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Map of Italy’s Earthquake Zones

I just saw word on Twitter that northern Italy has suffered yet another earthquake,. A 5.1 magnitude earthquake hit the Modena area in Emilia-Romagna around 9:20 p.m. Italian time. This is the latest in a series of earthquakes to hit the region over the past few weeks, leaving more than 20 dead and thousands displaced all over northern Italy and particularly in the Po River Valley.

So what is going on here?

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Centuries of History and 300,000 Wheels of Cheese Destroyed in Deadly Italy Earthquake

The latest reports about the earthquake that hit Emilia-Romagna this weekend state that at least seven people were killed, 50 injured, and more than 13,000 have been displaced. The 6.0 earthquake struck early Sunday morning north of the city of Bologna in the town of Finale Emilia. According to The Guardian, the quake “wrought havoc in small towns and villages dotting the countryside between Bologna, Ferrara and Modena.”

The Guardian filmed a video that looks at the destruction, including the loss of “centuries of history.” Destroyed or severely damaged in the earthquake include the Palazzo dei Veneziani and Castello della Rocche in Finale Emilia; towers of a 14th century castle in San Felice sul Panaro; and the church of San Martino in Buoncompra. Other news outlets are reporting that more than 300,000 wheels of cheese worth €250 million have been destroyed.

The last major earthquake to hit Italy was the one that struck the Abruzzo city of L’Aquila in 2009.

Culinary Tour of Ravenna

Here is a fabulous video from The Guardian, which has been doing a video series called “My City.” This installment, starring cooking school teacher Angela Schiavina, offers an intimate look at her home town of Ravenna, a city in the region Emilia Romagna, the gastronomic heart of Italy. Join this affable host as she takes you on a ten-minute tour of Ravenna’s markets and culinary shops then shows you how to make a typical Romagnole (of the region of Emilia-Romagna) dinner. The Guardian also provides a companion map of Ms. Schiavina’s Ravenna tour.

Three Best Travel Secrets

Coming up with three of my best travel secrets for Italy is no easy task. Alas, I’ve been tagged by Robin Locker at My Mélange to come up with my list, just as she has over at her blog. In fact, since I had difficulty paring down my favorites, I’ve come up with my non-Italy list over at my personal site Miss Adventures. Have a look at both of them!

Of course, it’s not fair to really call these “secrets,” as there are plenty of other people who have gone before me and recommended the same places. So, just consider these as my current favorites among a bucket-load of tips.

Three Best Travel Secrets for Italy

aventinohillrome

Aventino Hill, Rome
There are so many wonderful places to stay in Rome, but I really like the Aventine Hill which rises just beyond the Circus Maximus. This is one of the most peaceful corners of the city, mostly because it is slightly removed from the constant buzz of the city. And the views from up here are spectacular and even unique. If you are lucky enough to charm the policemen who guard the headquarters of the Knights of Malta, then you can have a glance through their peephole, through which you can see a perfectly framed St. Peter’s Basilica. Though it’s largely a residential area, there are hotels on the Aventine. I like Hotel Villa San Pio for its garden setting, richly decorated rooms, and the fact that its on Via Santa Melania. :-)

ravennamosaics

Ravenna
As a former capital of the Roman and Byzantine Empires, Ravenna is hardly unknown. Nevertheless, I rarely see it on must-visit lists for Italy. True, there’s so much to include that Ravenna is easy to bypass. But I think this little city in eastern Emilia-Romagna is one of Italy’s gems. Indeed, it is on the UNESCO World Heritage list for its incredible Byzantine-era mosaics, such as those decorating the walls and apse of Sant’Apollinare in Classe (above). In total, Ravenna has eight sites featuring spectacular mosaics. Ravenna is also a great place to get piadina, a special flatbread typical of Emilia-Romagna and very much like a Turkish gözleme. Grab one filled with cheese, spinach, or nutella (!) at a piadinerie and enjoy…yum!

argentario

Argentario Promontory, Tuscany
This is a place you probably won’t get a chance to go to unless you have a friend with a house here. The Promontorio dell’Argentario is a popular summer home spot for Romans and Tuscans. It has stretches of empty sand beaches, ideal currents for windsurfing, idyllic resorts at Porto Santo Stefano and Porto Ercole, and views of some of the islands of the Tuscan Archipelago. If you’ve followed this blog, you’ll know that I’m a sucker for ruins and the Argentario promontory has Roman ruins at Ansedonia, known in the Roman world as Cosa. I’m also quite fond of La Parrina, an agriturismo where you can overnight or simply stop by to pick up the farm’s own olive oil, wine, and super fresh provisions on your way to your beach home.

So, those are my “secrets” and I’m also supposed to tag a few other blog friends to see what they come up with.

South of Rome
Flip Florence
The Espresso Break
Bell’Avventura
Katie of Tripbase, who started this whole shebang

If you’ve come up with a list, by all means tag me so I can have a look at your tips, too!

Photos © Patrick Medved, Gregorio Parvus, Alberto Bizzini

Italian Fashion Designers and Their Hotels

Castiglion del Bosco

Fashion designers have known for a long time that it’s good to diversify. Not only have Italian fashion houses like Armani, Versace, and Dolce & Gabbana ventured beyond clothing to include perfume, accessories, and restaurants among their branded items, they’ve also gone into the business of designing and/or maintaining luxury hotels and suites. This weekend, in the wake of the end of Milan Fashion Week, Sophy Roberts profiles Ferragamo’s Tuscan Estate Castiglion del Bosco for the Financial Times. As the writer points out, discussing this vast estate in today’s economic climate seems “absurd.”

The numbers involved in the project – by spring 2010 it will include 20 villas, 26 “hotel” suites, a Tom Weiskopf-designed golf course, spa, two restaurants, winery and stud – are clearly not for the credit-crunched. Nor are the sums easily accessible: Castiglion del Bosco has been set up as a membership club where fees are confidential. One source recently estimated it to be 120 memberships at €2m each.

Nevertheless, Castiglion del Bosco does allow non-members (“discerning guests,” according to its website) to stay at Il Borgo, the so-called heart of the 4,500-acre estate, for roughly €600-€3000 per night, based on availability. This latest Ferragamo venture is located in Val d’Orcia, but the Ferragamos also own other (more reasonably priced?) properties in Tuscany that are open to guests. Il Borro (not to be confused with Il Borgo, above), near Arezzo, has villa and farmhouse accommodations starting at $475 per night. In addition, the family also runs Lungarno Hotels, which includes several hotels in Florence and some suites in Rome.

Of course, the Ferragamos aren’t the only designers in the hotel game in Italy. The FT article also lists The Bulgari Hotel in Milan, the (Alberta) Ferretti’s Castello di Montegridolfo and Carducci 76 near Rimini, and the Bottega Veneta suite in Rome’s St. Regis Hotel.

If luxury and design are important criteria for you when choosing a hotel, you can also check out the Fashion Designer Hotels round-up from Forbes Traveler, which includes properties from around the world designed by Italians and other big names in the fashion world.

Photo of Castiglion del Bosco

What’s On in Italy: October 2008

Lots of art exhibitions going on in Italy this fall, especially this month. So, let’s get started:

Bellini in Rome. The works of Venetian Renaissance master Giovanni Bellini will be on display in Rome’s Scuderiere del Quirinale through January 11, 2009. According to ansa.it, the exhibition – one of the largest ever featuring Bellini’s works – “is showcasing most of Bellini’s best-loved works, including a number of his stunning altarpieces, such as the Baptism of Christ from Vicenza and the famed Pesaro sequence.”

Palladio in Vicenza. Vicenza, long synonymous with the great architect Andrea Palladio, is celebrating the 500th year since the artist’s birth with a grand exhibition at the Palazzo Barbaran da Porto, itself one of many Palladio-designed building in Vicenza, the artist’s hometown. The exhibition showcases almost 80 of Palladio’s original drawings and tells the life story, through paintings by Canalettoand El Greco, among others, and scale models, of the influential architect. The exhibition will run through January 6 in Vicenza and then move on to London for the spring. Take a look at the link for the exhibit, as you can take a virtual tour – awesome.

Correggio in Parma. Sixteenth century artist Antonio Allegri, also known as Correggio after the small town in which he was born, is getting his due in a large exhibit in Parma through January 25, 2009. Some of the works in the show are in situ in Parma, where many of Correggio’s works were created and are still housed, while the rest (about 80 pieces) come from museums throughout Italy and Europe. You can preview the exhibit and pre-order tickets online at the Mostra Correggio Parma website.

National Truffle Fair. With fall comes white truffle season, which is celebrated with the Fiera Nazionale del Tartufo in Acqualagna in Le Marche. Several comuni in the region, including Sant’Angelo in Vado and Sant’Agata Feltria, will hold fairs on the weekend throughout the month of October and beginning of November. The National Fair is held the last weekend in October and the first two weekends in November.

Eurochocolate Time! More feasting will occur in Le Marche’s regional neighbor Umbria as Perugia hosts the annual Eurochocolate Festival. Eurochocolate 2008, which will run from October 18-26, will feature tons of tasting opportunities. And, if you want to get a jumpstart on the celebrations, National Choco Day, a holiday since 2005, takes place on October 12.

Venice Marathon. Just thinking about the truffles and chocolate give you the urge to burn calories? Then you can enter the Venice Marathon, which takes place on October 26. The race starts east of Padova, travels around and over canals, and ends at the Riva dei Sette Martiri in the city. If you’re not up for that much running, there’s a 3K Fun Run and great people watching from the bridges.

For more October events in Italy, check out italiantourism.com and the events site whatsonwhen.com.

What’s On in Italy: September 2008

Hard to believe it’s September again! Here’s a rundown for the beginning of the fall – a marvelous time to be in Italy!

Time for Wine! One of the reasons it’s so great to travel in Italy in the fall is for all of the wine sampling to be done. Oenological Week in Montefalco, Umbria, which celebrates Sagrantino, runs from September 18-21. The Wine Championship in Florence, a sort-of wine-related Jeopardy! contest, kicked off today and runs through the weekend; the event is sponsored by Slow Food Firenze. Throughout the month in Tuscany will be the Chianti grape harvest, a yearly ritual which has been honored each year since 1926 with a Festa dell’Uva in Impruneta. The town of Bardolino, on the shores of Lake Garda, also holds a Festa dell’Uva, which begins at the end of September.

Food, Glorious Food! You need something to go with your wine. Try the Festival del Prosciutto di Parma, happening throughout the Parma province of Emilia Romagna through September 21. Some of you probably didn’t know that couscous is a staple in Sicilian cuisine; in fact, a festival dedicated to couscous takes place in San Vito Lo Capo from September 23-28. Outside of Milan, in the town of Gorgonzola, the 10th annual Sagra Nazionale del Gorgonzola, which celebrates the distinctive cheese and other food products of the area, will be held on September 20 and 21. Meanwhile, in Le Marche, the city of Fano will hold a Festival del Brodetto, which will honor the region’s typical zuppa di pesce (fish soup).

Traditional Festivals and Fairs. Soak up some Italian heritage with a visit to Venice, where the Historic Regatta on the Grand Canal takes place this weekend (Sept. 7) at 5:10 p.m. There are traditional jousting tournaments in Arezzo (Sept. 7) and Foligno (Sept. 13 and 14). Naples’ ever-popular Feast of San Gennaro takes place on September 19, and will include lots of food, frolicking, and fawning over the city’s patron saint, a statue of whom is paraded throughout the streets. (We couldn’t find a good official site for the San Gennaro fest, so here’s an “unofficial” explanation of the event.) Finally, a fun event for the entire family is the live chess match, played in the town of Marostica every two years by real people on a life-size chess board in Piazza Scacchi (fittingly, Chess Square). The game(s) will be held September 12-14, and tickets cost between €10-80.

Get Cooking On Your Italy Vacation

I am now catching up on summer magazine reading and just came across Gourmet’s May issue, which has tons of information on cooking schools in Italy and elsewhere. So, I wanted to give you the lowdown on the schools I found in the magazine as well as a couple others I’ve read about in the interim.

Academia Barilla
Parma, Emilia Romagna
1-866-772-2233 (U.S. number)
“Biggest Surprise: ‘How easy it was to customize a class – via email – based on what I actually liked.'”

La Vetrichina (a villa available for booking through Homebase Abroad)
San Casciano dei Bagni, Tuscany
781-639-4040 (U.S. number)
Classified by Gourmet as a “relaxed” cooking vacation

Regaleali Vineyards (book through absoluteitalia.com)
between Agrigento and Palermo, Sicily
011-39-0934-81-46-54
“everything from roasted hen and fresh stuffed sardines to…fritto misto, cassata, and strawberry sorbetto

Enrica Rocca Cooking School
Venice
011-44-7762-167900 (UK number)
“What I Learned: ‘To add stock to risotto only when no more liquid is visible.'” Also, Enrica Rocca Cooking School is based in London.

Rhode School of Cuisine*
Vorno (Lucca), Tuscany
011-44-1252-7902-22 (UK number)
“Prosecco and pastries in the morning…four course banquets – accompanied by copious bottles of Chianti and Brunellos – late into the evening”

Villa Ravida*
Menfi, Sicily
011-39-0925-71109
“regional recipes that range from stuffed swordfish with pine nuts, lemon, raisins, herbs…to almond and pistachio gelato”

*info and quotes from NBreview.com

Photo by Carpe Feline

Italy Article Round-Up

In case you missed these recent articles on travel to Italy…

New York Times
Sicily, Through the Eyes of the Leopard

The Washington Post
See Naples…And Eat

Sydney Morning Herald
Ready for Super-Bol (A Search for the Best Ragu in Bologna)

Los Angeles Times
Exploring Sun-Splashed Venice’s City Squares

The Guardian (UK)
Instant Weekend…Turin

The Boston Globe
Eat Them All, Pray For More, Love the Neopolitan Pie
Ancient Capri Still Casts Its Powerful Spell

Seattle Times (Rick Steves’ Europe)
For Italy In the Extreme, Go to Naples

The Independent (UK)
See Italy – From the Wheel of a Ferrari
Lyrical Charm in Capri

The Vancouver Sun
How To Enjoy Rome With the Kids

The Financial Times
Do You Need Another Reason to Visit Florence?

Spain Conquers Italy

Palazzo Reale in Caserta Campania Italy

Palazzo Reale in Caserta, Campania Italy

Large parts of Italy were once united under the Spanish flag, with conquests in Naples and Sicily by the houses of Aragon and Bourbon, among others. Even Milan and Parma were under Spanish rule at one point. I confess that I am not an expert on Spain’s influence on Italy, so you may want to read more about it here or here. This article from Best of Sicily Magazine even discusses the Spaniards of Sicily. While I still need to brush up on my Spanish-Italian history, I do know there are a number of interesting sites to visit in Italy that have a Spanish past.

For example, the city of Caserta, north of Naples in Campania, is known for its breathtakingly large Royal Palace, built on the orders of Charles of Bourbon by Luigi Vanvitelli in the late 18th century. The Campania Regional Tourist office lists several regal itineraries including this Itinerary Fit For a King.

The Caserta Palace was one of four palaces used by the Bourbon Kings of Naples. The other three are in Naples, with one on the Capodimonte Hill, one in Portici, and the other at Piazza del Plebiscito. You can read more about the Bourbon palaces from the Royal House of Bourbon Two Sicilies, which still exists, if by name (and wealth) only.

Speaking of Sicily, the island has tons of Spanish leftovers, as it was ruled by the Houses of Aragon, Bourbon, Bourbon of Two Sicilies, and the Spanish Hapsburgs, among others. This brief history from the travel agency Think Sicily has a good rundown of what each dynasty left behind and what there is to see today. The Sicily Tourist website provides an itinerary of the castles and forts on the island, including the Spanish Fort (Portopalo di Capo Passero) on the southeast coast.

For more palaces, go north. The Palazzo Ducale di Colorno in the province of Parma was a Bourbon residence. Milan also has a Palazzo Reale, which houses the city’s contemporary art museum. Some of the Royal Palace in Milan was destroyed during World War II, but underwent a long restoration that ended in 2006.

Then, there’s the island of Sardinia, which was ruled for many years by Spain before becoming a kingdom in its own right. Sardinia has a very diverse history, and many of its feasts and festivals, such as Sartiglia, held each year in Oristano, features a medieval Spanish-style jousting tournament. Here, too, is The Complete Guide to Sardinia, a fantastic, in-depth article written by Frank Partridge of London’s Independent in 2007.

Of course, I have only touched on a few Spanish-related gems in Italy. Certainly the maritime territories, such as Genoa and Venice, have Spanish connections, and areas throughout Sicily and the Mezzogiorno (Abruzzo, Basilicata, etc.) also have leftovers from the Spanish era. I hope to bring you more about these sites in the future.

Photo from Caserta.nu

Italy Summer Article Round-Up 2008

Lots of Italy-related articles this time of year. So, here goes:

New York Times
Wandering Beyond Classic Rome (The Frugal Traveler Does Europe on a Budget)
On Venice’s Grand Canal in a Kayak
Prescription Med (Ischia)

Los Angeles Times
Exploring Rome’s Famous Seven Hills
Budget Travel in Rome
10 Books and Movies to Prep for a Trip to Rome
Italy: At Home in Rome

National Geographic Traveler
Rome Photo Gallery (Part of NGT’s Authentic Rome feature for the July/August 2008 issue)
Shopping: Roman Gold

The Washington Post
Smart Mouth: His Palermo Restaurant Is Popular, But It’s No Mob Scene
My Verona

Reuters
Travel Postcard: 48 Hours in Ferrara, Italy

Naples (FL) Daily News
From the Ground Up: Part-Time Naples Couple Found Their Italian Villa a Full-Time Restoration Job Over Two Years (Brindisi, Puglia)

The Guardian (UK)
The Amalfi Coast On a Budget
Caught in the Spell of San Pietro (Sardinia)
Hidden Gems (Sibillini Mountains, Le Marche)
Little Po Peep (Emilia-Romagna)
Flying Visit: Venice
A Greener Way to Umbria’s Capital

Sydney Morning Herald
How to Shop Up an Appetite (Milan)
Night in Italian Prison Promises Gourmet Fare (Tuscany)
Master of the House (Palladio in Venice)
Holiday in Harmony with Gregorian Monks (Tuscany)
A Bloodbath, Italian Style (Florence)

What’s On in Italy: May

There are hundreds of events in Italy in May. Here are some of the highlights:

Corsa dei Ceri: May 15 in Gubbio, Umbria. Like the Palio in Siena, which happens twice over each summer, this is one of Italy’s premier medieval events. To check out some of the excitement, see this video from last year’s Corsa dei Ceri.

Feast of Saint Ubaldo: May 18-24 in Pisa, Tuscany. Pisa pays homage to Saint Ubaldo (who was born in Gubbio, see above) during this annual weeklong festival. Events include food and flower markets and a crossbow competition.

Palio of Ferrara: If Siena’s Palio is on your life list, you should also consider the Palio of Ferrara, which is the oldest Palio (medieval horserace) in the world. This year’s Palio of Ferrara takes place on May 17 and 25.

Calendimaggio: May 8-10 in Assisi, Umbria. This yearly event, also with medieval origins, is basically a singing competition between the upper and lower sections of the city of Assisi. The festival features food and parades, as well as a lot of activity centered around the Basilica of Saint Francis. More information is available (in Italian) at calendimaggioassisi.it.

Noto Infiorata: May 16-18 in Noto, Sicily. The city of Noto becomes a fragrant garden for an entire weekend, as it is carpeted with flowers in this annual event.

In Florence: From May 16-18, you can catch Artisans and the Palace, a yearly fair at the Palazzo Corsini that features artisans from all over Europe displaying their handcrafted wares and the techniques they use to make them. Of course, browsers will have the opportunity to buy these one-of-a-kind objects. May is also time for Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, a music, dance, and theater festival. Later on in the month, on May 23, Florence also will have a small-scale infiorata in Piazza della Signoria.

For more info on May or other events, visit the Italian Tourism Board’s website or the websites of the many city and provincial tourist boards that we have listed on our Tourism Boards page.

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