Posted in Sardinia

An Italian Army tale from 1960 set in a train chugging through Sardinia.

Tower in Cagliari, Sardinia

Before I had a chance to read this weekend’s New York Times article on D.H. Lawrence’s footsteps through Sardinia, my father-in-law interjected with a tale from his time spent in Sardinia while in the Italian Army.

Dante served in the army for 13 months, most of that time spanning the year 1960. He had been posted to the Piedmont, but his battalion was sent to Sardinia for a gun training exercise. “Our hands were purple when we left the Piedmont, it was so cold,” he said. “By Genoa, it was much warmer. Then when we got to Sardinia, we were bare back because it was so hot.”

“I remember we took the train from north to south, from Sassari to Cagliari through the middle of Sardinia. It was so dry and we were so thirsty, we jumped out the train at each stop so we could run into town and fill up our canteens with water from the village nasoni (the faucet-like fountains that are all over Italy). Only the first guy would ever get a cup of water because the water in the nasoni just went ‘drip drip drip.’

“The other thing I remember is that all up and down the island were plots of land with prickly pear bushes everywhere. We took to eating the fruit from the prickly pears as a way to hydrate. But I remember this one guy–Carnicella–who was an office guy, a real primadonna, who stood back on the train with a fork and waited for the others to come back with prickly pears. Now, prickly pears are tricky–they are prickly so you have to be careful to get the meat out of them. Carnicella used his fork to dig into a prickly pear but the pricks were on his fork as he took a bite. He couldn’t eat for three days after that!”

The train chugged along through Sardinia. “It was a coal train, so by the time we reached Cagliari, we were black from the soot. I ate mussels in Cagliari that made me so sick I was in the hospital for two days. I didn’t know if I was dead or alive.”

Photo: Flickr/rainshift79

Murals of Orgosolo, Sardinia

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When most travelers think of Sardinia, they think of the Emerald Coast (Costa Smeralda) – sea, sun, yachts, a veritable playground for the rich. In fact, Sardinia has a wild side and not just its macchia-covered nature trails. In the heart of Sardinia lies the village of Orgosolo, a sort of Sardinian “Wild West” known for years for its bandits, who would conduct brazen kidnappings and murders. During the first half of the 20th century, Orgosolo’s notorious reputation grew to such a point that it inspired the film Bandits of Orgosolo (1961).

While Orgosolo has since gotten a handle on its crime, the village’s unique history of rebellion as well as Sardinians’ struggles with the Italian state (i.e., in opposition to an army base on the island, among other reasons) has made the village a center of artistic political expression. Orgosolo today is known for the some 150 murals that decorate its houses, shops, and other outdoor spaces with images from Sardinia folklore, Italian history, and even international events. This unusual assortment of art encouraged me to find the best examples for my Orgosolo Mural Gallery on Flickr.

I’m going to let the art speak from here on out. But if you are interested in making a day trip to Orgosolo on your next visit to Sardinia, visit the Sardinia Tourism Board website for more information.

Photo © Jo McLure

Four Great Golf Courses in Italy


Golfing has grown increasingly popular over the past decade, thanks in no small part to one Tiger Woods, who has proven to be a diligent, exacting, and exciting player both on and off the green. Woods’ celebrity has meant a ton of new golf watchers and enthusiasts, who jump at the chance to work on their handicap, especially while on vacation.

Italy may not be the first place one thinks of for a golfing vacation, but it does have some terrific courses set in stunning locations, many of which are near the tourist routes of Rome, Florence, and Milan. So if you’re a golfer interested in hitting the links in Italy, you’re in luck!

Golf in Italy is still very much a wealthy (wo)man’s sport in Italy, but there are a number of public courses in Italy, too. As this is a travel site, this post is going to focus on some of the most beautiful golf courses in Italy, rather than the most challenging. Bear in mind that it can be difficult to obtain access to many of the private courses in Italy unless you are traveling with a golf vacation agency or are staying in the golf resort’s respective hotel. Ready to tee off? Continue reading “Four Great Golf Courses in Italy”

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 “Six Places to Celebrate Carnival in Italy”

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!

Rome, Siena, Sardinia, and more

We hope you’ve had an enjoyable August. Obviously, we took a little time off for rest and relaxation (and a move!), so there’s been little time to fill you in on some of the latest Italy travel news. Here’s a recap:

Some people in Rome think it’s a good idea to create a Disneyland-like theme park outside the city. Could this possibly be a good idea? I can’t imagine Italians wanting to pay money for a bit of Italian-style Americana in their backyard, nor can I see tourists skipping the real Roman tourist attractions to see another Euro-Disney. Yuck.

On August 16, the Bruco contrada won Siena’s Palio Horserace. Congratulations, Caterpillar! Lots of Palio history and trivia here.

There have been two articles on Sardinia’s coast. The New York Times’ Seth Sherwood writes about the Costa Smeralda (Emerald Coast), claiming that An Elite Playground Becomes Less So, while The Guardian ran a feature on Sardinia’s Overlooked Beaches.

And, some art news caught our attention. In Rome, through September 7, looted Roman antiquities that have recently been returned to Italy will be on display at the Palazzo Poli (near the Trevi Fountain). And, beginning on September 7, those interested in Etruscan art and relics should head to Cortona, where Etruscan art from the Hermitage will be on loan to the Museo dell’Accademia Etrusca e della Città di Cortona (MAEC).

We should be getting back on track this week, so stay tuned!

A 360-Degree Spin Around Italy

Do you ever feel like you don’t get the whole picture when reading about Italy in guidebooks or on blogs? There are now a couple of websites that go one better than the usual two-dimensional picture.

Expat Peter Ryder, a resident of Sardinia, has two websites that can give you a better picture of the island – www.360sardinia.net and www.360alghero.net. In addition to providing information on where to stay, where to eat, etc., these two sites provide 360° looks at some of the beaches, marinas, and piazze of Sardinia.

Similarly, there’s a newish website called 360travelguide.com that features, according to a press release, the “world’s largest free access panoramic image library.”  For Italy, they offer virtual tours from Amalfi to Verona, as well as user reviews and travel blogs. There’s also an ongoing competition for users who provide reviews to win an iPhone. Ooops…gotta go write a review now…:-)

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)

Swimming in Sardinia

An article today in the New York Times on Swimming Vacations inspired us to see if there were any swim adventure tours in Italy. In fact, one of the companies profiled – Swimtrek (located in London) – offers a one week swim trip around Sardinia’s Maddalena Archipelago. The tour features:

    Swimming from Maddalena to Spargi.
    The crossings between the three northern islandsof Budelli, Santa Maria, and Razzoli are inspiring.
    The swim down Caprera’s eastern shoreline is a great delight, ending at the beautiful beach of Tahiti (named after the South Pacific island!)
    Enjoying the abundant flora and fauna as we make tracks across the archipelago.
    Savouring the delights of the main town of La Maddalena.

For this season, there are still two dates available – June 14-20 and September 27-October 3. If you’re a swimming enthusiast, this is a wholly unique way to see Italy. As an added bonus, each day you’ll have a chance to work off all that pasta you ate the night before!