Tag Archives | 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!

Give the Gift of Italian Culture

Flickr/mysza

When my colleagues in the Italy Blogging Roundtable and I decided to write on the topic “gifts” for our December post, I knew exactly what I wanted to write about. I knew straight away that I didn’t want to write about Italian gifts you can buy in a store, though there are many I desire or would recommend. Similarly, I knew that I didn’t want to write about the intangible gift that Italy has given me. No, I wanted to write about so-called “gifts that keep on giving,” presents that will serve to enhance others’ understanding or appreciation of Italian culture.

The two “gifts” that I am highlighting below are 1) a documentary film project about a very famous town in Tuscany and 2) a charity devoted to restoring a town in Cinque Terre. I would love it if you, my readers, would consider contributing to one or both of these very worthy causes. To do so, you will be giving yourself and all others who appreciate Italy’s history and heritage the chance to enjoy it for years to come.

1) The Genius of a Place

Photo of a piazza in Cortona by Flickr user wyzik

Sarah Marder, an American who has been living in Italy since 1988 and has been visiting Cortona, Italy, since 1986, has been working for more than two years with Italian production company OLO Creative Farm on a documentary about the Tuscan town made famous by Frances Mayes’ book Under the Tuscan Sun. The book and its subsequent film starring Diane Lane were a rousing success, but the publicity has started to have a detrimental effect on Cortona, drawing in more tourists than the village can handle. Ironically, the hill town that so many tourists are coming to experience risks losing its look and atmosphere. The Genius of a Place takes an honest look at Ms. Marder’s beloved Cortona and its potential spoiling at the hands of too much tourism.

The Genius of a Place project is listed on the crowdfunding site Indiegogo, and it seeks to raise $20,000 by December 31, 2011. As of this post, they are almost half-way to their goal. Donating to The Genius of a Place will help Sarah and her crew finish the massive editing process in time to submit their documentary into consideration for the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and can net you “grazie gifts” ranging from chocolate to a set of Tuscan watercolor paintings, not to mention the knowledge of having assisted in raising awareness about Cortona’s potential plight.

Take a look at the project video for The Genius of a Place to see if it’s something you’d like to donate to:

 

2) Save Vernazza

Photo of Vernazza by Flickr user pizzodisevo

You may or may not be aware that the region of Liguria, which includes the capital Genoa and the famous tourist area of Cinque Terre, suffered record flooding this past fall. On October 25, 2011, heavy rain buried city centers under feet of water and caused massive mudslides. The flooding led to emergency evacuations, and many residents have yet to return to the once-picturesque area to begin the process of rebuilding and restoration.

Hit particularly hard during the flooding was the town of Vernazza, one of those perfect, pastel villages that the Cinque Terre subregion is famous for. Vernazza, which was buried under more than 13 feet of mud, suffered more than 100 million in damages. In order to get Vernazza back to working order, three American expat women living in Vernazza created Save Vernazza, an Italian nonprofit to raise funds for construction projects and cultural preservation. Included in the mission statement of Save Vernazza is the commitment to rebuild the Muri a Secco, the terracing walls that are part of the heritage that merited Vernazza its UNESCO World Heritage Site status.

If you’re interested in joining Ruth Manfredi, Michele Lilley, and Michele Sherman, the three women behind Save Vernazza, in preserving this iconic village, visit the Save Vernazza website to learn about its projects and how to donate. Watch this video to see the Vernazza flood in action (warning: heart-wrenching):

This month’s Italy Blogging Roundtable topic was “Gifts.” Find out what the other members of the Italy Blogging Roundtable conjured up when they thought about “gifts” together with Italy. Click the links below to read their contributions to the Roundtable, and leave comments to join in the conversation. Tune in next month for another Roundtable round-up.

Also this month, we opened up the Italy Blogging Roundtable to other bloggers interested in telling us a story about gifts in the context of Italy. Below are five posts that I enjoyed reading. And, I’ve also added a Twitter widget to the bottom of this post so you can find links to even more #ItalyRoundtable posts on Twitter. Thank you so much for tuning in!
  • No Onions Extra Pickles: What to Get the Italian Futurist Who Has Everything – I loved this whimsical post. Extra points (pickles?) for the art nerdiness.
  • Cross Pollinate: Made in Italy – Hand Made Gifts by Florentine Artisans – See the painstaking work it takes to create some of the beautiful products that are still made in Italy, from etchings to bespoke shoes. Great photos here.
  • A Sense of PlaceThe Gift of Learning Something New – Erin teaches me something new about a church in Rome whose marbled floor I’ve walked on countless times. Her explanation and photos were exquisite and made me want to get on the very next flight to Rome.
  • Sicily SceneGifts – Italy may be on the road to austerity this Christmas, but that doesn’t mean the season will be less joyous. I appreciate how Pat wove in her observations of how Italians confront Christmastime with her memories from the past 20 years of being an expat in Sicily.
  • Life…Italian StyleThe Gift of Becoming Italian – Becoming Italian, if that is at all possible, takes more than just marrying a person from Italy and/or moving there. It takes an attitude adjustment, especially with regards to time, food, and chiacchiere (talking), as Jennifer explains so nicely in her post.


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

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