First thing upon arriving, after we were challenged by the hordes of traffic for The International Motorcycle Show and Motor Bike Expo, we made our way to the river and the Museo di Castelvecchio. This 14th century fortified castle houses artifacts from the Middle Ages. There are seven towers and even a draw bridge!
The Ponte Scaligero runs from Castelvecchio castle across the river and is a very distinctive bridge landmark in Verona. The segmented arch bridge crossing the Adige River was the world’s largest span at the time of its construction in 1354. Along the river bank there are walking trails surrounding the city. The Scaligeri family ran Venice and the Veneto region in the 14th century much like the Medici’s ruled over Florence. The castle has ornate tombs and towering family statues on pillars. This so the people would “look up to them”. Verona was, after all, one of Italy’s great powers.
Views from the Ponte Scaligero towards the Basilica di San Zeno
From the Ponte Scaligero you can see to the Ponte della Vittoria (see Featured photo) which also spans the Adige River. There are equestrian statues on either end and the view from the bridge back to the Ponte Scaligero and the Castelvecchio especially at sunset was amazing. Since I got over there just before sunset I was too intent on the sunset over the Ponte Scaligero to capture the statues. Next time!
The Ponte Pietra, Verona’s oldest bridge is a Roman-era stone bridge and you definitely want to walk across and up the hill to see the sunset and the views from the Castel San Pietro. The bridge itself is very picturesque both day and night and affords some beautiful photo opportunities as you look up and down the river from the top of the bridge. Built in the 1st century B.C. it is the most ancient Roman monument in Verona.
Once a wealthy maritime power few regions of Italy are as gorgeous as the corner of Campania that is home to the hilly Sorrentine Peninsula and the Amalfi Coast. This is also the home of Naples, and the Islands of Capri, Ischia and Procida. Smack dab in the middle of the Mediterranean the sea is the most alluring blue green color and if that doesn’t win your heart the warmth of the sun and the people certainly will. From the Sorrento Coast to Salerno the views don’t disappoint. They take you to Mount Vesuvius across the bay of Naples and then across the sea to the Island of Capri. It is a world made up of stairs! Thousand and thousands of them so bring your most comfortable walking shoes. This is no time ladies for fancy high heels that will only get caught in the cobblestones!
Cultural highlights are everywhere from the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum to the ancient history in Sorrento and Naples with sights and adventures that take you back to Roman times. The Amalfi coast is a UNESCO World Heritage site which hopefully will help preserve its charm and history. The landscape is dotted with alluring, charming towns and the most beautiful churches.
The food is “bellissima”! Make sure if you go to have the pizza! The pasta extruded using bronze dies creates a rough texture better supporting the sauce tastes nothing like ours here in the US and the mozzarella, gelato and limoncello are divinely delicious! The vine-ripened tomatoes beckon at every meal and the lemons and olives… well you get the idea! The hills are terraced with lemons, oranges, olives and grapes with Sorrento itself being known for its lemon production. They all thrive in this volcanic soil. Did someone say “Limoncello”! Be prepared for lots of seafood, desserts and more desserts!
All that walking though will let you eat and drink your way around. Did I mention the wine!!!!! Divine!!! Hang out and relax and enjoy the wine and the sunsets. Savor the slow pace and forget all those “To Do” lists, if even just for a little while.
What would a coastline be without the hidden coves and beaches that will try to lure you away from your intentions. These are not the beaches of the Caribbean however! First and foremost, you must plan to see the coast from the water, especially on Capri!
Of course, for those so inclined there are plenty of hiking adventures to be had. (coming in an upcoming post)
For those more adventurous, the cliff hugging Amalfi coast road, one of the world’s most beautiful scenic roads, with its 1,001 hairpin turns and breath taking views will test even the most accomplished driver. If you love roller-coasters then this is for you. Luckily there are taxis, private cars and buses that make travel easy and convenient because of course, you don’t want to miss the scenery because you had to concentrate on the road!
Sorrento is known as one of the world’s most charming and a old towns with it’s many cafes, shops and historic sites. (see upcoming blogs) Ravello is most famous for its extraordinary gardens and the Ravello Music Festival. Amalfi is the main coastal town and port. Positano is the jewel of the coastline with shops and houses cascading down the ravine to the sea. Don’t miss Capri or one of the other islands to the west of Sorrento in the Tyrrhenian Sea. Tourism is the major industry on this coast.
I am debating on the best way to tackle this blog so you don’t miss a second of my trips to the Amalfi coast so I think I will cover a few towns in separate blogs as there is too much to be said. Are you ready to continue on to Part 2 in this series? “Positano Bites Deep”
If you want to travel to Italy I can highly recommend a fabulous planner Ashley Turney of L’Esperta.
While exploring Venice you will notice six distinct neighborhoods called “sestieri”. This city is one of the most important tourist destinations in the world with its rich history of art, architecture, music, culture and of course, fashion!
Tourists are drawn to the many attractions like the Rialto Bridge and Market, St. Mark’s Basilica, the Doge’s Palace and of course the Grand Canal which is more than 2 miles long, nearly 150 feet wide and 15 feet deep. This city is unique in that it is the largest urban car free area in Europe. Did you know that of the more than 400 bridges only four cross the Grand Canal. The Rialto is the oldest and most famous which is lined with shops and tourists day and night and originally dates to 1180. It is a stone arch bridge completed around 1591 and for 300 years it was the only way to cross the Grand Canal on foot.
Known for its canals Venice transport is by boat. That means all goods and people, deliveries, mail, ambulances, garbage, police, food and funeral boats etc. are handled on the water. The classic boat is of course the gondola although today it is mostly used for tourists willing to pay dearly for that once in a lifetime experience. This is truly an art and each gondola is unique to its owner. There is only one gondola factory left on the island.
“Traghetti” are used by locals especially to cross the Grand Canal when there are no nearby bridges. Did I mention there are more than 400 hundred bridges linking the different areas of the city allowing travel by foot everywhere! Then there are the “Vaporetto’s”. These are motorized water buses basically transporting tourists up and down the canal and like our local buses you can hop on and off and back on again later.
The Grand Canal is lined by Romanesque, Gothic, and Renaissance structures as well as Palazzos. It is a wonderland for photographers with its landscapes, art, architecture and life on the water enhancing the light and color daily! Venice has long been known for glass and the world renowned glass industry lives on the Island of Murano in the Lagoon.
There is much to explore in Venice and it is almost too much to cover in one blog so I will try to highlight the city for you.
The city has a rich architectural history prominently Gothic in style which became known as Venetian Gothic Architecture i.e. Doge’s Palace and Ca’ d’Oro. Venetian Gothic mixes the traditional Gothic pointed arches and round medallions and a four leaf clover with Byzantine styles showcasing the tall, narrow arches atop thin columns with Islamic frills.
The Piazza- St.Mark’s Square is dominated by St. Mark’s Basilica which is older than most of Europe’s churches, the 325′ Campanile and the Doge’s Palace. Walking here you are literally transported to another time. The Basilica has a little bit of every type of architecture. You see Byzantine mosaics, Gothic pinnacles, Muslim shaped onion domes and Roman arches over the doorways. Also in the Piazza are the 15th century Clock Tower and the Campanile, the highest structure in the city built in the 9th century and rebuilt several times. It is one of the most recognizable landmarks and has a great view over the Lagoon and Venice.
St. Mark’s square is one of the lowest areas in Venice and the only public square. Flooding is often an issue from October – March during high tide cycles and causes the square to flood. (“acqua alta”) Planks are placed around to allow people passage through these areas. It is not uncommon for the lower floor of homes to be unusable due to high water. The city continues sinking at a rate of 1-2 mm per year.
Connected to the Doge’s Palace is the Bridge of Sighs, so named by Lord Byron the poet. It is said the people being sent to the prison on the other side “sighed” as they glimpsed their last look at the beautiful city of Venice.
The Piazzetta faces the lagoon and has the Doge’s Palace on one side and the library on the other and houses the San Marco column and the San Theodore column.
Across the lagoon is the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore and the most amazing views back to St. Mark’s and all of downtown Venice, the lagoon and the La Salute Church. Take in Palladio’s architecture and Tintoretto’s “Last Supper”. Take the time to go to the top of the bell tower (there is an elevator- hold on!) the views are breathtaking!
When in Venice leave plenty of time to wander, explore, get lost. You can’t get lost, after all you are on an island! It is truly magical!
On to Tuscany! This trip was a bucket list item for me as I have been planning it for 10 years. We walked almost 70 miles in 2 weeks touring Florence first and then made our base at Villa Bordoni in Greve in Chianti. From there we visited the Val d’Orcia region- Siena, San Gimignano, Montepulciano, Monticchiello, Pienza, Montalcino and Arezzo. Then bidding “arrivederci” to our new friends from Villa Bordoni we left for Pisa and finally Lucca.
Next up: Florence. Stay tuned! Did you miss Venice: Part One? Here you go! Do you prefer the Amalfi Coast? Here is link to that series! Transport yourself to another place even if only for a few minutes! Make sure to sign up to follow my blogs!
Lecce is located in the Puglia region in the heel of the boot in the Italian Peninsula where the Adriatic and Ionian seas are easily accessible. This city is over 2,000 years old and is one of the most important cities in Italy. Commonly known as “The Florence of the South” for its Baroque architecture. The town’s treasure is its architecture.
There are 3 Baroque style gates into the historical city center and 2 centers: the central square of Lecce the Piazza Sant’Oronzo where the ruins of the Amphitheatre stand and the Piazza del Duomo (the Cathedral square). In the Piazza Sant’Oronzo is a statue of a bishop perched on a column. This column is one of 2 which originally marked the end of the Roman Appian Way. The other is in Brindisi. One gate, the Porta Napoli was built in 1548.
This city existed at the time of the Trojan War and was conquered by the Romans in the 3rd century B.C.
The Baroque buildings built by the 17th century architects rival those in Florence. So distinctive is Lecce’s architecture is has acquired its own name “Lecce Baroque”. It is now a casual university town with boutiques, restaurants and a strong tradition of Papier-mâchémaking.
As is common in Italy, the streets empty as the hottest part of the day passes and this was the case when we were in Lecce so of course if you can’t shop….the infamous gelato was enjoyed by everyone in our group! As evening approaches Italians get out and ‘stroll’ this is called “Passeggiata”. This ritual evening stroll can be experienced all over Italy. We found it on the Amalfi Coast, in Rome and now in Puglia. It is just a leisurely time to walk and chat with neighbors. See and be seen!
Some of the sights of Lecce:
Basilica di Santa Croce; Church of the Holy Cross begun in 1353 was completed in 1695 and features sculptures and a rose window (the church was under renovations so no great photos of the entire church). It is a Baroque church that is decorated on the facade with all manner of animals like sheep, cherubs and grotesque figures right out of Harry Potter and has a large rose window and Corinthian columns. Next door is the Government Palace which was a former convent.
Piazza del Duomo- Lecce Cathedral and seat of the Archbishop of Lecce was originally built in 1144 and rebuilt later and finally restored by 1670. The Duomo Square features a 5 story Bell Tower.
Chiesa di San Matteo, a Baroque style Catholic church built in 1667 has 2 columns on its facade, one is decorated but the sculptor was killed before he could finish the work.
Chiesa di Santa Chiara 1429-1438 – A Baroque church with twisting columns and ornate statuary and a ceiling of classic Leccese Papier-mâché.
Chiesa di Sant’ Irene from 1591 has one of the largest altars in Lecce. From the 17th century it contains a pair of mirror Baroque altar pieces facing each other.
Church of San Giovanni Battista. There was a long traditional affinity with the Greek culture due to its proximity.
Limestone is one of the city’s main exports. it is very soft and workable and very suitable for sculptures.
Olive oil and wine production are prominent in this area as well as ceramic production.
The Roman Amphitheatre was built in the 2nd century and is located near the Sant’Oronzo Square. It once seated more than 25,000 people. It is half buried now as other buildings and monuments were built above it over the centuries. You can feel the history when you stand here.
I was fascinated with all the doors in this historic city and I will do a separate photo blog of those but check out some of the ornate building details.
I couldn’t let the opportunity pass without mentioning our guide Giuseppe who made our tour of Lecce extremely memorable! Thanks Giuseppe! I guarantee we will not forget you 🙂 or to the Bride and Groom whose wedding arrival we interrupted for pictures!
If you are considering a trip to Puglia I hope you have gotten a little taste of how fabulous this region can be. It is becoming a more and more popular travel destination. Where to stay? We stayed at the Borgo Egnazia Resort and Spa in Savelletri di Fasano right on the coast. Their slogan is NOWHERE ELSE and I can tell you I concur! Madonna left just before we arrived. Bummer! This is a great spot for visiting all the sights in Puglia like Alberobello, Lecce, and Martina Franca. I bought a case of Olive Oil! This resort does not require my endorsement. Follow the blog (up next week) to see some of the many pictures I took trying to capture the magnificence of this resort. Borgo Egnazia, Puglia
If you missed the beginning of this series head back to the beginning: Puglia – an Undiscovered Gem in Italy.
This is a true walk back in time but amazingly people inhabited these caves until the 1950’s. Before the Sassi (historical center) were abandoned this was one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world.
These natural caves dot the steep ravine and were first occupied back in the Paleolithic Age.
There were approximately 1,500 Sassi and they were expanded into living spaces as these peasant dwellings were occupied. Many of the caves had their ceilings extended to make a vaulted ceiling to expand the available living space so it was not so cramped. This was a typical Sassi that we were able to tour and is open to the public. The rooms were dug into the soft limestone. These were very poor people sadly.
To tour this ancient city is a fascinating experience. We walked down into an underground area where deep cisterns collected rain water for drinking. There were 8 deep interconnected cisterns throughout this ancient city. This 16th century cistern complex is right under the main town Piazza surrounded by historic buildings!
Check out the water lines!
Check out the water lines on the walls!
This is a popular city for shooting movies like the remake of Ben Hur starring Morgan Freeman which began shooting in early 2015 (below) and Passion of The Christ. It is one of the oldest living cities.
The Matera Cathedral. Magnificent!
Bread is this city’s symbol. It’s form and unique taste are symbolic of a tradition that is still strong today. The bread’s shape is reminiscent of the hills or a mountaintop range. Each family had a brand on their bread using a wooden stamp so they could recognize it in the shared ovens. It has a slightly salty taste with a crunchy crust. This traditional bread goes back to the Kingdom of Naples in the 15th and 16th centuries. The wheat which is grown in this area has a unique and distinct flavor and the preparation of the yeast uses fresh fruit!
Again, we had a wonderful guide who regaled us with all sorts of history and stories. Thanks Giovanni! Next up Lecce! Follow along as our journey continues!
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.
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.
Our private guide, Agostino, regaled us with all sorts of racy stories! Excavated in 1960; 1985-1988
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
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.
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.
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.
Interior of home of a wealthy merchant with colorful frescoes and ornate decorations
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.
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!
The ruins of Pompeii:
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
Puglia is quite often a point of departure for Greece with ferries taking you across the Adriatic Sea from its ports in Bari and Brindisi. I was fortunate enough to discover this increasingly popular region of Italy last fall while documenting a tour group for L’Esperta (Italian Travel & Lifestyle Expert) to this region.
The area of Puglia is located in the heel of the boot of Italy and is becoming a trendy tourist destination. While in Puglia, we were able to explore many of the ancient towns in the area like Alberobello with its white-washed Trullo houses; Lecce with its Baroque beauty and Martina Franca with its olive groves and orchards. Of course, you might just want to visit the beach! It is on the Adriatic Sea of course! Wait did I mention the food! Oh My gosh!!!! Fabulous!
As we made our way from the Amalfi Coast eastward we stopped in the ancient cave town of Matera then onward to Puglia. Our final destination was the impeccable Borgo Egnazia. They say “Nowhere Else” and that describes the beauty of this unique resort and spa. In upcoming blogs we will visit each of these towns as we make our way across Italy!
Puglia has always been basically an agricultural/farming region. The large agricultural estates have become upscale resorts, spas, etc. I found out the Appian Way which starts in Rome ends in Puglia and is still marked by one surviving Roman column. The second is found in Lecce.
Much of the region is covered in olive groves, orchards and other crops. I never saw celery growing before. My garden is limited to tomatoes, cukes, eggplant and herbs. Some of these olives trees are over 1,000 years old. The roots of olive trees do not die of natural causes. The trunk and branches can hollow out and die off many times over the life of the tree. I have never tasted olive oil like we tasted in Martina Franca and promptly bought a case after we learned how to determine what is “great” olive oil vs. very commercial “not so good” olive oil.
So let’s start our journey across Italy. We started on the Amalfi Coast which was my third trip and boy it never gets old! Since I have blogged about all the cities on the Amalfi Coast previously I won’t get into that now but here is a link to those blogs.
We began in Pompeii, headed to Matera, then to Savelletri di Fasano in Puglia. Come join me and discover “the” up and coming tourist destination in southern Italy!
My next blog documents our travels to Pompeii then on to Alberobello, Matera, Lecce and then on to Savelletri di Fasano on the coast. Here is a link to Pompeii. See you next time!
Sorrento is known as one of the world’s most charming and romantic old towns with it’s many cafes, shops and historic sites. It is located in southern Italy about an hour south of Naples, wedged on a ledge and separates the Gulf of Naples from the Gulf of Salerno. This is a land of high hills and valleys and mountains surrounding the entire peninsula. The area is surrounded by smaller villages like Meta, Sant’ Agnello and the area known as Massa Lubrense. Sorrento is a good home base for your Amalfi Coast excursions.
Piazza Tasso is the central square in Sorrento and the hub for fancy hotels, artistic and cultural events. There are many side streets, almost alleyways I would call them lined with all manner of shopping from high end boutiques, gelato shops and cafes everywhere just to stop and relax and remember why you are here! The town is laid out on an East – West orientation to take advantage of the most sun and North – South to get the prevailing winds. This was originally a Greek town plan. The 13th century palaces that dot the back streets have no balconies and this was for security.
The limestone rocks here create a soil that is very suitable for various types of vegetation. The most popular and well known product from the region is of course lemons and that oh so famous liqueur: Limoncello! Of course, we won’t forget to mention the olives, vineyards, vegetables, tomatoes and orange groves also.
For our final stop on this Amalfi Coast tour: Capri
You definitely can’t miss Capri! This island is romance on steroids!!! The views are mind boggling dramatic and the ocean is a glorious turquoise color. Capri and Ischia are the islands to the west of Sorrento in the Tyrrhenian Sea. You are hooked immediately upon your arrival to this busy marina and you are in love immediately.
Villa Jovis, one of the most magnificent of the Roman Emperor Tiberius’ island palaces is located on Capri’s second highest peak and is a great spot for hikers. He was the first “tourist” they say who fell in love with Capri looking for a refuge from the hustle and bustle in Rome. The island is famous for hiking and if that is not for you take the chairlift to the top of Mount Solaro and gaze down upon the towns of Capri and Anacapri and the famous Faraglioni rock formations (see top photo). Mount Solaro is the highest and most panoramic location on the Island of Capri. From this vantage point you can see all the way down to the center of the town of Capri and to the town of Anacapri and all the way to the Sorrentine peninsula and the Gulf of Naples.
Of course you will find the most fashionable shopping square anywhere in southern Italy with high end boutiques just calling your name.
Be sure to explore the island both by land and sea. The Grotta Azzura- The Blue Grotto is a true adventure. Both times I have been the sea was too choppy for us to enter but it is supposedly absolutely breathtaking. If it is anything like the other grottos I did see… well- you decide! I have never seen water this color- anywhere!
Are you convinced yet!
I have loved every minute of my time on the Amalfi Coast and frankly can’t wait to return again and again! Thanks for traveling with me! Ciao for now until my next adventure! If you missed parts 1-4 you can find them here on the blog and all the photos are on my Flickr album. Hundreds to enjoy and way too many to put in this blog.
When you are on the Amalfi Coast hire a private driver or take a taxi. Both are experts in the sights and history of the area and will make your journey that much more memorable. Again if you are interested in going to Italy considering working with either of the ladies below and tell them Robin Lensi sent you. I suggest you contact either:
Amalfi, a truly medieval city has the grandest cathedral anywhere in the Arab-Norman style. The Duomo di Sant’ Andrea with it’s striped facade in Saracen colors and the Chiostro del Paradiso is spectacular.
In front of the harbor is the Piazza Flavio Gioia in honor of Gioia who is credited with inventing the maritime compass in 1302.
Don’t miss the little town to the east of Amalfi called Atrani. It is often said the town looks like an opera set.
And then you come to Ravello, high atop Monte Cereto and my personal favorite! Unlike any place on earth!
You can’t come to Ravello without taking home some ceramics. Or in my case twice shipping home huge containers!
Perched 1,500 feet above the bluest bay in the world, the Bay of Salerno it provides the most breathtaking views on the Amalfi coast.
Ravello is the home to two of the areas most famous medieval gardens, the Villa Rufulo and the Villa Cimbrone. The crown jewel in Ravello is undoubtedly the Belvedere of Infinity in the Villa Cimbrone.
This garden is the highest point in Ravello and the views are not to be missed.
Here are some of the sights from the Villa Rufulo. They host an amazing Music Festival every summer.
Truly one could go on and on about the Amalfi coast but it is safe to say it is one of the most beautiful places on earth. For the entire Album please go to my Flickr album so you can enjoy all of the photos. If you missed any of the previous parts in this series here is a link to Part One. Ciao and stay tuned for the final installment! I hope you will consider following my blog. Enjoy! If you are ready to start planning your trip you can’t go wrong with Ashley Turney and L’Esperta.