The early 2016 news that Cinque Terre would be imposing caps on the number of tourists allowed to access the picturesque towns was "just a provocation," admits Patrizio Scarpellini, director of Cinque Terre National Park, but “it had reached a point that we had to do something.”
That something — a dramatic statement to the press by the park’s president, Vittorio Alessandro — has raised awareness of the problems faced by this UNESCO Heritage Site, but the solution is much more complex than closing a door. Cinque Terre is a stretch of particularly rugged coastline in the Italian region of Liguria, halfway between the busy ports of Genova and Livorno. Day-trippers from the cruises that stop here stream into the five towns of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso, which grow up from the sea into a steep hillside that has been transformed, over the centuries, into terraced parcels of agricultural land.
Every summer, as the sizzle perspires from the cement, urban thoughts of running streams, flowing grass and cool mountain breezes inherently materialize around every New Yorker and only subside with the arrival of fall. But few would consider the very nearby setting today that many Italian families once made an affordable respite and desired vacation getaway. A sentiment reflecting the desolation this upstate destination of a bygone era now suffers. Nonetheless, a holdout remains and is the subject of The Last Resort.
So for those completely at a loss in the younger generations, the only introduction that suffices with a question: What the hell are the Catskills “Exactly. Right now there’s one Jewish place and three Italian places. I used to go to a place called Villa Maria," said Filmmaker Dante Liberatore. “The whole setting was an extension of little Italy for Italians. It meant going to a place with people just like themselves and reminded them of home in Italy where they could catch the mountain breeze.”
Unfortunately, the Catskills sunk as Americans were no longer grounded by the high rates of travel. “When the airlines went through deregulation, prices fell dramatically. This giving people so many more options – who really wants to go to the mountains and look at trees,” said the Yonkers born writer.
Still, who does a movie about the Catskills. “After finishing my previous project on Arthur Avenue, the producer wanted to do another Italian themed film. So I said, why don’t we go see if there’s any Italian resorts left in the Catskills,” said Liberatore....
Check out this fantastic article by Veronica Di Grigoli on The Dangerously Truthful Diary of a Sicilian Housewife blog that I came across. It profiles a wonderful Easter festival in Sicily where a fantasy village is built out of bamboo and artistic panels and decorations all made out of bread. Well worth a look! Loads of great photos...
Loafing around in Sicily’s Gingerbread Village
The people of San Biagio Platano, a village in south-western Sicily, have celebrated Easter every year since the 1700’s by decorating their streets with arches and towers made of bread. The entire community spends three months turning the place into a gingerbread village… yet Hansel and Gretel never come!
In a land ravaged by earthquakes, floods and volcanoes from time to time, it's no wonder that in Italy, one will occasionally discover one of the many Ghost Towns...
Perched high on a rocky outcrop, with buildings precariously built under overhanging cliffs, is the beautiful remains of Pentedattilo, a village in southern Calabria. (The look of this village--tucked under dolomite cliffs--reminds me of the twin villages of Pietrapertosa and Castellmezzano we visited in Basilicata.) The village is a 45 minute drive from Reggio-Calabria. It got its name from the Byzantine word Pentedáktilos, which means five fingers, a reference to the five deep valleys surrounding the mountainous village. First inhabited in "Magna Graecia" period and then the Romans, Pentedattilo offers a wonderful view of the sea.
Being one of the oldest Ghost Towns of Italy, the town was severely damaged by an earthquake in 1783, which led to large parts of the population moving to the nearby seaside port town of Melito Porto Salvo. Today a modern-day with the same name of Pentedattilo was built on another hilltop a bit closer to the sea. The residents still attend Catholic services in the restored Chiesa dei Pietro e Paolo (Church of Saints Peter and Paul) standing proudly against the threat of Nature under the cliffs in the old town.
After some restoration in the 1980s, the old village today has a few new residents, although many ruins still sit without roofs, windows or doors just waiting for the Voyager with camera to capture its haunting beauty and solitude. Oddly enough, the village becomes the site of the International Pentedattilo Film Festival... with appropriate their motto, "Don't be a Ghost".
Casa Malaparte is a house in the Italian Moderne style on Punta Massullo, a peninsula on the eastern side of the Isle of Capri, Italy. The house was conceived in 1937 by Italian architect Adalberto Libera for Curzio Malaparte. Malaparte eventually rejected Libera's design and built the home himself with the help of Adolfo Amitrano, a local stonemason.
Casa Malaparte looks like it was designed by my son in Minecraft--a strange, fish-shaped building with pyramidal stairs clinging to the edge of a hundred-foot cliff at the edge of Gulf of Salerno. Access to this private property is either by a half mile trek from the edge of the Town of Capri, or by boat and a staircase cut into the cliff.
We came upon these beautiful grapes near San Gimignano
Chestnuts are a really big deal in Italy
In September and October (depending if you are in the North or South of Italy), the hanging bunches of grapes swell and beg to be picked. Flocks of wine aficionados go to Italy for the sole purpose of taking part of this miracle, vising wineries, walking through vineyards, taking part in the harvest and of course, paring the wines they discover with the amazing food of Italy. When to harvest is a tricky thing. It depends on the variety, the weather (rain, cold, frost, hail and wind) and the ripeness of the fruit on the vines. Wine makers have ways to measure the sugars, acid and tannin levels in their grapes. They look for a perfect time to send their pickers out to the fields--when the grapes reach the perfect ratio of sweetness and acid. Some fields are harvested in August, others in September while still others wait until October. Believe it or not, much of the grapes are still harvested by the old fashioned way--a mano (by hand). It costs more than harvesting with machines, but many vintners believe it helps them produce a superior product in the end. Hand picking allows the human hand and eye to selectively pick the grapes that are at their peak. At any given time there might be grapes that are not even close to being ripe, some that are perfect while others are mushy and moldy or rotten entirely. Hands and eyes can pick and choose--a mechanical harvester cannot. Grapes harvested by hand need a lot of sorting afterwards by humans--which costs more time and money.
A good example of harvest time.... in Chianti at the end of September, the fields will be full of people picking grapes from the vines. They fill plastic milk-type crates up with grapes, then carry them to the end of the row and dump them into a big open container that is pulled by a tractor or a three-wheeled Treroute. You'll see many rigs driving down the roads loaded with grapes on the way to the fattoria. You will probably smell the fermenting process when driving by some vineyards.
Truffles, Truffles and more Truffles in Alba
Another reason to Voyage to Italy during harvest time is to enjoy the many various types of sagre (festivals) at this time of year. There's a lot more being harvested than just grapes. Local festivals are held for wine, cheese, bread, nuts, pumpkins, chocolate, mushrooms, sausages.... you name it, and there's a festival for you--some for food, some for history, all in the colorful autumn Italian countryside. Here are just a few...
Lucca: Festa della Esaltazione della Santa Croce - September 13, La Luminaria procession. The streets are illuminated with candles during the Luminara di Santa Croce, the principal event of the year in Lucca and part of a series of festivals during September. A wooden crucifix figure is carried along the streets of the old town center illuminated by thousands of small candles. There is also the "Mottettone" concert inside the cathedral and fireworks on the banks of the river.
Panicale: From Sept 8th to 11th, Panicale holds their Festa del l'uva - grape harvest festival, an interesting event dedicated to wine in Umbria. You can taste local dishes at the tavern and, of course, the excellent local wines.
Lombardy, Emilia Romagna and Tuscany: Gran Premio Nuvolari - one of the most prestigious Grand Prix of classic cars in Italy, the Grand Premio Nuvolari (named after Tazio Nuvolari, one of the greatest drivers in the history of car racing), which takes place every year from 18th to 21st September. Over 500 drivers, in 250 classic cars start out from Mantua, driving over 1000 km through many towns in Lombardy, Emilia Romagna and Tuscany. For instance, on September 20th the cars will parade through the Piazza del Campo in Siena from 12:00 am to 2:30 pm. More info HERE.
Aquaviva: The Viva Rock Festival will be held from September 7 through 11 in Acquaviva, a few kilometers from Montepulciano, featuring rock, world music, electronic music and reggae, admission is free for all the concerts.
Siena: There seem to be festivals going on all the time in Siena. In September you might visit Siena and see a procession of hundreds of people dressed in medieval costumes or red devil costumes.
Chianti: The olive harvest takes place in November. There are farm rentals (agriturismo) where you can actually take part in picking the olives. A perfect time to buy some oil.
Chianti: The chestnut harvest takes place between the middle of October and the middle of November. Chestnut flour is available a month or two after harvest. Chestnuts are grown in many parts of northern Italy.
Marradi: Northeast of Florence in the town of Marradi is the The Marradi Chestnut Festival, running every Sunday in October
Pisa: Within the province of Pisa, the prestigious International Market and Fair of the White Truffle at Corazzano.
San Miniato: In San Miniato, one of the more important truffle towns, you’ll have the chance to taste and buy one the most prestigious food products you’ll ever find on the first weekend in October. This is a "preview" of the main San Miniato market and fair that takes place every weekend in November.
Asti:Festival Delle Sagre is a one day event with food and wine from 40 villages in the area. It’s only 45 minutes from Turin. Sample tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms, frittata with chickpea and herbs, fried frog and cured donkey meat. Processions and live music entertain the large crowd throughout the day and into evening. www.festivaldellesagre.it
Alba: In October there is the Fiera Internazionale del Tartufo Bianco--a festival for the Tartufo biano, or white truffle, is a veritable celebrity in Alba and the month-long autumn festival devoted to the famous fungus is a must-see. Last October, Prince Albert of Monaco made a royal appearance at the opening ceremonies, a fanfare fitting for one of the world’s most sought-after delicacies. www.fieradeltartufo.org
Caluso: 20 miles outside Turin in the small town of Caluso, every September droves of wine enthusiasts celebrate the locally harvested grapes at the Festa dell’Uva. www.festadelluva.tn.it
Negroamaro: In Puglia, the Negroamaro Wine Festival is held in Brindisi every November.
Gubbio, Umbria:“Il Mese del Tartufo” (the Month of the Truffle) from November 19-20 and November 26-27, with events centering around different truffle-related products and other Umbrian specialties.
Piegaio: The Festa della Zucca (Squash Festival) is held in early October in Piegaio, a small town near Lucca. Growers from across the region head to the village to show off their biggest and best produce. There are also stalls brimming with squash-based dishes (as well as local honey, meats and cheeses) and even dolls made out of the fruit.
Montalcino: Beekeepers Week in Montalcino, Tuscany is held in early September. Honey tastings and all sorts of foods made with honey.
Bra: The Slow Cheese Festival happens this year from September 18-21 in Bra, Italy, a town in the northern Piedmont region, which is also the birthplace of Slow Food movement.
Buonconvento: In early September the walled town of Buonvonvento hosts a beer festival.
Verona: The Tocatì, the International Festival of Street Games in Verona, is an interesting opportunity to check out games, sounds and flavors of the past. Sept 15-18.
Greve: In Greve in Chianti there's the Expo del Chianti Classico celebrating the ubiquitous Chianti wine. There's music, lessons on wine and food sampling. There will be over 60 wine producers attending. In 2016 the event will be from the 8th to the 11th of September.
Milan & Turin:The MITO music festival takes place in September in the cities of Milan and Turin, and lasts throughout the month.
Ciminna:San Vito's day is celebrated in Ciminna, near Palermo, Sicily during the first week of September. There is a large parade where scenes from the life of the Saint are re-enacted. A livestock fair is also organized.
Florence: One of the oldest September festivals takes place in one of Italy's best known and most beautiful cities, Florence--the Feast of the Rificolona.
Pienza: The Pienza Pecorino Fair and "Cacio al Fuso" takes place on the first Sunday in September. Pienza is known for the pecorino (sheep cheese) in Italy and a wide range of excellent cheeses is available to be tasted and bought during this fair. The Cacio al Fuso is a cheese rolling competition--contestants roll a round of cheese to see how far it goes.
If you enjoyed this post, please don't forget to share it with your on your favorite social media site. Ciao!
When I was planning the southern leg of our Voyage through Italy, one of the pins on my Google Earth map was at Paestum, an archeological site in Campania about 25 miles south of Salerno and the Amalfi Coast on the Tyrrhenian Sea. We opted to leave Salerno and drive a more direct route to the rocky villages of Castelmezzano and Pietrapertosa--villages that remind me of Machu Picchu clinging to rocky precipices. If we had driven to Paestum first, we would have had a more arduous, long mountainous drive to bring us toward Basilicata and Puglia.
In hindsight, I wish we had at least done an early morning side trip to Paestum. It's located in the part of southern Italy known as Magna Graecia, which used to be settled by the Greeks long before the Roman Empire. The ruins of Paestum are famous for their three Greek temples with massive, intact Doric columns dating from about 600 to 450 BC. All structures are built from the local bedrock--travertine. Also intact are the foundation walls of many parts of the ancient city, an amphitheater and paved roads as well preserved as the Appian Way in Rome.
Both large temples at the site are dedicated to the goddess Hera
Nearby Agropoli, an ancient Greek port city
The site is open to the public, and there is a modern national museum within it, which also contains the finds from the associated Greek site of Foce del Sele. Founded by Greek colonists under the name of Poseidonia, it was eventually conquered by the local Lucanians and later the Romans. It has been known by several names... Lucanians dubbed it Paistos, with Pesto being another variation. The Romans changed it later on to Paestum. During early Christian times, the town was ruled by a Bishop but then abandoned and forgotten by the Middle Ages. It was rediscovered in the 18th century.
The modern town of Paestum, just south of the archaeological site, is a popular seaside resort, with long sandy beaches where many Italians spend their Ferragosto summer holiday in the month of August. However, if you want to relax and enjoy the flavors of this region, make your hub in the beautiful port town of Agropoli... a seaport just to the south, with its town hugging the cliffs above. The town is definitely worth more than just an overnight stay. Some might call it a romantic getaway. Another important aspect of the area is the raising of buffalo to produce the famous mozzarella di bufala. You may visit local farms to see the prized buffalo being massaged and pampered, as well as see how the fresh cheese is made.
These magnificent beasts produce amazing mozzarella
Heracles kills Alcyoneus
Aerial view of the site
If you go:
By Train Catch a train from Salerno or Naples to Paestum station. Buy a two-way tick if you need to return. I have read that the ticket machines in the Paestum station rarely work. By Boat There are ferrys during summer months from Salerno, Naples, Positano, Amalfi
By Bus Buses run throughout the Campania regions, especially in Avellino province, picking locals up for various points and taking them to the site for €9 return.
Paestum Tickets You can buy separate tickets for the archaeological site and the museum but if you're visiting both it is cheaper to purchase a combined ticket (about €6.50). There are various categories of discount. This is an Italian national monuments. Check for free entry for seniors and handicapped. The open air site is open daily; the museum is closed on the first and third Mondays of each month.
Step One: Don't be a tourist! Ok, I know that we fell into this trap ourselves when we traveled throughout Italy, but I'm telling you all to "Do as we say, not as we did!" You shouldn't spend all your time waiting on unimaginably long lines just to get into must-see tourist sites. There's real life out there away from the tourist throngs. I would suggest allocating only about 20% or less of your time trying to get into the "must see" sights that every other tourist is trying to see and 80% actually experience the Italian way of life.
As difficult as it is, try not to go where every other tourist is going. I know this is hard for the first timer to Italy--it was for us--to decide not to see the Sistine Chapel or Michelangelo's David. We spent a nightmarish, sweaty, stuffy, exhausting morning being enveloped and shoved by throngs of cruise ship tours in the Vatican Museum (Sistine Chapel included) and St. Peters--and believe it or not, this was a so-called "private tour" with our own personal guide! Sure, it was great seeing the Sistine Chapel, but as museums go, the Vatican Museum is not up to world standards in terms of comfort, proper care of the art displayed, lighting, cleanliness or how it handles the huge crowds they stuff into the place. And speaking as an artist, there was no opportunity to sit and admire Michelangelo's creation properly. (Read about our Vatican tour HERE.)
Lines at the Vatican Museum
The second part of this tip is to s l o w d o w n... You can't possibly see everything in Italy. When I first started planning our trip ten months before we left, every time I zoomed in to a different part of Italy on Google Earth I kept finding more and more outrageously wonderful things that I added to my pin map. I still have those Google maps saved in case we go back to Italy. Even when we were in one region, like Puglia, for example, I had dozens of things pinned in the area that we never got to see--that we just didn't have time to see. Still, I looked at it as having a list of options for a given area we happened to be in, knowing that we'd never get to see all of them.
There are 46 million tourists swooping down on Italy every year with the "high season" getting wider and wider (we went in October... I can't imagine how much more crowded the tourist sites are in late spring or summer!) But you have to remember, that almost anywhere you go in Italy, in every region, there is a plethora of art, palaces, aqueducts, museums, vineyards and great food everywhere! Even the smallest villages we passed through were worth a stop, a picnic and offered great subjects for photography. Castles... they are everywhere. Hill towns?--Where aren't there any? Roman ruins? Everywhere you look. Great architecture and churches? Fine art? Great wine? Yes, even in the small villages and towns. Great food? Pick a cuisine--any of the 20 regional cuisines in Italy!
So, take your time and by all means, slow down, and plan on savoring each and every bit of Italy and you'll find a higher degree of appreciation and satisfaction for La Bella Italia. Don't rush through anything. If you find that the lines are way to long, consider getting out of line and walk the other way... find something else around the next corner, in the next piazza or in the next village.
There's nothing like an Italian smile--Our Hot Air Balloon pilot, Stefano and one of his pups
One last part of this tip: Smile at locals and try to talk to them... Learn at least a little Italian before going to Italy. Talk to the ladies in the alimentari when buying your picnic supplies. Point a lot... smile a lot. Try talking to taxi drivers. I found them to really open up when you talk to them and ask about their lives. Learn basic phrases like Questo or Quello (This one... that one), Come si chiama? (What is this called?), Dove ___? (Where is found ____?), Grazie (thanks) and Per favore (Please).... and of course, Grazie (thanks--and say it properly: grat-zee-EH). You might not understand everything they say back to you but you will be experiencing the people of Italy. Take their photograph to remember their smiles. Give them your smile in return.
Remember, you are going to Italy to see, to smell, to taste and to feel... and to take home souvenirs... in the literal sense of the word... memories. Your goal should be to come back home with a part of the Italian lifestyle as part of your soul. Italia will never leave you...
If you enjoyed this article, please SHARE it with your friends and tell them to stop by Grand Voyage Italy's blog. Grazie mille.
OPINION: There should really be a tiered level of visits to the Vatican Museum, sold through lotteries. Those proving some art credentials--like academics or students of art--should be allowed a different time of day where they can spend a decent amount of quiet contemplation--something that isn't an option today. To stop the wear and tear on the museum itself (the patterned floor tiles are getting worn through!), the general tourist public should only be allowed to visit a smaller section of the museum, with a limited number of people accessing the Sistine Chapel at the same time. Or, as they have done with other fragile tile or mosaic floors in other churches in Italy, put raised walkways so tourists' feet never touch the tiles. Also, no children under 10 should be allowed. Visitors should also be expelled whenever they break the rules of the Church, like men wearing hats. ---JF
Copyright 2015, Jerry Finzi/Grand Voyage Italy - All Rights Reserved
Experience the Italian lifestyle, heritage, cuisine, art, music, language, traditions, and take your own Grand Voyage to Italy ...even if you've never been to Italy! Andiamo, take a Grand Voyage with us...