Archive | Tuscany

The Best Ever In-Depth Video of Siena’s Palio

Inspiration always seems to find me when I’m not looking and that is exactly what happened as I settled in to watch a few minutes of television last night. Lucky for me, I clicked over to Kenny Mayne’s Wider World of Sports, a show on ESPN that puts sports into a cultural context.

One of the segments was on the Palio, the famous, twice-yearly horse race in Siena. Mayne gained insider access to the Leocorno (Unicorn) contrada to cover the race from mane (ahem) to tail. We learn about Leocorno’s rivalry with the Civetta (Owl) contrada, the pre-race ritual of having the horse blessed in the district church, and the strategies and intrigue that go into competing in one of Italy’s oldest sports traditions. Both the footage and the commentary in this segment were compelling, so I wanted to share the video with you.

Fantastic stuff, Mr. Mayne. Mille grazie!

Tuscany First Italian Region to Check In with Foursquare

Tuscany Tourism Checks In With FourSquare

Tuscany Tourism Checks In With FourSquare

If you follow this site or my personal website MissAdventures.com, you know that I am gaga for gadgets, social media, and the latest technology. So, I was delighted when Visit Tuscany, the tourism board of the famous Italian region, contacted me to get the word out about its partnership with FourSquare, the social media check-in application. I see this as a great opportunity for such a solid, well-known travel brand like Tuscany to embrace the future of travel marketing. (Just think – you could be the Mayor of the Uffizi Gallery!) But instead of listening to my opinion on the matter, let’s take a look at the announcement by Visit Tuscany on its new venture. Below is the press release in its entirety.

Visit Tuscany opens Foursquare branded page

Visit Tuscany is the first Italian tourism board to have a branded presence on Foursquare on which members of the region’s social media team provide tips to help travelers discover the best of Tuscany’s places, food, and art.

Foursquare is a location-based service and game that allows individual users to “check in” to places via a mobile application and receive tips – and sometimes special offers – for that location. Foursquare offers select institutions (from the History Channel to the New York Times) a customized branded page that users can “follow” to get tips and sometimes win badges.

The potential of branded pages for tourism was recognized early on by Explore Chicago, the first DMO (Destination Marketing Organization) to partner with Foursquare back in February 2010. They were followed by Visit PA in May of the same year; the first in Europe was Welcome to Yorkshire (September 1 2010).

Visit Tuscany launched its Foursquare page on October 1 2010, making it the first DMO in Italy to have one, and one of the first 10 in the world. Says Michela Simoncini, one of the channel’s administrators and a member of the social media team:

“We are constantly looking for new ways to interact with our visitors. Foursquare is pretty new in Italy but we’re all “tech geeks” here in the office and we see a lot of potential in the app. We hope that the tips we’re adding on Foursquare can help steer tourists towards the artistic and gastronomic excellencies of our region.”

Foursquare has a captive audience with the growing worldwide market of smartphone users – 29.7% in the USA and 28% in Italy according to recent Nielsen data; 4.5 million of these are already on Foursquare, and the Visit Tuscany team expects to see numbers in Italy (where it is still very much a niche market) grow quickly.

As of December 2010, Visit Tuscany has 1600 followers on its branded page and people have “done” 300 of the tips, from sampling street food in Florence to looking at Renaissance frescoes in Arezzo.

In fact, when it comes to tourism, the Region of Tuscany is full of firsts. Florence, in Tuscany, was recently voted by Tripadvisor as the number one culture and sightseeing destination in the world. Wanting to help travelers discover all that the region has to offer, in 2009 Tuscany was the first DMO in Italy to form a full-time “social media team” with official facebook fan page, vertical blogs, an iphone app and much more in its network. So being “first” also on Foursquare was a logical step within a larger digital strategy.

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Photo © FourSquare

Romantic Hotels in Tuscany

Tuscany is, without doubt, one of the foremost locations in the world for your honeymoon. Whether you wish to visit the tiny, romantic, hilltop villages or simply watch the olive groves and cypress trees gently sway in the wind, Tuscany offers some of the most romantic hotels that you are likely to come across and allows you the opportunity to enjoy a perfect honeymoon. Here are a few romantic hotels in Tuscany available for booking from Escapio.com by guest blogger Holly Maguire.

Monsignore della Casa Country Resort Tuscany Hotel
Monsignore della Casa Country Resort
, situated in Borgo San Lorenzo, is a four-star country house hotel with breathtaking views of the Mugello. Within 5 km of the resort are a variety of bars/pubs, discotheques, restaurants, cinemas, and shopping opportunities. The extensive grounds of the hotel offer fabulous gardens, a pool and spa area inviting to relaxation. This is ideal for couples happy to spend their honeymoon without lifting a limb, as every necessity and modest luxury is available on the hotel grounds. The hotel was named after Giovanni Della Casa, best known as the official secretary of Pope Paul IV. (Melanie: nothing says romance like the Pope’s personal secretary!)

UNA Palazzo Mannaioni Tuscany Hotel
UNA Palazzo Mannaioni
, located in Montaione, is an enchanting castle hotel with a distinct historic character encompassing 400 years of romance and history. Montaione has forged a reputation as one of the most spellbinding areas of Tuscany. It is also home to the much celebrated Montaione Castle. The original building was constructed in the year 1500, and over the years the hotel has undergone many renovations, most recently in 2006. The local area sings with vineyards, olive groves, oak and lemon trees – perfect for hand-in-hand strolls, or even one of Tuscany’s many bicycle tours. You can also take advantage of the many in-house facilities that this sublime hotel has to offer. The De’ Mannaioni restaurant in the old mill will cater to candelit dinners after days sunbathing and sipping exotic cocktails by the outdoor pool.

San Biagio Relais Tuscany Hotel
San Biagio Relais
is an old patrician mansion which was converted into an intimate 41 room hotel in 2006. Situated in Orbetello, the hotel’s muted modern décor inside historic walls guarantees a unique experience, and this may well be the perfect place for star-crossed lovers to retreat. Take in the spectacular views of the Monte Argentario mountains from the stylish rooms and savor breakfast and outstanding cuisine in the Ristorante Wine Bar. Rooms offer large comfortable bed, stylish furniture, and wonderfully crafted historic arched ceilings. While romantic couples will find everything they need in the hotel, they can also enjoy the Orbetello peninsula, which has a lively nightlife district full of bars and restaurants.

Mediterranea Hotel Tuscany
Mediterranea Luxury House
is a small bed and breakfast offering four star luxury in a beautiful, romantic setting in Quercianella. Quercianella, known for its macchia – the evergreen Mediterranean vegetation enveloping the landscape – is a nature lover’s paradise and is just a stone’s throw from the sea. Mediterranea Luxury House is a private retreat which affords stunning views and personal service. This exquisite bed and breakfast serves up local hams, cheeses and home-grown tomatoes as part of the renowned morning fare. Owners Roberto and Vania will ensure your stay at this white villa is a memorable one, and can help you with recommendations for nearby activities including mountain climbing, sailing, surfing, and fishing.

Villa Campestri Hotel Tuscany
Villa Campestri
,  a 13th century country home, is set in the awe-inspiring natural surroundings of the village of Campestri, not far from the magic of Florence. Villa Campestri pampers honeymooners with homegrown fruits, vegetables, and finely tuned cuisine; enjoy regional specialties and vegetarian options accompanied by a glass or two of the local Oleoteca wine. From the outdoor pool, couples can enjoy views of vineyards, olive trees, forests, and meadows stretching out to the horizon. In addition to the attractions of Florence, the Medici fortress at San Piero a Sieve is a great day trip from here. This beautiful hotel offers high-flyers a helipad should they wish to arrive in style and horse-drawn coach rides are an opportunity to lap up romance and style with a timeless touch.

Contributed by Holly at Escapio.com. These are just a selection of the luxury, design and boutique Tuscany hotels available for booking. All photos courtesy of Escapio.

Five Favorites: Art in Tuscany

To many a traveler, Tuscany and art are synonymous. From the architecture to the numerous galleries to those gorgeous, green, and cliché hills, there’s an element of art in every corner of Tuscany. That’s why I am very excited to introduce you to guest poster Alexandra Korey, a Canadian-born Italophile with a love for Tuscan art.

Alexandra is a big score for this particular Five Favorites feature as she writes the arts blog for the Tuscany Tourism Board (isn’t that the most fab job you’ve ever heard of??). Below are her *personal* picks for the best of Tuscan art and where to find them. I love this list because it is a very fresh take on the Tuscan art scene. Please don’t write to me asking why Michelangelo’s “David” isn’t on here…

Five Favorites: Art in Tuscany

One of the primary reasons that people come to Italy – and to Tuscany in particular – is to see great art. A “top five” list of great art in Tuscany is almost impossible, given that I have what Italians would call “l’imbarazzo della scelta” – way too many choices. So I’ve taken this challenge chronologically, and warn you that this is a totally personal list that blends some of my favorites with some must-sees.

Garden at the Ruins of Roselle in Maremma Tuscany

Etruscan and Roman Ruins at Roselle
The ruins at Roselle in Maremma, the southern coastal area of Tuscany, consist of an Etruscan city built upon, but not entirely ruined by, the Romans. When I was there we were practically the only people walking around this vast space (best done in spring or fall).

San Miniato al Monte Church Above Florence Tuscany

Medieval Art at San Miniato al Monte
San Miniato al Monte is a Romanesque church above Piazzale Michelangelo in Florence, from which you can get a great view of the city. The church itself is one of the few in this part of Italy to have a raised crypt.

Uffizi Gallery Florence Italy

Early Modern Art in the Uffizi Gallery
It’s no secret that the Uffizi gallery is one of the world’s best museums, and if you want to overload on art and risk Stendhal’s syndrome, this is the place to do it. I have written about how to approach the Uffizi so that you don’t drop dead of exhaustion, and suggest that you do not attempt to see everything at once.

Donatello's Annunciation in Santa Croce Florence Italy

Renaissance Art: Anything by Donatello
Would it be cheating if I suggested two totally different sculptures by Donatello that you could view and compare? Donatello had a long career and worked in many media and styles; these are two of my favourites.

a. Donatello’s Annunciation tabernacle in the Church of Santa Croce
b. Donatello’s Cantoria in the Museum of the Opera del Duomo in Florence

Contemporary Art in Lucca Tuscany

Contemporary Art in Lucca
Tuscany’s not really known for its contemporary art but recently there has been more movement in this field, especially in the town of Lucca. Year-round, Lucca has a contemporary art space called… Lu.C.C.A! that offers rotating exhibits as well as frequent artists’ round tables and other special events. Every second summer there’s a biennial of contemporary art on the theme of paper, called Cartasia, that turns the whole town into an open air gallery. In 2010 this festival is on from June 19 to July 19.

Alexandra Korey of arttrav.com and Tuscany Arts websiteAlexandra Korey is an art history professor turned professional blogger who resides in Florence Italy. She writes her personal blog www.arttrav.com and the arts blog for the Regione Toscana, http://arts.allthingstuscany.com.

Photos © Tuscany Arts (1, 4, 5), Richardfabi, Wikipedia, Alexandra Korey

Siena 101

The Torre del Mangia and Palazzo Pubblico on Siena's Piazza del Campo

On the other side of the Chianti countryside, some 35 miles south of Florence, you will find Siena, a Tuscan town rife with tradition and mood.

WHERE: Medieval Siena is best known as the site of the Palio, a twice-yearly, bareback horserace that takes place in the wide, shell-shaped Piazza del Campo. The race, which can be traced as far back as the early 13th century, pits a rotating roster of 10 of the city’s 17 contrade (neighborhoods) against one another. Run on July 2 and August 16, the Palio is Siena’s most famous local event, which today draws scads of spectators from all over Italy and abroad. Indeed, the Palio is a hot ticket: Learn how to book tickets for the Palio.

Post pageantry, Siena is a gloriously Gothic prize for pedestrians; the compact city center is car-free and quiet enough to hear the cobblestones resonate underfoot.

WHAT TO DO: In addition to the Palio, Siena’s cityscape awes, with art and architecture around every bend. The tight warren of shadowy streets empties into Piazza del Campo, one of the finest medieval squares in Europe. Divided into nine sectors–a nod to the Council of Nine who ruled the city during the Middle Ages–the shell-shaped piazza serves as a meeting point, playground, and outdoor dining venue.

At the base of the shell lies the Palazzo Pubblico, a result of Siena’s construction boom in the late 13th and early 14th centuries. The Humanist “palace of the people” houses two masterpieces by native son Simone Martini and an amusing fresco series depicting good and bad government practices.

Next door to the Palazzo Pubblico rises the Torre del Mangia, which, at the height of 330 feet, is one of the tallest bell towers in Italy. Climb the 505 steps to the top and enjoy the views of rooftops and the Campagna Senese (Sienese countryside).

Also within view from the tower is Siena’s spectacular Duomo, a massive, black-and-white striped cathedral renowned for its interior pavements. The pavements are usually unveiled in their entirety in September. However, a small portion of the 56 floor panels featuring sybils, angels, saints, and biblical scenes, are visible to viewers on a rotating basis throughout the year.

Finally, if you want to endear yourself to some of the locals, pay a visit to one—or several—of Siena’s 17 contrada museums. On proud display are banners, relics, and costumes from Palio contests of yore. The tourist office in Piazza del Campo can provide you a map to each neighborhood. For a really good explanation of the contrade, their history, and what’s on view in their museums, see this article of Siena’s Contrada Museums from In Italy Online.

LODGING: There are tons of agriturismo (farm stay) inns and self-catering options on the outskirts of Siena, ideal if you’re touring Tuscany by car. Retreat to the well-appointed Hotel Santa Caterina (Via Enea Silvio Piccolomini, 7), which is set just outside the Porta Romana, or stay in Villa Scacciapensieri (Strada di Scacciapensieri, 10), a country hotel north of town where you can “forget your troubles” by enjoying vistas of the rooftops and towers Siena as well as the surrounding valley.  If you want to stay in town, consider Hotel Duomo (Via Stalloreggi, 38) because its upper floors offer rooftop views.

DINING: Siena’s culinary landscape reflects its rustic roots: think roasted meats, lots of herbs, and simple peasant fare. But the city is also home to a university, so cheap eats and wine bars abound. Osteria Le Logge (Via del Porrione, 33), changes its menu daily, and offers more than a dozen options for lunch and dinner. Osteria La Sosta di Violante (Via di Pantaneto, 115) serves up traditional fare in a casual atmosphere a few blocks from Piazza del Campo. Primi piatti, such as ravioli with red chicory, start at around $16. An enoteca (wine bar) option is Trombicche (Via delle Terme, 66), which offers good wine by the glass,  tasting platters of salumi, cheeses, and antipasti (ideal for a snack), and a convivial atmosphere.

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GETTING THERE: Fly into Rome’s Fiumicino Airport or Pisa’s Galileo Galilei Airport. If you take the train from either of these destinations to Siena, the trip will last approximately two to three hours, with at least one connection on the way. A better bet is to rent a car from the airport. The A1 autostrada is a direct route from Rome to Florence; Siena is about halfway between the two cities. The SS-222 from Florence to Siena provides a more scenic route past the olive groves and vineyards of Chianti.

INFORMATION: For more ideas about what to do and where to stay and eat in Siena, see the Siena Tourism website.

Photo © delphaber

Six Places to Celebrate Carnival in Italy

Carnevale Masks in Venice

It’s Carnival time again in Italy, when Italians prepare to say “goodbye meat!” (Carnevale) by throwing lavish parties and parades before hunkering down for 40 days and nights of denial during the Holy Lenten Season.

Many travelers think that Carnevale only takes place in Venice. While Venice has the best known Carnival in Italy, there are many other cities with long carnival traditions. Let’s have a look at them: Continue Reading →

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

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