourists miss.  Guides are well worth the extra money.  If it is pricey for you, consider some less expensive meals or forget the souvenirs to compensate.  You won’t be sorry.  Travel Agents who specialize in Italy can help you with guides, train and travel arrangements as well as affordable accommodations in convenient locations so you don’t waste too much time checking out your location.

Bologna- a Food Lover’s Paradise

When you think of Italy most people think art, history, gorgeous landscapes and FOOD!

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The city of Bologna is a foodie paradise! The old centro storico is lined with ancient shops with the most amazing fresh cheeses, meats, breads, oils, vinegars and wines. OKAY to be totally honest we tried everything! First stop was a small shop our guide brought us to where we sampled mortadella on freshly made small baguettes.  We never tasted anything like it! If you think mortadella is bologna you care seriously mistaken.  My husband was hooked and has been on the hunt for some ‘real’ mortadella ever since we came back.

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From there we had Parmesan cheese, my weakness, we tasted balsamic vinegars, (checked!) and shipped lots home.  Of course, olive oil, biscotti etc. Then to add insult to injury she brought us to a wonderful little restaurant for a lunch we will never forget! Da Cesari, a Bologna staple since 1955. The original Eataly is located here in the centro storico too.

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You may know Bologna as the home of the Two Towers {(Le Due Torri Asinelli Tower (right) and Garisenda tower (Left)} and as the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy.

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The city’s architecture is unique in that early in the 13th century all walkways were covered so in the rain you could walk and stay dry all around the city – like umbrellas!

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This is a lively college town and an easy train ride from either Milan or Florence. You arrive right near the center of the city basically near the Porta Galliera and the Piazza XX Settembre an easy walk to the historical center. Pass right by the bronze statue of the Italian General and politician, Giuseppe Garibaldi and across the street the theatre.

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Teatro del Sole

Don’t just confine yourself to only the historic center. Walk out into other neighborhoods and explore. There are many churches, restaurants and shops to experience away from the crowds.

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Basilica Di Santo Stefano

Maybe stay in an ancient tower now a B&B!

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The town center is Piazza Maggiore and the adjacent Piazza del Nettuno.  All of this town’s important buildings are around these two squares but please don’t just confine yourself to this small area.

The Basilica began in 1390 and still isn’t complete. The two Towers- Le Due Torri, made famous by Dante in The Inferno tower above the city. Towers were a symbol of power and wealth and you see this all over Italy, especially in towns like San Gimignano. It is possible if you are up to climbing 500 steps one of the towers, Torre degli Asinelli is open and provides commanding city views. ( see above) Not for me!!! Too claustrophic 🙁

 

Like many cities if shopping is your thing head to Galleria Cavour to check out top designer labels.

On our way back to the train we cut thru the Giardino della Montagnola while dodging oncoming rain.

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Did you know Bologna had many canals like Venice? I bet you didn’t! You can still get a glimpse of them today on Via Piella.

 

Bologna is totally worth either a day trip from Florence or Milan but we wished we had stayed at least one night.  Most towns really reveal themselves after the day’s crowds are gone and make for the most memorable experiences.  Lastly, I cannot stress enough the benefit of using local guides.  Their knowledge of history and local food and events is invaluable and they are well worth the money.  You miss so much otherwise that you just can’t get from guidebooks alone. We never would have found this hidden gem without a guide! Look at all those family crests! there were thousands of them!

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Biblioteca Communale Dell’Archiginnasio

We also saw the remains of the original city walls. Ancient history right at your feet. Very moving.

If you need help I can refer you to a few agents who specialize in Italy 🙂

 

Churches of Verona

Duomo Di Verona is the city’s cathedral and can easily be reached from the Ponte Pietra. It was constructed on the remains of two earlier churches that were destroyed in the earthquake of 1117. An absolutely beautiful church in the historic medieval center. The Basilica has striped brick and stone walls not unlike other churches I have seen throughout Italy.

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Verona’s Cathedral

Basilica di Santa Anastasia is the most important religious monument in the Gothic style in Verona. Funded by the Scaligeri family it was built around 1290.

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Basilica di Santa Anastasia

Verona’s majestic Basilica Di San Zeno dates from the 12th century in Piazza San Zeno. The Basilica di San Zeno Maggiore is a striking landmark especially when viewed from the across the river. This Romanesque church’s bronze doors have 48 carved panel Bible Scenes and beautiful frescoes inside from the 12th – 15th centuries.

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Basilica di San Zeno from Ponte Scaligero

Chiesa dei Santi Apostoli, is an ancient Roman Catholic church built in the early 12th century on a pre-exiting Roman cemetery. Located right near the Porta dei Borsari mentioned in the previous blog on the Corso Cavour. A striking Veronese Romanesque bell tower stands apart from the church.

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Chiesa dei Santi Apostoli

 

Did you miss the last 2 blogs on Verona? Romeo, Romeo and Verona’s Bridges? Link to them to read more about this lovely city.

Also travel to Asiago near the Swiss Alps.  Looking for more Italy?  There are blogs on many different areas.  Here are links: Amalfi Coast; Puglia, including Lecce, Matera, Alberobello, Borgo Egnazia; Florence; Venice (stay tuned for some new Venice ones also); Tuscany including: Siena, San Gimignano, Montepulciano, Lucca, Pienza, Pisa, Arezzo. Montalcino, Montefioralle, Greve and Montechiello.  Whew!  That’s a lot of trips to Italy in the last few years!

Can’t wait to return!!!!

Alberobello – a UNESCO World Heritage site

alberobelloA small Town within the City of Bari, in Apulia’s region of southern Italy known for its Trulli buildings. The area is part of the coastal plain to the Mediterranean where olive groves are everywhere.  It does snow here in winter but only occasionally!

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The Masseria, the largest farm houses, have mostly been subdivided now but many are still working farms.  This region was once filled with oak trees that were only found here in Puglia until in 282 B.C. this valley was crossed with elephants and the oak trees were leveled. This was farmland, cows everywhere! Believe me the burrata and mozzarella here are amazing as is the white wine! Wine! Did someone say wine?

The Trulli have been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1996.  There are more than 1500 Trulli in this non-farming environment.  Trulli are also found throughout the countryside but the largest collection is right within the Town of Alberobello.  A single house in known as a Trullo.  The popular central town area is Rione Monti leads up to the top of the hill to the main church – Chiesa di Sant’ Antonio.

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Trulli have conical roofs constructed of limestone from the region.  These are ancient stone houses some dating back as far as the Bronze Age c.1350.  They were constructed by peasants using a dry wall construction method made without mortar, a prehistoric building technique still in use featuring domed or conical roofs.

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Today some are used as stores, restaurants, lodging but most are homes. They developed as temporary structures that were easy to demolish and an efficient means to evade taxes at the times to the feudal lord. They are and were incredibly durable so this was not at all accurate.  They are warm in winter and cool in summer.  The roof is composed of horizontal limestone slabs in concentric circles and typically have a central room with additional living spaces in arched alcoves.

The keystone is often decorated and is a very important structural element individualizing each property and is something of a status symbol.

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Keystones on the rooftops

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Conical roofs

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Wandering the streets

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The roofs are often decorated with fanciful symbols supposedly having religious symbolism or superstitious significance.

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Fanciful roof symbols

This is an area of Italy I will return to someday.  Fascinating history and architecture and oh yeah the WINE!!!!

Again I would be remiss if I didn’t thank our fabulous guide Michele who gave us all sorts of history, stories and shared more than a few bottles of wine with us before jetting off to spend the weekend with his lady in Russia!

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Ready to continue our tour of the Puglia region. Next up is Matera!  Come join me.

 

Pompeii- a step back in time!

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The ancient city of Pompeii is located in the southern region of Italy called Campania near the coast of Naples and was an important port town.  This once great Roman city was buried under tons of ash and pumice when in 79 A.D. Mount Vesuvius erupted. This thriving city of 20,000 people that was built up with private and public establishments under both Emperors Augustus and Tiberius was destroyed.

After the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, Pompeii was rediscovered and is still undergoing extensive restoration and excavation.  There is an extraordinary collection of architecture, sculpture, paintings and mosaics.  The major artifacts were moved to Naples by the Emperor many, many years ago.

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Mount Vesuvius

We entered through the Marina Gate in Region VII (there are 9 Regions under excavation at Pompeii) where you are immediately greeted by the Suburban Baths.  These were private baths some with erotic paintings; others with extravagant decorations.

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Agostino- our fabulous guide in Capri and Pompeii

Our private guide, Agostino, regaled us with all sorts of racy stories!   Excavated in 1960; 1985-1988

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Marina Gate and Suburban Baths

The Marina Gate & Walls provide access to the west side of this city and is the most impressive of the 7 gates of Pompeii. It seems the name came from the fact that the route out led to the sea.  The gate has 2 barrel vault portals made of concrete and dates back to 80 B.C. The 2 portals provided entry for both horses and other pack animals and the smaller was for people. Excavated 1862-1863

Another highlight was the Temple of Genius Augusti (Vespasian) which was built at the request of the Priestess.  It consisted of a small courtyard, marble altar which depicts a bull being led to sacrifice and a small temple with 4 columns and exquisite marble decoration. Excavated in 1817

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The Bakery of Popidio Prisco: The mill and the bakery were adjacent to each other as they were part of the same production process. There are 5 large lava millstones that were used to grind the wheat. Bread was baked in a variety of shapes in the large central oven and sold to residents or to wholesalers. Excavation 20’s of the 19th century.

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The bakery of Popidio Prisco

 

The Sauna Room and public baths were a significant social scene where Romans would relax and be pampered after leaving the gymnasium. There was both a hot and cold bath here. Water was abundant in this city.

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The sauna room

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The Streets of Pompeii were established on a grid plan The streets have grooves for the horse carts. Since the streets often flooded there are footsteps that allow pedestrians to cross the road without getting their feet wet.

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Interior of home of a wealthy merchant with colorful frescoes and ornate decorations

 

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The Forum: this was a public space originally at the center of Pompeii’s commercial, religious and political life and is surrounded by many of the most significant buildings of the city. The Basilica was a public building where business and legal matters were conducted. It was at one end of the Forum.

 

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The Building of Eumanchia has an ornate carved marble frieze. Note the “key” which supports the gate without a central support. Eumanchia was a local priestess and a successful business woman to boot! Women rock!

 

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The ruins of Pompeii:

 

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This exploration of a time gone by is well worth the visit.  It is immense and you can easily fall into the trap of everything looking the same.  Take my advice and hire a private guide or you will miss the highlights here as following the map will have you wandering endlessly in circles! A word of warning: wear comfortable shoes!!! The streets are very uneven and you can easily lose your footing.

Now onto the Puglia Region.  Here is a link to Alberobello our next adventure.  Stay tuned for Matera, Lecce and the gorgeous Borgo Egnazia

 

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