Voyagers to Tuscany identify the sunflower with the Tuscan lifestyle. They see it as a romantic symbol, overwhelmed by vast fields of sunflowers in the summer sun. They will come home with pasta bowls, dresses or tiles decorated with them. But they forget one simple fact: girasole (sunflowers) are actually a cash crop in Italy, and several regions grow them, not just Tuscany. And don't count on seeing sunflowers in the same fields every year. Italians farmers, like all good farmers, tend to rotate their crops. Sunflowers grown in a particular field one year might be replaced by beans the next. It also depends on whether the Italian government is subsidizing the sunflower crop or not.
By the way, the word "girasole", literally means "turn to the sun", which is what sunflowers do--they always tend to face the sun and follow it from sunrise to sunset.
In northern regions or in higher elevations, the sunflower bloom will be later, but in general (depending on variety grown and the weather), in Tuscany the height of the spectacular display will be from the beginning of July to the about July 15th. In Lazio you can see the yellow beauties in the beginning of July, in le Marche the best time to see them is mid-July to early August. Sunflowers are also grown in the regions of Emilia Romagna, Umbria, and Friuli-Venezia Giulia
Sunflower seeds are grown for the seeds as food and for oil. They can be eaten raw, roasted or dried. They containing protein, vitamins A, B, and E, calcium, iron and nitrogen. Sunflower oil has a light color, mild flavor and low levels of saturated fats. Chefs love it because of its high smoke point--it doesn't burn as readily as other oils--and because it doesn't impart much of its own flavor. Sunflower oil accounts for 8% of the cooking oil used in the whole world.
Consider this: Even with its own high production of sunflowers, the Italian supply doesn't come close to meeting Italy's demand fo oil and seeds. Italy imports as much as 70% from the crop's main producers--Romania, Hungary and Bulgaria. If things go the way they have been going, the sunflower crop might be in desperate trouble. Production has dropped from 500,000 planted acres in 2003 to less than 175,000 acres in 2017. Market prices and lack of government subsidies have a lot to do with the shrinking harvests.
So the next time you are cycling through fields of girasole, turn your head to the sun as they do, and say a little prayer for the sunflower to continue to brighten the beauty of Italy.
Watch the videos below to see how sunflowers
are grown, harvested and turned into oil...
In 2017, over 50 million tourists stayed in Italian hotels--and ONLY during June, July and August, the supposed "high season". But in the last decade, the "high season" has been expanding to early spring and as late as October, and most visitors to Italy don't stay in hotels...
How many more visitors stayed in rental apartments or with friends or relatives? How many camped or stayed in hostels or local B&Bs? Keep in mind, the population of Italy is only around 60 million (a decent number for such a small country), but some estimates put the number of actual tourists from all over the world visiting Italy at over 420 million in 2017 alone.
Just imagine if the U.S. matched or even surpassed its own 320 million population with half a billion tourists a year?! The actual current number of tourists visiting the U.S. annually is a mere 80 million. It seems Italy is being over-promoted, overbooked and over-run by tourists. As an example, just look at what happens to Venice during the summer months when as many as 6 cruise ships each day dump (according to recent numbers) over 32,000 people onto the fragile jewels of its sinking islands. Over 600 cruise ships a year make daily stops in Venice! The influx has become so bad the city is being gentrified, with mom and pop shops turning into tacky gift shops selling things made in China, and with local residents moving out when they realize their homes are worth more as holiday rentals.
Is it time to give Italy a bit of a rest from the wear and tear on its tourist hotspots... Venice, Florence, Pisa, Rome? Are these "must see" destinations turning into Italian Euro-Disney spots, lacking authenticity and losing their cultural heritage?
We propose that when Italy opens up again as this pandemic dies down, Americans should visit a small town in Italy where the real Italian lifestyle can be experienced, instead of putting up with indignities of enormous, shoulder-to-shoulder crowds, pushing, shoving and tight schedules of the "must see" locations. If you are traveling with kids, this should be an important consideration. Children can have a much more enjoyable time if you slow it down and toss out the schedule. There are tons of things to do with kids all across Italy... water parks, go-karts, dinosaurs, science museums, beaches, cycling, hiking and more.
How about Monte Isola, a town on Lake Iseo in Lombardy? Or visit the mountain village of Castelluccio in Umbria for a taste of small town, mountain life. Instead of Florence, visit Pienza, one of the most beautiful Renaissance villages in Tuscany. And instead of paying high fees to have a spa day, go where the locals go for free, to Bagno San Fillipo in southern Tuscany and bath in the hot, natural sulfur springs under huge mineral waterfalls frozen in time. And the Cilento is much less crowded (aside from August when Italians flock to its beaches for their Ferrragosto holiday) that the Amalfi Coast and has lime after mile of real sand beaches. And don't forget Puglia, especially the tip of the boot around the port town of Brindisi. Puglia isn't like any other part of Italy and nearly every town has something unique to offer. For amazing beaches, take a plane or ferry over to Sardinia. Its natural wonders are unspoiled, with the sea as clear as tap water.
So reconsider when booking your next visit to Italy. Throw away the must-see list and visit the real Italy. Slow down, relax and spend time in one location and area at a time. Find out what days the local market is open. Rent a house or apartment and do your own cooking with amazing, fresh ingredients. Meet the locals. Learn the local dialect... even if just a few words. Keep in mind that Italy isn't one thing... it's not just Rome, Florence, Pisa and Venice. There are 20 independent regions in Italy, each with its own language, cuisine, customs and culture. You can literally throw a dart at a map of Italy and then plan a trip to the region the dart lands on. Trust me. Italy is a lot more than standing on line for hours just to be rushed through the Sistine Chapel in five minutes, with throngs of tour groups shoving you from behind.
Learn to live the Italian lifestyle while you are in Italy, and I guarantee you'll have learned how to life a bit of that same lifestyle when you're back home.
Ciao e buon viaggio.
Why or how did coronavirus travel to Italy? Perhaps there are several reasons...
One might argue that being overcrowded as one of the most popular, "must see" destinations in the world is a large factor. What do most tourists do when they get to Italy? They all flock to the few "must see" sights on their lists--Vatican Museum, Trevi Fountain, Leaning Tour of Pisa, a gondola ride in Venice, stumbling around Pompeii wondering what they are looking at, and in Florence to see that big, naked statue of that guy David--all the while crowding, jamming and shoving to see things that most have no intellectual, spiritual or emotional connection with.
Sure, they can say they "saw" the Sistine Chapel when they get home and brag, but did they really take it all in within the 10 minute, pack-them-in and roll-them-out method the Vatican Museum affords these hordes? Tourists who choose to go to "off the beaten path" destinations always experience much less crowding, but actually report having a more authentic "Italian lifestyle" experience. As example, on one very crowded day in Florence (literally, shoulder to shoulder crowds) we decided to head up to Fiesole, a chic town in the hills above Florence. No crowds, amazing food, beautiful architecture, a Roman amphitheater, a fantastic Etruscan museum, topped off by a walk along Fiesole's belvedere with panoramic views of Florence. We had a great experience without the crowding!
During 2018 alone, 63.2 million tourists visited Italy. That is more than the population of Italy itself! Contrast that in the U.S. where 77 million tourists visit annually... in a country with nearly 330 million people. I can't imagine how impossible things would be in the States if we had to deal with over 330 million tourists crowding our own national treasures, monuments and parks. Add this fact to the equation: China sent 3.5 million tourists and nearly half of them visited Lombardy and the Veneto, the regions of northern Italy hardest hit by the coronavirus. And although this virus should never be named after the hotspot where it originated, we can all agree that China had this virus early on and wasn't truthful about it for over 3 weeks. Northern Italy has been getting enormous amounts of wealthy Chinese tourists as well as many overbooked Chinese tour groups and cruises.
Italy is the fifth most visited country in terms of international tourism arrivals. Italy also contains 55 World Heritage Sites--more than any other country in the world. As recent as the 1950s and 1960s, cities like Rome and Florence were deserted by today's standards. I remember seeing a photo from the 1960s once when the Sistine Chapel had no time limit and was so un-crowded that some people actually would lie down on the floor with binoculars to spend their time examining every detail put up there by the Master's hands. There was no rush with most of these tourists having an art background.
Look what Rome was like in the 1960s...
No endless lines in front of the Vatican? And you can't really call that a crowd at the Trevi Fountain! Wouldn't it be wonderful if tourism went down to reasonable levels again?
And you won't believe what Piazza dei Miracola looked like at the Leaning Tower in Pisa... empty! There were actually cars and buses traveling under the arch where nowadays the whole are is pedestrian only...
The Growth of Tourism in Italy
By the mid 1970s, airfare to Europe was getting cheaper and cheaper. At the time, I remember getting a round trip ticket to Paris (with no ending date for my return) for about under $300--just about one week's salary at the time. Then came the advent of cheap group bus tours of Europe--you know, "See 10 cities in 8 days!" In some cases, tourists would be on the bus for most of the day with only an hour or two to visit the "must see" sights on their tour itinerary. Then, back on the bus and into the next cheap hotel. Early next day, do it all again. By the 1980s, this package tour concept was taking off like crazy. And the man who invented the concept of package tours was "Mr. Italy", Mario Perillo. His very first offers were exclusively aimed at the land of his ancestors--Italy. Italy had a tourist target on its back from that time forward. He oversold tours for amazingly cheap prices. His son Steve still hawks these cheap tours and has only compounded the overcrowding at tourist destinations.
Next came the cruise ships getting into the action, offering all-inclusive, everything-you-can-eat packages to to Rome and Naples or Venice and Greece. The food was "international", having little to do with the culture the tourists were visiting. It's still like that today... with people dining on NY Strip Steak, sushi, pizza or hamburgers while at a dock in Venice.
Here's a vintage commercial from so-called "Mr. Italy" himself, Mario Perillo ...
Then Who is to Blame?
Have the Italians themselves contributed to the distribution of this virus? Well, surely they are at fault, generally speaking, if only for their cultural traditions and being an open, gregarious society. Italians love being with other people. They are warm and gracious and greet each other (and often, new acquaintances) with an embrace and kisses on both cheeks. Unlike in other countries, men also kiss cheeks, and even hold other men arm-in-arm while strolling and chatting about business or world events. Pensioners gather on piazza benches like flocks of pigeons. In the evenings, in virtually every Italian city, town and village, people gather in the early evening for a communal stroll--the passeggiata.
But seriously, should we blame a population for just being themselves? Their daily habits are instinctive and in-born, based on a few thousand years of cultural customs and socialization. Italians will always be gregarious. They are also a generous society, evident by the thousands of Syrian refugees they took into their country.
After this crisis is a distant memory, Italians will still take part in the passeggiata at the end of the day with neighbors, family and strangers. The old nonni will still gather in groups to exchange gossip. Old men will still sit shoulder to shoulder at tables playing scopa, that quick-paced, mysterious card game. And I hope and pray that their embraces and twice-kissed cheeks remain as they greet each other per sempre.
So Who is Left to Blame?
Some in Italy might blame one single man, specifically, a 38-year-old man who checked himself into a local hospital in the town of Codogno, Lombardy on February 20th. Testing positive with the virus, he became the first recorded patient with the COVID-19 virus in Italy.
But since there wasn't any mass testing for this specific covid-19 disease (there are several coronaviruses besides this one), many health officials believe the virus was already in Italy long before the first case was discovered. “The virus had probably been circulating for quite some time,” Flavia Riccardo, a researcher in the Department of Infectious Diseases at the Italian National Institute of Health said in a TIME interview. “This happened right when we were having our peak of influenza and people were presenting with influenza symptoms.”
Perhaps we can blame the Italian government and Italian industry for their decision-making, allowing Italian companies to import Chinese workers instead of giving jobs to Italians, as in the case of Italian fashion houses bringing in Chinese labor to create "Italian" fashions. An estimated 310,000 Chinese people live and work in Italy--8.3% of the country’s non-EU citizens. Chinese are the third largest group of foreign nationals residing in the country. More than half live in the north, with 16% residing in the provinces of Prato near Florence working in the textile industry. Because of the lock-down, and the fact that these Chinese workers don't have contracts, or work part-time, leaving them with no help from the Italian government when they are laid off. Tens of thousands have already left Italy.
But once again. The virus doesn't have a nationality.
I suggest that no human is to blame. The real culprit is the non-discriminating, un-biased, equitable and even-handed culprit--the coronavirus covid-19 disease pathogen itself.
Viruses recognize no laws of Man.
Viruses obey no immigration rules.
Viruses are color blind to our skin color.
Viruses hold no passports.
Viruses aren't a part of any single religion.
Viruses don't belong to any political party.
Viruses ignore national boundaries.
Viruses don't ask for proof of age.
Viruses attack our homo-sapiens species, of which every race on the planet is part of.
There was a beginning of this crisis, we are now in the middle, and we all have to believe there will come an end.
Andrà tutto bene...
--Jerry Finzi, GVI
Many of us are in lock-down due to coronavirus restrictions and need to find creative ways to take a breath, stop watching the news 24/7 and simply relax a bit. Here's a great way: Take these virtual walking tours of some of Italy's most beautiful and interesting places.
You can start watching these videos on your mobile devices and then Cast the video (also called Mirroring on some devices) to your large screen TV.
Look for this logo when watching on your device.
Enjoy... and take a breath. Andrà tutto bene.
--Jerry Finzi, GVI
As the World Health Organization claimed, "This is not a drill". Italy is the fourth highest country affected by the outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus with its tourist industry taking a huge plunge. Tourism accounts for 13.3% of the Italian economy.
Within the last 24 hours, Italy has reported 41 new deaths from the coronavirus. This brings the number of fatalities in Italy 148. The number of cases also jumped to a new high of 769, reaching 3,858 over the past two weeks.
To illustrate how Italy is being impacted:
Should you travel to Italy right now?
If you are over 60 years old and have underlying health issues -- no. Why take the chance? If you are younger and healthy, you might have the experience that many rarely have--Italy's "must see" sights without crowds. If you are traveling to Southern Italy, you just might have made the safest choice.
Still, stay safe, wash hands often for at least 20 seconds with hot water and soap; don't shake hands of embrace or kiss anyone; if you cough or sneeze, do it into your arm; try not touching your face after touching railings, doorknobs or elevator buttons; avoid public transportation; avoid crowded areas; if you become sick while in Italy, remember, they actually have a fantastic health care system--find a doctor or hospital.
Resta in salute, amici.
One of the highlights of our Voyage throughout Italy was our hot air ballooning adventure, flying over the Tuscan hillside with wisps of smoke filling the air from the burning of vine prunings down below. This flight was memorable not only for the beautiful scenery, but for the pilot that took us up into the Italian skies... Stefano Travaglia.
Sadly, this Mago dell'Aria, a master pilot of ballooning, took his last flight this week on September 14th from his Barberino Taverelle home in Tuscany. As a mutual friend tells it, his wife Gianna said he had planned to work in his garden that morning, but she returned to discover that her dear Stefano had passed away gently in his sleep.
Many knew Stefano. The people of his rural part of the Tuscan and Chianti regions knew him as a neighbor and friend. Always conscious of not disturbing his neighbors' fields or crops when landing, Stefano was quick to offer a bottle of Prosecco to farmers when he landed in their fields. He rarely imparted any damage to these fields, being such a masterful pilot, typically landing his balloon exactly where he wanted it, while not harming crops or other property. (I can attest to this... he landed our balloon after pointing out the landing spot from over a thousand feet above, reminding me of a major league baseball player pointing to the path of his home run).
Thousands upon thousands around the world also knew him as "their" balloon pilot as he helped them discover a peaceful, childlike joy, flying them above vineyards, olive groves, villas or even the medieval towers of San Gimignano. Because he wanted to afford as many people as possible to fly silently through the air, he was the first balloonist in Italy to have a handicapped accessible basket.
Those in the aeronautic and ballooning world knew him for his skills as a pilot. After doing a stint in Manhattan as a commercial photographer, he returned to Italy and began a career with airplanes, but his interests soon turned to lighter than air flight after training with world renowned British balloonists. Today, there are many Italian hot air balloon pilots offering flights throughout Italy who Stefano personally trained. In fact, he and Gianna founded the Association Aerostatics Tuscany.
Stefano was inspired by the first balloon flights of Montgolfier brothers from France in 1783. In fact, the Italian word for hot air balloon is mongolfiera. Second only to France, Italy also became a country with colorful balloons floating over its magnificent landscape. One early Italian ballooning passenger recalled after his flight, "Rome looked like a field which had been seeded with white flakes of plaster, while the Tiber seemed to be a very fine thread”. Stefano witnessed similar reactions to his many adventurers.
Fly your highest in your last flight, Maestro del Cielo. The flight this time must be wonderful.
Our family offers hugs and prayers to Gianna, family and friends. Stefano's memory lives on. Be certain of it.
--Jerry, Lisa and Lucas Finzi
For many years, you couldn't visit. Then you could. Then you couldn't. Then you could again, but only by making an appointment way in advance.
There was a time this magical place was going to ruin, with no one looking over it--caring for it. Then there was a group of volunteers who tried their best to look after its beauty. Then the place was put up for sale and bought, with an uncertain future again... Will the public ever be able to share in this amazing piece of architecture?
Of course, we're talking about Castello di Sammezzano, the Moorish Revival palazzo in Leccio, a 45 minute drive from Florence and not too far from the local Mall Firenze.
The foundations of Sammezzano date back to the Romans and in the middle ages it was a defensive fortress--its most famous visitor being Charlemagne. Later on, its owners included such noble families as the Gaultierotti, the Altoviti and even the Medici.
Around 1600, it was bought by the Portuguese nobleman Sebastiano Ximenes of Aragon and remained in the family until 1816, when it passed into the Panciatichi family via the wife of the last Ximenes d’Aragona.
Two generations later, it became the property of the man who changed its destiny: the Marquis Ferdinando Panciatichi Ximenes d’Aragona.
Between 1842 and 1890, Ferdinando completely reshaped a medieval castle into an Orientalist palace in line with the fashion of the time, particularly in Florence. The result is a stunning mix of the Moorish with the Byzantine, the Indian with the Chinese. Using entirely local craftsmen, he had all the bricks, tiles and friezes made under his supervision on site.
It's almost inconceivable that this palazzo has 365 rooms--one for every day of the year--each with its own name and unique style and decor. The more famous rooms are the Peacock Room with colorful geometric design, the White Room with its Moroccan mosaic tiled floors, the Hall or Mirrors and the octagon Smoking Room.
In the Great White Rotunda there is a glass dome surrounded by a balcony, and the shields that adorn the base of the dome bear inscriptions: Fortitudo, Elementia, Temperantia, Pax, Prudentia, Justitia, and Libertas. There is even a small chapel in the palazzo.
It would seem that the Marquis used just about every type of architectural element to enhance his creation: hidden niches, corners, friezes, windows, columns, labyrinths, capitals, arches, vaults and domes.
Above an archway are the words "Non Plus Ultra", in Latin meaning "no more beyond", a saying that is said to have been inscribed on the Pillars of Hercules (nowadays known as the Strait of Gibralter), in part as a warning to sailors not to travel beyond the edge of the known world. Some think that the Marquis meant to take his visitors beyond the beauty of the known world when they entered his home.
But perhaps, the meaning of a Latin phrase should be thought of in the way the ancient Romans used it, in this case, the highest level that could be attained or the the highest degree of a quality. This is, after all, what becomes evident to any visitor to Sammezzano. The quality of al the details are absolutely astounding. The beauty of the palazzo was even enough to entice Umberto I, King of Italy into visiting Ximenes at Sammezzano in 1878.
After the Second World War Sammezzano became a luxury hotel with apartments, spa, golf and country club until it closed in 1990. In 1999 it was bought by a British investor in 1999, and some stabilization restoration work was done. It has since been abandoned and closed to the public.
In April 2012 a local non-profit committee called FPXA 1813-2013 (an acronym for Ferdinand Panciatichi Ximenes d’Aragon) was formed to attempt to restore and preserve the palazzo. Then came the auctions... three of them to date.
Movimento Save Sammezzano was a group dedicated to finding an owner who would restore and honor the castle. Appreciating the architecture and uniqueness, in 2018 a Dubai-based company placed an offer of $18.1 million on the third auction and is the current owner.
Considering the recent purchase, it is unsure if the Comitato FPXA is going to continue tours. In case they are still arranging tours, contact email@example.com (or join the Facebook page Sammezzano – Comitato FPXA). The Committee typically would organize several visits each year, which sell out almost immediately. www.sammezzano.org.
Otherwise, do as the locals do and hike the many trails and dirt roads that surround the castle. You will see many of the giant sequoias along the eastern slope of the castle. Just be respectful and don't try to enter the castle itself unless you have joined an authorized tour group.
Two of the trails leading to the Sammezzano
Tucked into the pristine landscape of oak and beech trees, streams, meadows and stands of forest is the medieval village of Fiumalbo in the Italian region Emilia-Romagna. It is located about 70 kilometres southwest of Bologna and about 60 kilometres southwest of Modena. Fiumalbo's name evolves from the Latin, flumen album (White River), with reference to the pristine waters of the two rivers that surround the village. The area surrounding the village is dotted with ancient Celtic stone huts, medieval places of worship and the most significant draw to the area, its Natural environment.
A dense network of well-marked trails follow old donkey paths once traveled by shepherds and pilgrims can be traveled on foot, horseback or mountain bike. In addition, the proximity of modern ski resorts is a real bonus in winter. The streams are a destination for fly fishermen. In the vicinity, the nearly 40,000 acre Frignano Park sets the tone with its impressive natural beauty.
The little borgho even has the credentials to prove their beauty, being a member of the Borghi più belli d’Italia association and having been awarded the Italian Touring Club Orange Flag status.
Pistoia is just 7 miles or so over the Abetone pass, helping to unify the 1200 or so borghi. The common local dialect, due to the proximity of the border of Liguria and Tuscany, also helps knit together many of the local customs. The highest peaks of the Modena Apennines are here: Mount Cimone (2165 m) on one side and Mount Lagoni (1962 m) on the other.
The spirit of the Celts are here, too. Not only in the forests, but on the houses of the region... Strange and mysterious, carved stone faces called marcolfe (mummies) are found throughout the region. The symbol of the wolf and talismans of Celtic culture supposedly ward off the malocchio (evil eye).
Celts came to Italy in the fourth century BC and left their mark in the region, evidenced by the Celtic stone huts similar to those found in Ireland and Scotland. Some examples--a few with rye grass roofs--can be found in the village of Valdare and along the road from Fiumalbo to the foot of Mount Cimone.
The cuisine of the region is a mix of both Emilia and Tuscany with tortellone filled with ricotta, black cabbage soup, and a traditional sliced beef dish. Borlenghi, a paper thin crepe similar to carasau from Sardinia, is another traditional dish, stuffed with bacon and salami. Then there is tigelle, a stamped bread embossed with a Celtic rose, indicating its origin.
Main courses feature what comes from the forest--mushrooms and game, accompanied by polenta. Their prideful dessert is the Croccante, invented in Fiumalbo, including natural ingredients such as chestnut honey, white almonds, sugar and caramel.
So, tear up your Must See List for Italy and visit one of Italy's small towns... there is a lot to do here:
Fiaccolata di Carnevale
February: on the night before Ash Wednesday, there is a parade through the village with people carrying birch torches, even torches lighting the stream. The flames signify giving up the coldness and hardships of winter and looking forward toa fruitful spring and summer.
Infiorata del Corpus Domini
Flower Festival on the the Sunday of the Corpus Domini procession through the streets with large, intricate floral carpets created by the inhabitants.
Fiera di Luglio
A sagre (food festival) on the second Sunday of July: food stands and stalls selling local produce, cheese, wine, etc.
Festa di San Bartolomeo
August 23: Feast of St. Bartholomew, the patron saint of the village. The village is illuminated with torches, torches, candles, and even candles lighting of the stream. A saint is accompanied in procession by the brotherhoods of the Whites and the Reds, wearing traditional costumes and carry ancient banners. The festival ends with fireworks.
A living nativity, December 24, biennial. People are dressed in the clothes of their ancestors, carrying out traditional crafts. The highpoint is the Wise Men on horseback following a path lit by torches that winds through the old town and leading to the Nativity scene and the Christ child.
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Calascio is a small village and "Rocca" (fortress) in the province of L'Aquila, in the Abruzzo region of central Italy. It is located in the Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga National Park.
The earliest village on this site was of Norman origin since the 9th century AD. From the year 1000 onward, it came under control of the Barony of Carapelle (14th century), the Piccolomini family (15th century) and then to the Medici family (16th century), each in succession adding to and enlarging the massive fortress on the rocca above the village.
Rocca Calascio, situated at 4800 feet in elevation, lies in an imposing landscape and is one of the most interesting military-defensive structures of its type. It is the highest and one of the oldest fortresses in Italy and affords amazingly dramatic photography, especially at sunrise and sunset. In fact, even Hollywood has been here before--as example--for the filming of Lady Hawke.
The fortress dominates the southern side of the Gran Sasso mountain range. It has all the characteristic features of a medieval watchtower. The tower would have been transformed into the current Rocca during the 15th century.
At first, there was only a single watchtower for military purposes. There is a walled courtyard with four cylindrical towers at the corners. A taller inner tower was added in the thirteenth century that collapsed during an earthquake centuries ago. The central tower was never rebuilt and today only the exterior walls remain. Curiously, during the time of the Medici, it was used to guard the paths used to move the royal flocks of sheep to their pastures.
Parco Nazionale del Gran Sasso
e Monti della Laga
The real draw to this part of Abruzzo is the surrounding natural landscape with amazing biodiversity... flora, fauna, waterfalls and gorges. Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga National Park covers an area of 580 square miles and is one of the largest parks in Italy. It offers skiing, trekking, mountain biking, horseback riding, mountain climbing, paragliding and more. In addition, from June through October there are over 200 festivals and sagre (food festivals), so your culinary and cultural apetite will surely be satisfied.
The Park consists of three mountain groups: Gran Sasso d'Italia chain, Laga massif, and Gemelli Mountains. The Park is also characterized by the presence of the highest peak of the Apennines, Corno Grande at nearly 10,00 feet tall. The most southern glacier in Europe is located here too--the Calderone. Trekkers might be surprised by the prescence of the Osservatorio di Campo Imperatore, a telescopic observatory high up on a mountaintop along with its own botanical garden. In the town of Fonte Cerreto, there is a large funivia (cable car) to take you up to the top of the mountain.
Bottom line... if you love mountains, nature and back country activities, a visit to the Park and Calascio will be a great alternative to the "must see" tourist site in Italy.
Starting a new tradition to celebrate the holiday season in 2018, the town of Itri in Lazio hosts Notte di Luce, illuminates its historic center with over 22,000 glass jars with candles. The lights are artistically designed by scores of volunteers in magical and surprising ways, turning the village into a glorious flickering wonderland. It's amazing that the candles all get lit within a short period of time at the beginning of this wonderful evening. The luminaries are hung on windows, doors, over streets, on facades of buildings and even on the steps and stones visitors walk upon.
If you want to enjoy the holiday festivities of small-town Italy, Itri might be just the place to be. This is certain to be a tradition that continues for years.
City of Itri Tel: -07717321
Web Site: comune.itri.lt.it