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An Italian Wedding

100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go
June is the classic month in which to schedule wedding, and this holds true in Italy, too. Therefore, with the marriage month fast approaching, I am delighted to be able to provide readers with an excerpt from Susan Van Allen’s wonderful new book 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go.

An Italian Wedding

If you get an invitation to an Italian wedding, don’t waffle about how you’re going to pay for airfare or take time off work. Go for a once-in-a-lifetime unforgettable event. Prepare yourself for an extravaganza of delicious food and dancing until the wee hours.

It’ll be a rare invitation. These days Italians say it’s not practical to get married, so most are shacking up together for years, and the statistics for Italian marriages are at a historic low. Along with that, there’s the trend of “mammoni” or mamma’s boys, that is, men living at home and having their mothers cook for them and do their laundry until they’re well into their thirties. It’s inspired the government to step in to get things moving, and beginning in 2008 tax breaks will be offered to those earning low incomes who leave home to live on their own.

Still, if you’re in Italy, especially in June (thanks to Juno, Goddess of Marriage), you’ll run into Italian weddings in churches. I spent a week in Palermo one June where almost every church I peeked into had a marriage ceremony going on, with wonderful music and stunning get-ups from the bride on down. You’ll never see a real Italian wedding on a Tuesday or Friday, as that’s considered not a good day to begin any venture. Which is why when I was last visiting Ravello’s Villa Cimbrone on a Friday, the wedding party posing for pictures were Americans from Massachusetts.

Speaking of which, you may be considering getting married in Italy. It’s naturally a great place for a wedding, completely romantic, with locations from castles to vineyards to cliffs overlooking the sea that can satisfy every fairytale fantasy.

A major advantage to getting married in Italy is that you can cut your guest list down to a core group of dearest family and friends, who’ll be thrilled to be in on the adventure. Plus, what
better place is there for a jumping off point for a honeymoon?

As far as the nitty-gritty, it’s better to have a symbolic wedding in Italy rather than an official one, as the paperwork to make things official is complex and time consuming. To help get things set up, here are some companies that specialize in Italian weddings:

Doorways, Ltd.
One of this company’s top “I Do” spots is a sixteenth century villa on the outskirts of Lucca, which sits on 300 acres of vineyards, olive groves, and woodlands. A special perk is a pre-wedding cocktail party exclusively for the bridal couple and all the service people involved in the festivities. Here, according to Doorway’s President Kit Burns, “Everyone becomes a family and the bride’s pre-wedding anxiety vanishes when she’s met everybody who’ll be doing
the work.”

There’s a fantastic frescoed bridal suite at the villa, an arts and crafts workshop area for younger guests, and it’s perfectly located for day trips before the big event, such as a boat ride to the Cinque Terre.

Italy 4 Real
Intimate country weddings in Tuscan and Umbrian agriturismos, are Italy 4 Real’s specialty. The company’s philosophy is for clients to fully experience the environment they’re in, so they bring in local expert chefs and musicians and it’s all very traditional. Marriage ceremonies feature stunning backdrops of vineyards and olive groves. Brides and grooms are whisked off to nearby picturesque hill towns such as San Gimignano or Assisi for photo shoots. The company is owned by Rem Malloy and his Roman-American mother, Deborah de Maio, who Rem made a point of telling me he does not live with.

The Italy Specialists
Silvia Giardin, company founder and Veneto native, has been planning Italian weddings for thirty-three years. “Nothing is impossible” is her motto. I would love to have been invited to just one of the weddings she told me her company put together: a sunrise ceremony on a Venetian dock where the bridal couple wore pajamas and the party continued with a palazzo brunch…an extravagant affair at the Lake Como estate now owned by George Clooney…a wedding in Taoromina, Sicily where the ceremony took place at the Greek amphitheater and was followed by a reception at The Grand Hotel Timeo.

RECOMMENDED READING
Italy, a Love Story edited by Camille Cusumano
In Love in Italy by Monica Larner

“An Italian Wedding” has such excellent tips for a destination wedding in Italy. But it is only one chapter in a book chock full of fun Italy travel suggestions for women. Van Allen also pays homage to must-see works of art, tiny villages, spas, shopping, family-friendly places, and other sights and activities that have either a feminine bent or that hold certain appeal for the female traveler. I especially love that Van Allen has included a calendar of Madonna Holidays and Female Saints’ Feast Days.

If you haven’t figured it out already, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go is a fantastic gift for the Italy-loving woman in your life.

(Thanks to everyone who participated in the iPhone app giveway! The contest is now closed.)

Want to know another great gift? The ‘100 Places’ iPhone App! Publisher Travelers’ Tales has created a lightweight app that you can use as a reference on your trip to Italy or when you simply want to do a little armchair travel while standing in line or sitting in the waiting room. And, I’m offering Italofile readers the chance to win a copy of the iPhone app:

100 Places iPhone App Giveaway
To win the 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go iPhone app, simply comment on the post below or re-tweet this post using the hashtag #100places. Deadline for entering the contest is 11:59pm EDT on June 3, 2010.

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.

[mappress]

Photo by Protect Cinque Terre

Do You Know the Way to Pompeii?

About a year ago, I posted some information about going to Pompeii from Rome on a day trip. Just a few days ago, I was alerted of a new way to get there. When in Rome Tours has private and semi-private minibus tours to Pompeii. They’ll pick you up in Rome, drive to Pompeii via Cassino (site of the Montecassino Abbey) and Naples, take you to lunch, provide you with a Pompeii guide, and get you back to the Eternal City all within the same day (about 13 hours). They also provide walking tours of Rome and smallish bus tours of the Rome environs (no giant motorcoaches here!). So if you’re trying to put together a little jaunt down to Pompeii while visiting Rome, consider checking out When in Rome Tours. Thanks for the tip, Marie!

Photo by Paul Vlaar

The Ultimate Italian Driving Adventure

If you’re the type of traveler who likes to go it alone and doesn’t mind injecting a little technological know-how into your trip, then a GPS-driven self-guided tour may be the ticket.

Information about Zephyr Self-Guided Adventures through Italy just crossed our desks over the weekend. The company offers walks, biking, and driving tours through Tuscany, Umbria, and parts of Lazio, all of which are powered by GPS navigation. According to a press release:

The GPS Navigation systems have pre-loaded waypoints along the driving routes and are designed to accompany written turn-by-turn directions. With simple touch commands travelers can easily get from one destination to another. These portable systems not only allow for a comfortable traveling pace, but are also a cheaper alternative to the typical guided vacation.

In addition to the GPS Navigation systems, these driving tours come with a “virtual tour guide” in the form of a Portable Media Player loaded with short videos. In these videos, Zephyr Adventures President Allan Wright gives a daily route talk summarizing what to expect for each day while certified Italian guide (and Zephyr in-country support representative) Giovanni Ramaccioni gives entertaining cultural and historical presentations about sights on the route. The cultural videos were filmed at the exact spots the travelers pass through.

The combination of these two technologies allows for the ultimate driving adventure.

While Zephyr may have touched on a rather novel concept, we also like the fact that they have worked in the price of hotels and rental cars, so you don’t have to do any extra legwork (unless, of course, you choose to walk or bike your way through central Italy). Rates start at $1,250 per person, not including airfare.

Kid-Friendly Tours of Florence

Florence may feel like a fairy tale city for adults, but kids aren’t always impressed. That’s mostly because they’ve yet to study or appreciate the art, architecture, and history that have made the Tuscan town one of the world’s most favored destinations for generations.

Enter Context Travel. The walking tour company, which I have mentioned in The Unofficial Guide to Central Italy, has just announced a “robust kid-friendly program” that includes family tours such as Symbols and Legends of Florence, a 2-hour family treasure hunt, and Arte Firenze for Families, a guided tour through the Uffizi Gallery.

Some other Context Travel tours of Florence and Tuscany that your family (and teens) may enjoy are Florence Food Experiences, Fresco Workshop, and (one we’d LOVE to try) Tuscan Truffle Hunt. You can also find Context Travel tours and services in Rome, Naples, and Venice.

Of course, you can’t expect some of the most knowledgeable guides in the business to charge a pittance for their services. These group walks, excursions, and daytrips start at around €200 per group. But, you’ll definitely return from your trip to Italy with more interesting captions for your photos. And your kids will be able to impress their teachers with loads of Tuscan trivia.

Photo by Context Travel

Touring the Venice Lagoon by Pénichette

While browsing the web recently, I happened upon Emmanuelle Jary’s excellent primer on touring the Venice Lagoon on ViaMichelin (full disclosure: I have written for Michelin Travel Guides). But what, I wondered, was a pénichette? Turns out that it is a small barge-like houseboat – just the perfect type of transportation for getting around the city of canals on a mini-tour.

The word “pénichette” is a registered trademark, perhaps owned by the company Locaboat, whose photos are used throughout the Michelin article and which runs several tours of the Venice Lagoon. You can choose one- to two-week excursions, and travel from the base at Chioggia to points such as Treviso, Padova, and the Venetian islands. According to Locaboat, pénichettes are ideal for family or group travel and those “which bear the ‘R’ label are boats which have been updated with the latest low-pollution, high performance equipment.” So, your trip to Venice can be eco-friendly, too.

While you’re out and about, consider following Jary and Michelin’s suggestions for dining out or ordering in (listed at the bottom of the article) from some of the great restaurants in Venice. I’m salivating for the potato risotto and cuttlefish polenta from Do Farai right now…

Photo © Via Michelin

‘Angels and Demons’ Tourism

The book – and now movie – Angels and Demons isn’t too kind to the Catholic Church, with murders taking place at some of Rome’s famous and not-yet-famous churches and squares, including Piazza del Popolo and Santa Maria della Vittoria. But, city officials don’t think that will deter tourists from wanting to take an Angels-and-Demons-based tour, as this article from the New York Times suggests.

In fact, Dark Rome Tours and Walks has been taking tourists on the “official” Angels and Demons tour since 2004. Group and private tours are available, and start at €56 per person and last for four hours. The tour visits Santa Maria del Popolo, St. Peter’s Square, Santa Maria della Vittoria, the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, Castel Sant’Angelo, and the outside of “Il Passetto,” the Vatican Corridor. Of course, you can visit all of these sites on your own for way less than €56 – indeed, among all the sites listed above, only Castel Sant’Angelo charges a fee (approx. €5) – so you may want to tote the book along and create your own tour.

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