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The Italian Republic was unified under Garibaldi during the second part of the 19th century. The dialect of the unforgettable city on the river Arno, Florence, was chosen as the national native tongue of the newly formed country of Italy. This land, through the medium of Greco-Roman culture, spawned many western notions and ideas; while the renaissance reintroduced the essence of ancient Greece.
Weekend breaks to cities such as Venice and Rome, winter sports holidays to the Alps or Apennines, cultural tours to Florence or Verona or classic summer holidays at resorts like the delightful island of Capri are just a minuscule mention of Italian destinations and vacation choices.
Sicily and Sardinia are sizable islands and offer history, stunning landscapes as well as solitary sites for those wishing to escape the stress of office life. Trekking, horse riding, rock climbing and cycling provide adventure and physical exercise for the active visitor.
Where to begin? Each and every area boasts its own edible gem. The ever present Gelato (ice-cream) is hard to resist as are most of the dishes in Italy. Bologna, where food is taken seriously, is where La Sfoglia (pasta made from soft flour and an abundance of egg yolks) can be tasted, while Culatello, cured haunch of pork may tempt you despite the exorbitant cost per kilo.
Reggio Calabria offers a simpler fare making the most of the various locally made pastas and the multitudinous types of vegetables found there. Tomatoes and aubergines are most commonly used in dishes in the area. The tomatoes are used fresh in the summer while the surplus is canned or dried in the sun and preserved in oil. Some Calabrian dishes include: Polenta Verde Calabrese, a tasty treat that comes with cheese or sausages, Roast Pork with Fennel and Baccala con Polenta
Wines are, of course abundant. Wine-growing regions include Piedmont, Umbria and Apulia. Italy has wine producing areas from north to south and many of them offer accommodation combining wine-tasting holidays.
Football is the most popular sport for the locals while for the visitor or tourist there plenty of sports activities in Italy. Visit Moena Dolomite or Cortina D’Ampezzo in the winter and try their winter sports facilities. The lakes of the north, such as Lake Garda, Como and Maggiore, offer boating or swimming to name just two fresh water pursuits. The kilometres of coastal areas provide all types of water sports; a few of them being, sailing, water skiing, kite-surfing and snorkelling.
Many areas of the hinterland offer mountain and rock climbing, pony trekking, rafting and canoeing.
Venice immediately springs to mind when one thinks of Italian festivals. Masked figures emerging from foggy backdrops are a common photographic icon used to convey the phenomenon of Carnival. This festival is kept all over Italy and marks the period before Lent when a fast of 40 days is held before the celebration of Easter which is when Christians believe Jesus was resurrected from the dead.
At Florence, there is a spectacle/festival called Calcio Istorico (literally, historical football) which is a kind of Medieval free for all. Best seen on You Tube or similar, as seeing is believing.
See the Palio di Siena (horse race), in July or the Joust of the Saracen in Arezzo in Tuscany.
If you are interested in traditional festivals, each region has something going on. You will find lots of interesting information on the internet for each Italian region.
Airports and ports are well served by major airlines and ferry companies. Road and rail networks are also good.
Sicily has two airports, while Sardinia has three.
The northern part of Italy is temperate and the southern part has a Mediterranean climate.
Lazio is made up of the provinces of Frosinone, Latina, Rieti and Viterbo. Before the rise of the Romans, the area was inhabited by the Etruscans.
For nature lovers the area hosts many areas of natural beauty. Lake Posta Fibreno is noteworthy as it hosts a floating island. The Circeo National Park covers a large area and is the home of many types of birds and an oak forest. There are also underground caves there which are of particular interest.
The capital city of Rome and the ancient Roman world from whence much of the western world derived its language, roads and culture is still an exciting place where Roman and later architecture is very much in evidence. The river Tiber courses through the city and there are seven ancient bridges as well as other modern ones. The city is a wonderful mix of ancient and modern and the visitor will never be bored.
Places of interest are numerous; The Coliseum, where gladiators once fought and 60,000 were seated is spectacular. Other Roman architectural sites include the Roman Forum, the Domus Aurea, the Pantheon, Trajan’s Column and market, the Catacombs and countless others.
The Vatican is also in Rome and is actually classed as a separate state. On most days you will see crowds gathered in St Peter’s Square hoping to catch a glimpse of the Pope.
A popular place to hang out in seems to be the Spanish Steps which border the Piazza di Spagna. The area is home to the former residence of the poet Keats.
Rome has many bars and cafes. Italians drink Espresso standing up and in about 10 seconds and then leave immediately. There is now a smoking ban in Italy for public places so all cafes, bars and restaurants are now smoke-free.
Some cheeses of note are Pecorino, Buffalo Mozzarella and Ricotta. Wines include Frascati and Marino.
Lazio is known for its waste not want not philosophy where all the meat cuts are included. I will write no more on this subject. Moving on to pasta; Spaghetti is common in Rome and Lazio and is typically served with garlic and oil or pecorino and grated black pepper.
This sparsely populated region is situated about halfway down the country on the eastern coast. With poor road and rail connections up until about 40 years ago, the region of Abruzzo maintained its culture and remained unspoilt. The area boasts a mountainous interior while the coastline has an abundance of beaches where one can relax, kite surf, water ski or swim. The region consists of four provinces, Chiteti, L’Aquila, Pescara and Teramo. The capital city of the area is L’Aquila.
National parks are a strong feature in Abruzzo where the brown bear, wolf, eagle and chamois can still be seen.
The rough terrain offers ample activities such as horse riding, rafting and hiking for energetic visitors to Abruzzo while more leisurely activities include wine-tasting and cookery classes.
Try the extremely potent Cent’erbe (one hundred herbs) which is similar in colour to Absinthe.
The most common ingredient in most dishes is the chilli pepper which is found in most dishes. The local pasta dish is called maccheroni alla chitarra.
There is an international airport in Pescara which hosts a number of international carriers and connects with many parts of Europe plus New York and Toronto.
Pescara can also be accessed by ferry.
This region in southern Italy has the second highest population in the Republic of Italy. The capital city, Naples is legendary. Its name derives from the Greek, and means ‘New City’. Naples. The city is served by an international airport while the port has a ferry service to some of the nearby small islands as well as to Sicily and Sardinia.
The region’s name translates into ‘countryside’ and there are plenty of rural areas to explore along with the local gastronomy and local fests.
Apart from the Margharita pizza, the area offers more varied dishes and beverages. This volcanic region benefits by having fertile soil and produces a wealth of vegetables and fruit.
Most common in the region of Campania is food cooked quickly in the frying pan. Sample the fritto misto as a typical paradigm. The dish is usually pieces of sea food or meat and vegetable all deep fried in batter.
Some cheeses of the area are scamorza,provolone,caciocavallo, mozzarella and pecorino.
Wines of note are: Taurasi, Aqlianico del Tabruno and Asprino di Aversa.
Liguria consists of the provinces of Genoa, Imperia, La Spezia and Savona.
The capital city and former city state has much to offer the visitor in terms of culture, history and culinary experience. The medieval gates still exist today and recall the former status of Genoa. Other places of interest are the ancient lighthouse (La Laterna), which is a symbol of the city and was constructed in 1543 the Palazzo Reale which was built by the Balbi’s in the 17th century. The Palazzo and gardens are open to visitors.
The area’s cuisine comprises and combines basic staples of the area producing a subtle flavour. The best known export is pesto. Types of ravioli are varied. Try panstotti which is stuffed with herbs and vegetables. Pies are common in the area and made with filo pastry and various cheeses and herbs. Finally, don’t forget to try the many fish dishes on offer.
Wines of note are: Bianchetta, Vermentino and Rossese.
Sports and leisure activities include: water skiing, wind surfing, scuba diving, fishing, hiking, climbing and mountain-biking.
The region of Lombardy, with its famous capital of Milan is made up of twelve provinces: Bergamo,Brescia,Como,Cremona,Lecco,Lodi,Mantua,Milan,Monza and Brianza,Pavia,Sondrio and Varese.
Milan is known for its industry and fashion business latterly and formerly as a trading centre in the Middle Ages. It is also on the international radar for its opera as Milan is the home of La Scala.
This impressive city is well worth visiting. Sites not to miss are The Duomo di Milano (The cathedral at Milan), and the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
The lakes of Maggiore, Garda, Iseo (also known as Lake Sebino) and Como are all located in Lombardy and afford the visitor every opportunity to enjoy a great number of activities such as walking and hiking, mountain biking water sports such as canoeing, sailing and boating and winter sports. Lake Iseo is the home of Monte Isola which is the biggest island lake in Europe. Nearby the lake are thermal spas and a nature reserve.
Some towns in the area of interest are Mantova,Bergamo and Cremona.
Gastronomically, Lombardy differs from many other areas in that it mostly uses rice rather than pasta as its staple. Perhaps the best known dish of the area is Risotto alla Milanese while a meat dish that is very common is Casola which is made with pork.
Lombardy boasts a high standard of wine and cheese produce. Gorgonzola is made here. The region is also the home of three major wine regions; Franciacorta, Olttrepo and Valtellina.
Puglia has six provinces: Bari, Barletta – Andria – Trani, Brindisi, Foggia, Lecce and Taranto. The main municipalities are eponymously named. This area was part of Magna Graecia and there are still rural areas in southern Italy and Sicily where a form of Greek is spoken. The port city of Bari is also the capital of the region. The town of Lecce may ring a bell to any of you who like football and is a place of interest with Baroque architecture. Brindisi and Bari town are major ports. Via these ports there are very good connections to the east (Greece,Albania and parts of former Yugoslavia. For those of you who live elsewhere, you can get to the area by road, rail and air. Bari has an international airport called Palese Airport, while Brindisi is served by Brindisi Casale Airport.
A remarkable feature of the area is the trulli architecture. These beehive like structures are actually inhabited houses in Puglia while in Sardinia, nuraghi, prehistoric versions are found. It is actually possible to rent these trulli houses and spend your vacation in one of these unique domiciles. The houses usually have a single dwelling space where each space, apart from the bathroom which has doors, is divided by hanging fabrics. The houses are cool in the summer. This region in general is charming, the people friendly and the views stunning.
Puglia boasts miles of coastline and offers beach holidays, water sports, trekking and inland sports and activities such as horse-riding, gastronomy, history and culture.
Resort towns include Viste and Peschici. Visit Martina Franca in the interior or the old city of Bari.
The Gargano National Park covers 120,000 hectares and comprises mountain regions, lagoons, forests, villages and marine reserves. There are countless archaeological places of interest as well as a wealth of flora and fauna. Bird- watching and rock-climbing are just two activities which the area has to offer.
Lamb is a main staple of the region. Oysters and mussels also feature in the local cuisine. The area also has good olive oil and produces sun-dried tomatoes. Some wines of note are Castel del Monte Rosso and Terra d’Otranto.
This unique island where the ancient conical like nuraghi stone structures are an integral part of the landscape and the sea is coloured a spectacular shade of turquoise is a holiday destination for all. Its 1,800 km coastline mean that water sports and beach activities are widely available. Scuba diving, fishing, windsurfing, wakeboarding, paragliding and sailing are just some water activities available on the island. Inland activities include golf, tennis, walking, cycling, and bird watching, horse riding, rafting and kayaking.
The island is reached by plane (the island has two airports) or by ferry from France and Italy.
The capital city of Cagliari has been inhabited since prehistoric times due to its favourable geographical position which allowed for defence and retreat.
The city is served by an international airport, a passenger and cruise port as well as a cruise terminal, motorways, a train station, a metro system, and a bus, tram and coach system.
The old city is called Castello where most of the walls are still intact. Places of interest to see are the Cathedral and the Sardinian Archaeological Museum. The old town is also conducive to wandering as are most of towns with narrow lanes and interesting craft shops and workshops.
Other places of interest are Alghero, the Costa Smeralda and Olbia.
For trekking try the mountains. The highest mountain in Sardinia being Gennargentu at 1834 m.
Try the Sardinian fare. Cheeses are typical a common feature of the island and are made of sheep’s’ milk and wines such as Cannonau,Vermetino and Naragus.
Some other main dishes are: Sa fregula which is rice sized pasta in fish broth, malloreddus, which is a type of pasta with safron,tomato sauce and cheese. A meat pie called panadas which has its own fest at Assemini.
Meats are generally cooked on the spit whole. Some other meat dishes are; sa cordula which is lamb intestines sauted with peas and sanguinaccio, which is a pork-sausage made from blood, and sweetened with raisins and sugar.
This island has a wealth of treasures to be discovered and explored.
Sicily has always been important throughout the ages because of its geographical position. Sicily as well as parts of southern Italy was also part of Magna Graecia.
At one time the island was a country which also comprised southern Italy and Malta with the royal seat at Palermo.
The island is mostly agricultural with some of the main produce being oranges and lemons.
There are also ancient archaeological site in Sicily such as the Valley of the Temples and the Necropolis at Pantalica.
The capital of Palermo was founded by the Phoenicians but took its original name from the ancient Greeks. It was part of the Roman Republic and also the Byzantine Empire. While it was under Arab control, Palermo first became a capital city. Although the official language is Italian, Sicilian is spoken. It is not agreed on as to whether it is a dialect of Italian or a separate language.
Many examples of Norman architecture are found in Palermo while an example of the Baroque style is evident at the Santa Teresa alla Kalsa.
The Palazzo dei Normanni, and the two castles of Zisa and Cuba are of interest too.
The Museo Archeologico Regionale is one of the most important in Italy. It has displays of Etruscan, Carthaginian, Roman and Hellenistic culture.
Amongst other places of interest on the island are Ficuzza, a wildlife sanctuary on the Bourbon Royal Estate near Corleone,Mount Etna, Aci Castello near Catania, Erice, a picturesque town with two castles, the Greek Temple at Agrigento and the Montalto Palace. There are things to see and does everywhere so research carefully so as to make sure you don’t miss out on any of Sicily’s charms.
If you prefer winter travel, you could try your luck skiing on Mount Etna! The season lasts from November to March. There are two ski resorts on the mountain; Nicolosi and Linguaglossa where you can find both accommodation and ski equipment for rent.
Try some of the local wines. Some of the wines are now blended with chardonnay. Some examples are: insolia, damaschino and grillo. A red wine to try is Nero d’avola. Fortified wines like marsala and moscato may be sampled at the restaurant table.
Try Sicily’s sea food, famous desserts, fresh salads and bean dishes.
Tuscany is recognised normally as a place where the well heeled have villas, the landscape along with the terracotta tiles and Florence. As I mentioned before, the Florentine dialect was chosen as the lingua franca of Italy and you may wish to enrol in a language course in Florence (as if there wasn’t enough to see and do!) The capital of Tuscany on the river Arno is a flourishing centre of culture and the fine arts. There are a number of UNESCO sites in Tuscany: The old centres of Florence, Siena, San Grimigano and Pienzo, the square of the Cathedral of Pisa and the Val d’Orcia.
The region is made up of 10 provinces: Azezzo, Firenze,Grosseto, Livorno,Lucca, Massa-Carrara,Pisa, Pistoria, Prato and Siena. Some sites to visit are: The Cathedral at Florence, the Palazzo Vechio in Florence, Montepulciano, Pienza, San Quirico, Arezzo, Siena, Montalcino, Pisa and Volterra.
Try some of the many specialist holidays if you with to improve your mind or palette. Many areas offer language, wine tasting, painting and cooking courses which are often held in beautiful surroundings.
If you enjoy shopping, try the antiques market which is held over the weekend of the first Sunday of each month at Arezzo. The Fiera Antiquaria offer antiques, paintings, jewellery, sculpture and much more. For clothes, try the outlets which are in the countryside and accessible by car but are the genuine article at 50% less than the price in the shops. Try The Mall at Leccio or Prada at Montevarchi.
Chianti is the best known wine of the region and the area has been producing wine for about 3,000 years. Other wines of note are: Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Carmigano and Vernaccia di San di San Gimigano.
Tuscan food is renowned for its nutritious tastes.
White truffles, wild asparagus and delicate green herbs and vegetables are key to the Tuscan gastronomy.
Some dishes to try are: Carabaccia, (a type of onion soup), Tagliolini alla frantoiana (with oil and herbs), Pasta e Fagioli (pasta with beans) as first courses.
Umbria’s capital is Perugia and comprises the provinces of Perugia and Terni. The highest mountain is Monte Vettore.
Some sites to visit in Perugia are: the medieval aqueduct at Perugia, The Palazzo dei Priori at Perugia, The National Museum of Umbrian Archaeology and the Etruscan Arch. Elsewhere in Umbria are: Spello, a medieval town closed to cars, Todi, another medieval town and the hill town of Gubbio which also has a Roman Amphitheatre where performances are held in the summer.
Umbria is also where one finds Assisi where St. Francis of Assisi lived.
Spoleto, with its Roman theatre is also not to be missed.
Despite its being an inland region, Umbria has some water sports.
Trasimeno lake offers windsurfing, boating and swimming. Rafting is possible in the Val Nerina.
The mountainous region is ideal for mountain bikers as there are some bike trails in some areas. Horses riding, some so called extreme sports and skiing in the winter are all on offer.
Some wines to try are: La Palazzola, Antinori, SPortoletti, Maculan and Ruffino.
Some local cheeses are: The Umbrian version of Pecorino which is a fairly strong sheep’s milk cheese; Ravigiolo, which is soaked in brine for a salaty taste and is quite mild, the Ricotta cheese which comes in different forms. Sheep’s’, sheep’s’ and cows’ and just cows’ milk, finally, Caciotta which is made from cow and sheep milk and is a softish, white cheese.
Try the local lentil soup with the delicious bread from the local baker as a simple dish. A heavier dish you may try in the colder months could be Porchetta alla Perugia (roast pig with herbs and garlic), lighter starters are toasted bread with tomato and basil or toast with peas, mushrooms and ham. Porcini mushrooms with Fettucine is a tasty pasta dish. Most desserts dishes are flavoured with honey, chestnuts, almonds, pine-nuts, hazelnuts and almonds. The area is also famous for producing chocolate.