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Ecotourism in the Cinque Terre


The Cinque Terre, already a favorite destination for travelers to Italy, is one place where sustainable initiatives are taking root. Protect Cinque Terre operates out of Vernazza, one of the five “terre” (lands) and offers participants the opportunity to work with locals in landscape preservation such as “rebuilding the stone walls that support terraced agriculture, cleaning trails used by thousand of tourists every month, and harvesting some of the agricultural bounty grown on the hillsides around the town.”

For sure, this is a challenging working holiday. But it can also be fulfilling. Danielle Machotka, who volunteered for the program and wrote about it for Transitions Abroad, had this to say:

Over the course of the three days, we learned about the impact that tourism has on a small town like Vernazza. The population of 800 doubles on a typical summer day. Some tourists stay for a couple of hours, buy gelato and postcards, and t-shirts, and leave for the next town. Some stay for a night or two. Some return every year.

All create waste. Sanitary sewer lines and water treatment plants are at capacity. Nature-loving hikers increase the potential for erosion with every footstep. None of this is immediately fatal to the well-being of Vernazza, but it is eating away at the town’s surroundings and resources. Tourism and agriculture are the primary industries; neither creates great financial surpluses. Alessandro and Olga hope that the working holiday program will be the first step towards solving the problem by raising awareness.

Protect Cinque Terre has three programs in 2009, including a Wine Harvest Program in September. The price for three days/four nights, including lodging, all meals, guided tours, entrance fees, transportation during scheduled excursions, and tools required during the program is €445 per person.

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Photo by Protect Cinque Terre

What’s On In Italy: April 2009

We missed March’s event round-up and we’re late for this month’s. So here we go…

Easter: Last month, we posted the Vatican’s Holy Week Calendar. The website whatsonwhen.com lists two of Italy’s most famous Easter celebrations: Florence’s Scoppio del Carro and Madonna che Scappa in Piazza (Madonna who runs in the square) in Sulmona (Abruzzo). Taranto, in Puglia, is also known for its hours-long Holy Week processions, a tradition from the days when Puglia was a Spanish territory.

Spring! A profusion of flowers and outdoor events usher in spring in Italy. Milan puts on the annual Fiori e Sapori gardening show and food fair on April 5. If you’re in Rome this month, you can expect to see the Spanish Steps abloom with flowers of pink, red, and white.

Food and Wine. In addition to the Fiori e Sapori fest in Milan (see above), there are a number of food festivals this month. From April 17-20, Genoa will  host Slow Fish, a tribute by local restaurants to fish and seafood done the traditional (slow) way. There will be wine festivals in Rome (April 25-26) and Porto Cervo in Sardinia (24-26) and, through April 6, Verona will host VinItaly, which brings together wine producers from all over the country.

Sport: In Rome, there’ll be the derby between Lazio and Roma (April 19). On the same day in Venice will be the Su e Zo per i Ponti, a sort of walkathon “up and down” the canal city’s bridges.

April also sees the celebration of Liberation Day (25) and the birth of Rome, which, on April 21, will be too old for me to calculate!

Genoa With Kids

I was recently doing some research on Genoa (Genova) and found that the old city, known for its port and as the birthplace of Christopher Columbus, has several kid-friendly activities, almost all of which can be found around the port.

From the port, families can take whale- and dolphin-watching excursions. Whale Watch Liguria offers the service year-round (weather permitting) from several departure points in Liguria for approximately €32 per person/€18 for children 3-12. Eco-conscious families may also want to check this list from the Dolphin Fund, which rates cetacean-sighting tours in Liguria and worldwide.

Another watery activity is going to the Acquario, Genoa’s impressive aquarium. The aquarium has several different underwater environments, including Mediterranean, coral reef, Red Sea, and Arctic waters complete with diving penguins. There are several different price structures depending on your interests (guided tours, children’s tours, aquarium after dark, etc.).

Genoa also has a Città dei Bambini, located in an old cotton warehouse by the port. Sections are divided by age (2-3 y.o., 3-5, 6-14), and include a “grotta” play area for the little ones, a construction site with hard hats for the 3-5s, and a giant “navigable” ship for the older kids. In all, there are 96 exhibits.

Finally, families may enjoy getting out of the city and taking an historic toy train up to the mountains. The train from Genoa to Casella disembarks every Sunday in the spring and summer and chugs its way through hilly terrain with views of the sea.

Photo © Osvaldo Zoom

The Top 25 Hotels in Italy

Grand Hotel a Villa Feltrinelli: One of Italys 25 Best

Grand Hotel a Villa Feltrinelli: One of Italy's 25 Best

While it’s true that the travel industry is taking a hit in light of the world financial crisis, there are still plenty of people making trips to Italy. And, with the dollar improving against the euro (at least for the time being), some Americans are looking to do Italy in style.

Luckily, thanks to USA Today/Forbes Traveler, there’s now a list of Italy’s 25 best hotels. Compiled by Forbes, this is a grouping of the most luxurious and elegant lodgings “ranging from urban grande dames to breathtaking coastal villas.” Forbes Traveler has also created a nifty little slide show to showcase each of the 25.

We’ve certainly mentioned some of these hotels in The Unofficial Guide to Central Italy and/or on this site. But here are the links if you want to check them out yourself:

Italy’s 25 Best Hotels According to Forbes Traveler

Rome
Hotel de Russie
Hotel Eden
Hotel Hassler Roma
Portrait Suites
St. Regis Grand Hotel

Florence
Hotel Lungarno
Hotel Savoy
Villa La Massa
Villa San Michele

Tuscany
Il Pellicano Hotel (Porto Ercole)
Relais Il Falconiere (Cortona)

Milan
Bulgari Hotel Milano
Four Seasons Hotel Milan

Venice
Bauer Hotel
Luna Hotel Baglioni

Capri
Capri Palace Hotel and Spa (Anacapri)
Grand Hotel Quisisana

Lake Garda
Grand Hotel a Villa Feltrinelli (Gargnano)

Amalfi Coast
Hotel Caruso (Ravello)
Hotel Santa Caterina (Amalfi)
Il San Pietro (Positano)
Le Sireneuse (Positano)
Palazzo Sasso (Ravello)

Cinque Terre
Hotel Splendido (Portofino)

Lake Como
Villa d’Este (Cernobbio)

What’s On in Italy: November 2008

November is typically a slow month for tourism in Italy. So listed below are only a few events going on in the country. On the other other hand, this November is hardly slow for me. I’m awaiting the birth of my second child in about a week’s time. So, be prepared for fewer posts for just a little while. Thanks, and I’ll be up and blogging again soon!

Bonfire of the Vanities. This tip for La Fugurena, a harvest festival culminating in a huge bonfire in the town of Terra del Sole (in Cesena, Emilia-Romagna), comes from the site whatsonwhen.com. The event takes place on November 16, with the fire being lit after dark. As the harsh winds of winter start to blow into northern Italy, I can’t think of a cozier place to be.

Lucio Fontana in Genoa. Contemporary art lovers can catch the Lucio Fontana exhibition at Genoa’s Palazzo Ducale now through February 2009. About 200 works from the Italian/Argentine artist will be on display.

Hail, Caesar. Julius Caesar returns to Rome’s Chiostro del Bramante in an exhibit that includes all sorts of archeological finds as well as paintings and sculptures of the emperor. “Julius Caesar: The man, the enterprise, the myth” runs through May 2009.

For more info on November events, check out Italofile event posts from September and October (many exhibits run through the entire fall), our 2008-2009 opera guide, and the websites whatsonwhen.com and italiantourism.com.

October 2008 Article Round-Up

Sometimes I’m not always sure if anyone is actually reading Italofile. As I’ve said, it is a true labor of love. Still I like to imagine that there are regular readers out there who enjoy discovering with me the destinations, hotels, art, schools, churches, etc., that make traveling in Italy so rewarding.

Lo and behold, this weekend I found that I have at least one reader! Maribel wrote in to tell me that last year I missed a New York Times article on “Tortellini Lessons at the Source” in Bologna. Thanks, Maribel! And, with that, I thought I’d provide another round-up of recent articles, from the NYT and elsewhere:

New York Times
In Turin, the Olympic Glow Hasn’t Yet Faded
Monastic Doors Open For Travelers
Milan: Princi (a must-visit bakery)

The Washington Post
2,000 Years After Vesuvius (Stabiae)
In the Eternal City, Walk in a Roman’s Sandals
Rome On Two Gelatos A Day
Good Libations: Bassano del Grappa, Still the One (Veneto)

Los Angeles Times
Art Springs to Life in Gardens Near Rome
Planning Your Trip to Rome’s Gardens
Planning Your Trip to San Marino
Planning Your Trip to Vatican City

Wall Street Journal
Venice Crossings: A Traghetto Tour
In Italy, A Monastery Getaway (Umbria)

The Independent (UK)
City Slicker: A Guide to Genoa
The Hip Hop Guide to Tuscany’s Treasures

The Guardian (UK)
The Insider’s Guide to Cortina d’Ampezzo
Instant Weekend: Florence
Flying Visit: Le Marche Is Olive-Town
Letting Catania Out of the Bag
Going Solo: Venice
Flying Visit to Lake Garda

Sydney Morning Herald
Dining in the Sky the New Way to See Milan
See Ya Later, Gladiator
Floating Through a Dream (Venice)

The Telegraph (UK)
Rome: Eternal Love
Palladio: 500 Years of Architectural Wonders
Sicily: Golf in the Shadow of Mt. Etna
Michael Howard’s Venice

Yes, this is an exhaustive list. But I’m sure I didn’t find everything. So, I’m depending on all you Maribel’s out there to help me out by sending me links to articles and other tips you think would be worthy of posting on Italofile. Thanks again!

What’s On in Italy: June 2008

Sorry, folks – we missed Italy’s first big event of June, Republic Day on June 2. (Guess these warm summer days had us daydreaming!) But, there are still plenty of other events to catch this month. Notice, too, that from now on we’re going to differentiate our “What’s On” monthly posts with the year, even though June 2008’s calendar looks very similar to June 2007. We hope this will be helpful to all of you.

Roma Estate 2008: This year’s installment of of Rome’s summer festival, which includes outdoor concerts, theater performances, sporting events, and more, will begin tomorrow, June 5, and run through August 10. Admission is free from Sunday to Thursday and €6 on the weekend.

Giotto’s Heritage, Florence: The works of one of Italy’s best known pre-Renaissance painters Giotto will be curated into a special exhibit in the Uffizi from June 10 until November 2. According to the Italian Tourism Board, “this exhibit aims to document the artistic developments of a period lesser known to the public.”

Music Festivals: Spoleto’s world famous Festival dei Due Mondi begins its 51st edition on June 27 and runs through July 13. As always, the festival will feature opera, ballet, and musical performances from some of the best Italian and international acts. The Opera Festival of Verona, itself a famed festival because of its setting in the city’s ancient Arena, will debut on June 20 with Aida, and will also stage the operas Tosca, Nabucco, Carmen, and Rigoletto during its run through August 31. Other big musical events this month include the Sanremo Festival in Liguria; the Heineken Jammin’ Festival in Venice, which will feature such acts as Linkin Park and The Police; Bruce Springsteen at Milan’s San Siro Stadium on June 25; and the Gods of Metal Tour featuring Iron Maiden, Slayer, Judas Priest, and others in Bologna June 27-29.

Genzano Flower Festival: The Infiorata of Genzano takes place June 14-16. For a preview of the flowers, food, and festivities, check out this video from the 2006 Festival.

Medieval Pageantry: The annual Regata of the Martime Republics (which included Genoa, Venice, Amalfi, and Pisa) will be held this year in Amalfi on June 8. Though this boat race has only been in existence since the 1950s, a procession leading up to the regata features locals in medieval dress. Tuscany’s main medieval events – the Giostro del Saracino in Arezzo and the Gioco del Ponte in Pisa – will take place on June 21 and June 29, respectively. Further, San Gimignano, which is the poster-child for medieval Tuscany, will hold its Medieval Festival June 13-15. Finally, the Umbrian town of Foligno’s Giostro della Quintana, which is similar to the joust tournament in Arezzo, takes place on June 13-14 (and again on the same dates in September).

And more! Check out the Italian Tourism Board’s website or local tourism board websites for more information on events. You can also check out Whatsonwhen.com for events in Italy and around the world.

20 Things We Love About Italy – Part 1

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, a favorite shopping spot in Milan

In honor of Valentine’s Day, we here at Italofile wanted to share with you some of our favorite foods, fashions, architecture, and other random things that make Italy our favorite destination. Yes, just about every one of our posts highlights the things we love about Italy. But this is our chance to feature some things that just don’t make it into every day posts.

And, why 20 things, you ask? Italy has 20 regions and we’ve selected a favorite thing from each of them. Keep in mind, this is hardly an exhaustive list: it was hard to pick just one thing from each region. Also note that this list is in no particular order (except alphabetically by region).

What kinds of things have made you fall in love with Italy? Please be so kind to share them by commenting below or contacting us on Twitter @italofileblog. If you want to know more about each of the 20 regions of Italy, click on the “By Area” categories to the right or visit our Tourism Boards page.

Today, we’ll tackle the first 10 – Abruzzo through Lombardy:

1) Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Abruzzo. We love our Chiantis and Barolos, for sure. But we often find that when it comes to buying a good, everyday table wine for under $15, we return time and time again to Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. There are many good brands of Montepulciano out there. However, Wine Spectator recently featured Valle Reale as one of its daily wine picks. To learn more about this vintage, visit Winebow.com.

2) I Sassi of Matera, Basilicata. These cave houses, which are a lot like those of Cappadocia in Turkey, are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The eerie dwellings were mentioned in Carlo Levi’s Christ Stopped at Eboli and the Matera landscape was used as a stand-in for Jerusalem in Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ.

3) Sopressata and Caciocavallo, Calabria. Many an Italian-American household would be at a loss on what to serve for antipasti were it not for these delicious sausage and cheese items from Calabria. I’ve yet to try these foods in their native place. Though, we once shared some Arthur Avenue sopressata (sausage) with a visiting Italian friend and he said it was some of the best he’d ever tasted.

4) Mt. Vesuvius, Campania. From the ruins at Herculaneum and Pompeii to the jawdropping landscape of Naples – even to the rock formations on the island of Capri – Vesuvius was involved. This still-active volcano is a sight to see, which makes this trip seem pretty cool.

5) Byzantine Mosaics of Ravenna, Emilia Romagna. Yet another World Heritage Site, Ravenna is often overshadowed by other Emilian cities like Parma and the capital Bologna. But Ravenna shines because of its stunning, well-preserved, early Christian mosaics, particularly in the Basilica of San Vitale. If you’ve got an Italy “bucket list,” seeing Ravenna’s mosaics should be on it.

6) Gorizia, Friuli-Venezia Giulia. There are little pockets on the peninsula that defy Italian stereotypes. Gorizia, which lies on the border with Slovenia (Nova Gorica), is one of those places. Here is where central and Slavic Europe meets Italy in a melting pot of dialects, architecture, attitudes, and more.

Civita di Bagnoregio, a magical little village in Lazio

7) Civita di Bagnoregio, Lazio. Beyond the attractions of Rome, one of the most charming places in all of Central Italy is the tiny, hilltop town of Civita di Bagnoregio. Built by the Etruscans on soft tufa rock, the village is slowly but surely giving way to the ravages of time and gravity. So you may want to pay your respects before its too late.

8) Olive Ascolane, Le Marche. The earthy cuisine of the Marches (Le Marche) is finally getting its due thanks to the fantastic cookbook Cucina of Le Marche by Fabio Trabocchi. Certainly no book on the cucina marchigiana would be complete without a recipe for Olive Ascolane – fried, stuffed olives. Yum!

9) Portofino, Liguria. Liguria, the eyebrow shaped region of Italy, is very eye-catching indeed, what with its picturesque fishing villages, particularly those pastel painted cities of the Cinque Terre. Portofino, in the Genoa province, is a huge tourist magnet. But one glance at its tidy cityscape and port and you’ll understand why those big-time hotel developers have tried their damnedest to recreate the place.

10) Milan Fashion Week, Lombardy. Twice a year in Milan, we have the opportunity to see what Italy’s creative fashion minds have come up with for the catwalk. In my humble opinion, the Italian designers have always been on the cutting edge with sexy, yet wearable clothing. Think Valentino, Versace, Gucci, Prada, and Dolce & Gabbana, and you’ll see what I mean. Of course, Milan is Italy’s fashion capital year-round which is in evidence when you walk the city’s bustling streets, stroll through the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, and window-shop the chic shops on Via Montenapoleone.

Tomorrow…our favorites from Molise through the Veneto!

Photo © Traveler100, Alessio Damato

Jetsetters Guide to Portofino

If you’re the type of person for whom money is no object, then you’d probably enjoy Nota Bene, a customized, subscription-only guidebook series. NB produces guides for the “discerning traveler.” Apparently, this is the type of traveler who can lease a “four-cabin Continental 80″ boat for €6,000 per day or pay £350 for a 10-issue subscription to what amounts to a high-end travel magazine.

Nevertheless Nota Bene does produce some good-looking guides. And, lucky for us plebs, they’ve released a sample of their Portofino guide. You can download it here (PDF). If you’re satisfied, you can sign up to be a member of NB, which will entitle you to view other Italy guides including Milan, Rome, Capri, and Venice. 

Now, if only we could get a free trip to Portofino, not just a guide… 

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