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What’s On in Italy: August 2008

Lots of summer festivals are winding up this month. Then, after Ferragosto on August 15, most Italians head for the hills…or the beach. Stay tuned for a full slate of fall events beginning next month.

Puccini Festival. This festival in Torre del Lago (near Lucca, Tuscany) is a must for opera buffs. It runs through August 23.

A Palio or Two. If you are unable to make it to the second installment (August 16) of this year’s Palio in Siena, check out the Race of the Terzieri in Citta delle Pieve, Umbria, from August 13-24.

Tuscan Sun Festival. Does Frances Mayes hear the sound “ca-ching” every time this arts festival takes place in Cortona? Anyhow, it runs through August 10.

Art in Rome. There are plenty of opportunities to cool off indoors at Rome’s many art exhibits in August: The Renaissance of the Arts from Donatello to Perugino at Museo del Corso (through Sept. 7); 15th Rome Quadriennale at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni, which showcases 100 contemporary Italian artists and highlights the sculptures of Luciano Fabro (through Sept. 14); City Life 1930-2007 at the Museo di Roma Palazzo Braschi is a collection of 200 photos of Rome street life through the years (through Sept. 21); Coreggio and the Artists of Ancient Times is a comparative study of Coreggio paintings and the artists from ancient times at the Galleria Borghese (though Sept. 14); Vietnam photographs from Italian photographer Ennio Iacobucci at the Museo di Roma in Trastevere (through Sept. 14); and many, many more exhibitions.

Summer 2008 Cell Phone Deal

Gone are the days when you needed a gettone, or token, to make a phone call in Italy. In fact, Italians have been using cell phones since way before they became “necessities” for Americans.

Thanks to locked phones, roaming restrictions, and myriad other technological and corporate roadblocks, it has always been hard – and outrageously expensive – to use an American cell phone abroad. But this summer, TravelCell, an international cell phone service and rental company, is making it easier for travelers to Italy and a 150 other countries by offering free incoming calls and 50% off cell phone rental fees.

Another feature that we like is that TravelCell offers permanent international numbers for frequent travelers. So if you’re going back and forth to Rome for business – and, who isn’t? – this could be a reasonable way for family and business associates to stay in touch.

And, just so it doesn’t seem like we’re playing cell phone favorites, we should mention a couple of cell phone companies that we recommend in the Unofficial Guide to Central Italy. Check out companies and, for their latest rates and deals.

What’s On in Italy: July 2008

As we noted today in an earlier post, tomorrow, July 2, will be the first of this year’s Palio races in Siena. But, that’s not all that’s happening in Italy this month. Here’s the rundown:

Music and Performance Festivals: Roma Estate 2008 continues with various music, comedy, and sports events. Throughout July, Rome will also hold the Rome Jazz Festival in Villa Celimontana, the Parco della Musica, and the Casa del Jazz. Meanwhile, the Spoleto Festival will end on July 13 with a performance by the London Symphony Orchestra. As we mentioned last month, you won’t want to miss the Verona Opera Festival. But, if you’re in Le Marche – Macerata, to be exact – consider a visit to the Sferisterio, Macerata’s grand outdoor arena, which will put on its own opera festival from July 24 through August 12. Even more opera is available for your enjoyment at the annual Puccini Festival in Torre del Lago, Tuscany. Modern music fans will be headed to Livorno July 16-19 for the Italia Wave Love Festival. This year’s festival will feature an impressive lineup, including The Raveonettes, The Verve, Gnarls Barkley, The Chemical Brothers, and dozens of other acts from Italy, Europe, and as far flung as Ethiopia and Brazil. Jazz enthusiasts will want to check out Pistoia Blues Festival, which will celebrate the 40th anniversary of Jimi Hendrix’s first album.

AltaRoma – High Fashion in Rome: From July 6-10 at Rome’s National Museum of 21st Century Art (MAXXI), lucky visitors will get to watch gorgeous models walk the runways in the latest haute couture creations.

Christmas in July: Snowboarding in July? In Italy, it is possible at the Big A Snow and Skateboard Camp in Val Senales near Bolzano through July 19. Park entry will be free until then, and the camp will give snow and skateboarders a chance to perfect their craft and mingle with Italian pro riders.

Art Shows: Palermo will feature a large retrospective of 50 years of Spanish art at its exhibit España 1957-2007. Among the many works will be those by Dali, Miro, and Picasso. In Florence, curators at the Palazzo Strozzi have tried to uncover the mysteries behind Impressionist paintings with Painting Light: The Hidden Techniques of the Impressionists, which begins on July 11. Through the end of August, the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, also in Florence, has Leonardo and Raphael, For Example, an exhibit featuring sketches and drawings from the masters’ studios.

Be sure to click on our Tourism Boards page and check out other local happenings throughout Italy.

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 for events in Italy and around the world.

Renaissance Florence According to Rushdie

The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie

I was browsing a bookstore on the Upper East Side yesterday when I saw that one of the store employees had highlighted Salman Rushdie’s new work The Enchantress of Florence. Yes, the Nobel-prize winning author of Midnight’s Children and The Satanic Verses is now trying his hand at spinning a tale about Florence during the time of the Medici and combines this story with settings in India and the near East. Here’s a short clip from Michael Dirda’s review in The Washington Post (this review is also on

Set during the 16th century, The Enchantress of Florence is altogether ramshackle as a novel — oddly structured, blithely mixing history and legend and distinctly minor compared to such masterworks as The Moor’s Last Sigh and Midnight’s Children — and it is really not a novel at all. It is a romance, and only a dry-hearted critic would dwell on the flaws in so delightful an homage to Renaissance magic and wonder.

In these languid, languorous pages, the Emperor Akbar the Great dreams his ideal mistress into existence, a Florentine orphan rises to become the military champion of Islam, and a black-eyed beauty casts a spell on every man who sees her. Other characters include Machiavelli and Botticelli, Amerigo Vespucci, Adm. Andrea Doria and Vlad the Impaler (a.k.a. Dracula), not to discount various Medicis and the principal members of the Mughal court of Sikri, India. The action itself covers half the known world: the seacoast of Africa, the Indian subcontinent, the battlefields of the Middle East, Renaissance Italy and the newly discovered New World.

Yet whatever the locale, The Enchantress of Florence is bathed throughout in Mediterranean sunlight and Oriental sensuousness. Its atmosphere derives from the Italian Renaissance epic, especially Ariosto’s magic-filled Orlando Furioso, and from such latter-day reveries of Eastern splendor as Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities (which features Marco Polo and Akbar’s grandfather Kublai Khan).

Here, then, is a gorgeous 16th century that never quite was, except in operas, masques and ballets.

Could this be the summer’s big beach read?

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!

Eating Your Way Through Le Marche

Ladies and Gentlemen – start your appetites! has begun a year-long series titled “Eating Your Way Through Le Marche,” starting with an entry about food festivals in the region during June 2008. If you’re in the area during June, vist Cartoceto’s Sagra dei Vincigrassi, a festival celebrating a marchigiana-style lasagna on the first Sunday of the month; Monte Porzio’s Sausage Festival on the third Sunday (and proceeding Saturday); or any one of the summer-long fairs in cities like Gradara, Gabicce Mare, and Sant’Angelo in Vado.

To learn about and discuss the food in Le Marche or other regions in Italy, see the Chowhound Italy boards. And stay tuned for more installments on Eating Your Way Through Le Marche.

An Unspoiled Beach in Abruzzo

Vasto Beach

Earlier today, we wrote about the travel potential of the region Puglia, this year’s emerging star of Italian tourism. Well, if Puglia is the new Tuscany then some years from now Abruzzo will be the new Puglia.

Richard Norton-Taylor writes about Vasto, a largely “unknown” beach on the Costa Abruzzese for the U.K.’s Guardian. And, believe us – if this spot is still largely unknown to sun-worshipping Brits, then it really must be unspoiled!

Even More Italian Beaches Get the Blue Flag

There are now 104 beaches in Italy that have been awarded the “blue flag” for clean water and sand. According to Italy Magazine, the Foundation of Environmental Education (FEE) found that the top beaches in Italy were in Tuscany and the Marches, each of which have 15 blue flag beaches. Liguria and Abruzzo came in second and third, with 14 and 13 blue flags, respectively.

For more information about FEE and to get a full list of blue flag beaches, check out and

Beaches of Lazio

Continuing our series on Italy’s beaches, today we’re highlighting the beaches of Lazio. Most visitors to Lazio, Rome’s region, forget that the Tyrrhenian is as close as half an hour away. In fact, many Roman nightclubs relocate to beaches like Fregene. And, there are also some lovely strands south of Rome in Terracina and Sperlonga.

Province of Viterbo
The area known as the Maremma extends into the northern part of Lazio in the province of Viterbo. The sub-region is called the Maremma Laziale, and it has a couple of beaches worth checking out. The Marina di Montalto near the medieval town of Montalto di Castro is a modern tourist resort with hotels, campgrounds, and plenty of beach chairs to rent for the day. Further south, Tarquinia, which is known for its Archeological Museum of local Etruscan finds, also has a seaside area with similar facilities to Marina di Montalto.

Beaches of Rome
Did you known you can access Rome’s nearest beach by train? It takes about half an hour to ride the train from Piramide (Metro Line B), past Ostia Antica, to the Ostia Lido stop where you want to go. Rome’s local beach, which is also convenient to Fiumicino Airport in case you’ve got a long layover, has several large hotels and, in summer, a vibrant nightlife scene. Another summer favorite for Romans is Fregene, which can also be accessed by public transport (Metro Line A to Lepanto, then blue COTRAL bus to Fregene; travel time: 1 hour). While Fregene is known as the summer address of many big Roman clubs, such as Goa or Gilda, its also a great place to ride a bike and eat tasty seafood, as explained by this New York Times’ article on Fregene.

Elsewhere in the province of Rome are lesser-frequented beaches and extremely busy ports. If you’re taking a cruise that bypasses Rome, then you’ll be disembarking at Civitavecchia. This huge port is not necessarily where you want to plop down a beach towel, but it is here where you can rent a boat or catch a ferry to Sardinia. However, within the Civitavecchia municipality, there are a few stretches of sandy beach. Down the Via Aurelia from Civitavecchia is the seaside resort of Santa Marinella, which is geared more towards families than club-goers. Many other towns and beaches dot the coast of the Province of Rome all the way down to Anzio, a European Blue Flag (i.e., exemplary) beach with ferry connections to the Pontine Islands, and Nettuno, where you can not only catch some rays, but in summer also a little baseball. Of course, Anzio and Nettuno are well-known for being sites of major American offensives during World War II – and, consequently, of American Memorial cemeteries.

Riviera d’Ulisse
The coastline along the Province of Latina is better known as the Riviera d’Ulisse or the Riviera of Ulysses. Ulysses is the Latin for Odysseus, who is said to have landed here during his famous Odyssey. These are the beaches worth going out of the way for if you are staying in Lazio for a while. White sand, dramatic cliffs, and romantic grottoes make up the geography here, from San Felice Circeo to Terracina to Sperlonga. The area of San Felice Circeo is a hub for windsurfing and kayaking and the Parco Nazionale del Circeo is a favorite haunt for birdwatchers.

The Pontine Islands
Finally, the small cluster of islands off the coast of Lazio are known collectively as the Isole Pontine. Part of the Province of Latina, most of the Pontine Islands are uninhabited, save for Ponza and Ventotene. Like the nearby Circeo Park, Ponza and Ventotene are known for their wildlife and nature preserves, which make them a real getaway from the hustle and bustle of Rome (or crowded beaches). To read more about Ponza, check out The Independent’s article Ponza: Italy’s Secret.

Photo by Mortimer

Beaches of Tuscany

With summer on the horizon, we’ve got sun and surf on the brain. So, in the coming weeks and months, we plan to highlight the beaches of Italy.

First up is Tuscany, which has some of the most pleasant beaches you’ll find anywhere. While Tuscany’s beaches are hardly a secret – for example, Viareggio and Forte dei Marmi can be PACKED in July – they are typically less congested than Florence, Siena, and the tourist routes. We can’t profile every single beach for you, but here is a run-down that we have compiled from our research for the Unofficial Guide to Central Italy.

The Riviera Versilia
Tuscany’s most famous stretch of strand, framed by the marble-topped Apuan Alps, is called the Riviera Versilia, and it features the chic resort of Forte dei Marmi (considered the “Hamptons” of Tuscany), the “Carnevale” town of Viareggio, and smaller seaside areas like Lido di Camaiore and Marina di Pietrasanta. Versilia is popular in the region because, unlike many coastal areas south, it has a sandy shore. Yet, despite its popularity, Versilia has a ton of blue flag beaches, too. For more information, check out the Versilia Tourism website.

The Tuscan Archipelago
Many travelers forget that Tuscany has its own little set of islands to explore. The Tuscan Archipelago includes Isola del Giglio, a moutainous island that has facilities for windsurfing and scuba and Isola di Giannutri, also rocky but suitable for snorkeling and nature treks. Another of the seven islands of the Archipelago is Montecristo, the setting for Dumas’ classic The Count of Montecristo; Montecristo is open to tourists only with permission from the Italian Government. Of course, the mother of all islands of the Archipelago is Elba, itself famous for being where Napoleon was once exiled. Among the other isles, Elba has the most hospitable beaches, plenty of restaurants and nightlife, and numerous connections to the mainland via ferry. More information about Elba and its sisters is available from the Arcipelago Toscano website. You may also be interested in these articles: Seeking Exile in Elba (The Washington Post) and Italy’s Undiscovered Islands (Travel and Leisure).

The Etruscan Riviera
Inland from the Archipelago, the Riviera Etrusca is the place to go in Tuscany if you’re looking for a more natural beach getaway. Stretching from Livorno to Piombino, this strand is mostly rocky, but has some sandy shores around Marina di Cecina and Castiglioncello. As the name implies, you can also spend time investigating Etruscan ruins along the coast and inland among the pine groves. For more info on the Etruscan Riviera, check out the Costa degli Etruschi website.

Coastal Maremma
While traditionally the Maremma is considered to consist of mostly farmland, it does have a number of seaside towns, most of which are frequented by beachhouse owners from Tuscany and Lazio. But, coastal Maremma does have a little something for everyone: families will like Follonica and Marina di Grosseto; chic resort-goers can choose from Porto Santo Stefano or Porto Ercole (both on the Promontorio dell’Argentario) or Punta Ala. Meanwhile, the interior pastureland and the Parco dell’Uccellina, which contains some untamed sandy beaches with craggy cliffs, are great for nature lovers. For more information on the beaches of the Maremma Coast, see the Official Website of the Maremma and the website for the Comune di Monte Argentario.

Photo by Roby Ferrari

What’s On in Italy: August

The lazy days of summer have left us feeling a bit lethargic. So, sorry about the lack of posts! Though this is the high season for tourists to Italy, Italians are already thinking about Ferragosto, on August 15. This is officially the Day of the Assumption and semi-officially the first day of summer break. So if you land in Rome and wonder where all the natives went, you can be sure they’re at the beach, in the mountains, or taking rest at their home in the country.

Nevertheless, there are still some events going on this month, including some outdoor music gigs. With the temperature at its hottest, however, you may want to consider checking out some indoor events. We’ve detailed both below:

Musei D’Estate, Rome: Through September, visitors will have a chance to enjoy new programs and guided nighttime visits to some of the Eternal City’s museums. Some highlights include Astrosummer, a chance to see the stars from Rome’s Planetarium; nighttime tours of the newly refurbished Villa Torlonia; and evening performances of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar at Trajan’s Markets (until August 5; reserve your tickets).

Outdoor Theater, Rome: If you like the idea of watching plays amid Roman ruins, check out the Miracle Players. This troupe has been putting on English-language plays in the Forum for years.

Second Stage of the Palio, Siena: Watch out, Contrada Oca! A new Palio winner will be crowned on August 16 at the second-yearly running of the horserace. More info is available in our previous Palio post.

Tuscan Sun Festival, Cortona: The Frances Mayes franchise lives on with the Tuscan Sun Festival in Cortona. Also known as the Festival del Sole, the 12-day event celebrates the “good life” with music, theatrical performances, and art.

Do you know of more events this month? Please let us know!

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