In the baroque town of Caltagirone, Sicily, the main attraction is its ceramics industry. The name of the town derives from the Arabic word qal’at-al-ghiran, meaning Castle of Vases. There are ceramics everywhere you look... as tile murals on buildings, as signs, and in the many ceramics shops just waiting for a savvy Voyager to select a few special pieces to take back home.
But the tiles also adorn its stairways, the most majestic being the Scale di Santa Maria del Monte, built in 1608. Start to climb the 142 steps and you will be reading the town's history, each step telling their stories on hand-painted ceramic tiles that clad each stair’s riser. There are many fantastic characters, battle scenes, landscapes and symbolic patterns. It's a wonder to think that the staircase was rebuilt by the town after being destroyed by an earthquake in 1693 which destroyed most of the town. The Scale is a symbol of the town's resilience and rightfully, was honored as a UNESCO world heritage site in 2002.
When you arrive at the top of this kaleidoscopic ascent, you turn around only to notice that the steps' colors have disappeared, seemingly to allow you to focus on the wonderful views of the town itself with its Baroque architecture. With tiles and ceramics being part of the architecture of the town, anyone who loves colorful ceramics would love visiting Caltagirone.
You can see wonderful tile installations in its churches and palazzi, the Majolica Bridge of San Francesco, as well as in the Giardino Villa Comunale, a well cared for public garden. Worth a look are elaborate balcony of Casa Ventimiglia in Via Roma and Palazzo della Magnolia, in Via Luigi Sturzo with its terracotta embellishments.
If you go:
Caltagirone is located 43 miles southwest of Catania in southern Sicily. You can get there by bus from Catania but a car is recommended. Today the town thrives on tourists and ceramic collectors who visit over 130 ceramics studios and shops. The style of ceramics here is called Maiolica (Majolica) and is distinctively different from other areas of Sicily.
Museo Regionale della Ceramica
Examples of Sicilian ceramic objects dating from prehistoric times to the present day. One enters the museum through the so-called Teatrino (Little Theater), a belvedere dating from 1792 with steps and its decorated balustrade.
Teatrino del Bonaiuto, Giardini Pubblici 96041
Caltagirone, Sicily, Italy
Tel: 39 0933 58423
Castello Scaligero in the commune of Sirmione sits on a thin peninsula jutting out into the southern end of Lake Garda. Essentially, the ramparts of the castle function as a small fortified harbor for what was the Scaligera fleet. The castle has a de facto moat (the surrounding lake) and even a drawbridge through which visitors enter. There are 146 steps which take you up to ramparts of the walls which look down upon the little harbor. There is a small walkway around which bowmen would be stationed to ward off any intruders from the lake in addition to defensive towers.
Castello Scaligero is perhaps the best preserved castle from medieval times in Italy, constructed in the middle of the 13th century on top of the remains of an ancient Roman fortress. Taking over a century to build, two courtyards and an other fortifications were also added. In 1405 the Republic of Venice took control and strengthened the castle even further.
If you decide to visit, consider that in high season Lake Garda can get very busy. Still, there is so much to do in the surrounding area, even water parks and campgrounds if you're so inclined:
Sirmione Historic Center - After visiting the Castello, take a stroll around the old town of Sirmione. There are shops, restaurants, gelaterias, pizzerias and beautiful architecture. Be sure to take in a passaggiata (stroll) at dusk to Piazza Callas and its pier that juts out into the lake.
Archaeological site of Grotte di Catullo - Ruins of a sizable Roman villa on a peninsula with an olive grove & a nearby archeological museum. Can get crowded in high season but worth a visit.
Camping Village San Francisco
Mantua & Peschiera del Garda - Mantua is a wonder town surrounded by manmade lakes which create a huge moat. Peschiera del Garda is a "water" town--surrounded on all sides by the River Mincio which connects to the lake.
Lake Garda Cruises
GVI Travel Tip: Best visited in the off season.
Here's a tip for anyone wanting to walk the Via Krupp in Capri:
Although the adjacent Augustus Gardens is open and worth a visit for its wonderful views of the Faraglioni rocks on the one side and the Bay of Marina Piccola on the other, the Via Krupp pathway (with its drop of 300 feet) has been closed for decades due to a danger of falling rocks. You can still look down onto the Via Krupp from up above. Perhaps it's a blessing that the Via Krupp is closed... if you went down, you would then have to get back up!
In addition to the Augustus Gardens, you can visit the Charterhouse of St. Giacomo, built in 1371, one of the oldest structures on Capri. The former monastery and cloisters today houses a High School, the Diefenbach Museum and, during the summer, functions as venue for concerts and cultural events.
From Capri's Piazzetta: It is about 1/4 mile walk along Via Vittorio Emanuele, Via Federico Serena, and, finally, Via Matteotti.
Click HERE FOR WALKING MAP
Entry: 1 Euro.
Open from 1 March to 15 November - 9AM–7:30PM
Free for children under 11
Entry for both the Augustus Garden and Charterhouse of St. Giacomo - 3 Euro
The best times to visit are early morning and late afternoon, when the gardens are less crowded.
Palio della Rana
The Palio della Rana is a frog race--well, sort of. It's a wheelbarrow race with frogs. It usually takes place the weekend after Easter in the town of Fermignano, between Urbino and Urbania in central Italy's Marche region. Contestants, representing each of the seven contrade (neighborhoods) dress in historic costume and race with frogs atop small wheelbarrows, trying to reach the finish line before the frog hops off. Each frog is placed on a blue wooden carriola (wheelbarrow). The scarriolanti (wheelbarrow runners) race to the finish line while trying to keep the frogs on their wheelbarrows. If a frog jumps off, the competitor must stop, place the frog back on the wheelbarrow platform, and then keep going. There's also a procession in historical costume and food.
The date of Rome's founding (in 753BC) is celebrated on April 21 so if you're in Rome, watch for festivals, concerts, and special events. There's usually a fireworks display over the Tiber River and gladiator shows around the forum area. Find out more in April Events in Rome.
Palio dei Buoi
In the towns of Asigliano and Caresana on April 23 (the saint day of San Giorgio) the Palio dei Buoi (oxen race) takes place every year. Historically in this area, oxen were used in pairs to tow the plow and to carry out other heavy jobs in the countryside. Both the Caresana and Asigliano races have been held for over 700 years. San Giorgio is the patron saint of farm workers. Recently, the race has been delayed due to protests from animal rights activists.
Festival of San Marco
The Festa di San Marco is a traditional celebration dedicated to Venice’s patron St Mark the Evangelist, believed to be the author of the Gospel of Mark. Several relics from the saint still remain in the city, who is also said to have founded the Church of Alexandria. Festa di San Marco is also known as the Rosebud Festival or Festa del bocolo (rosebud in Venetian dialect) where traditionally men gift the woman they love with a single red rose, to commemorate an old legend connected to the history of Venice. A highlight of the festival occurs in Saint Mark's Square on April 25 including a procession to the basilica. (See Liberation Day below)
International Handicrafts Fair
Since 1931 in Florence, the Mostra Mercato Internazionale Dell'Arginianto, the world's premier market of artistic crafts, will be held from April 21 through May 1. Spread out over 55,ooo square meters in the Fortezza da Basso, over 800 exhibitors from all over Italy and from 50 countries will display and sell their beautiful Italian and international handcrafted items. All sorts of crafts are on display including lamps, pottery, rugs, fabrics, musical instruments, masks and statues. There will also be food to enjoy and taste, with many artisinal products, wines, gelato and more.
The Race of the Ring
The Corsa all'Anello in Narni in Umbria is part of the celebrations held from April 24 through May 13 this year. During this medieval jousting competition, horsemen try to snare rings. There are also a historical procession and other events.
The artichoke (did you know it is an aphrodisiac?) is the object of a three-day Festa di Carciofo (artichoke festival) held from April 12th through 14th in the coastal town of Ladispoli, just outside of Rome in Lazio. It's been a tradition now to honor the Roman Artichoke at this special festival. It forms the foundation of a wide selection of dishes created specially at this event. Visitors can sample the artichoke-related dishes on offer, which contain a delicious and unique combination of flavors.
But the most interesting thing to see is artichoke sculpture competition. Entrants can create anything they wish, from boats to life-sized animals such as tortoises, horses and elephants!
San Biagio Day
San Biagio is the Patron Saint of Avetrana in Southern Puglia. He was known in his time for being a doctor and saver of lives, and for being the Bishop of Sebaste between the third and fourth centuries. He was also known for his firm religious beliefs, and unfortunately, these were to ultimately cost him his own life. Having been imprisoned for his Christian beliefs, he was put on trial and – having refused to renounce his faith – was beheaded in 316. April 28th and 29th sees a two-day celebration of San Biagio with a combination of sombre procession and later upbeat fireworks, luminarie (display of lights) and music from bands as well as street fairs, food and drink.
Liberation Day (National Holiday)
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the day that Italy was released from the Nazis and the rule of Mussolini by Allied troops. The following year in 1946, the first national holiday was held to mark this occasion. The country will come together to remember those that fell in the war and to honor the dead. In addition, there will also be festivals, concerts and bands to mark the day.
In Venice, it will be a doubly special day – in addition to Liberation Day, Venetians will also be marking the Festival Of St Mark, the city's patron saint. Bands and musicians will provide a series of aural treats, while markets and carnivals will add to the fun. The famous boat race, Regata di Traghetti, will also see teams of gondoliers competing to win first prize while ferrying passengers.
Monte Cassino, in the province of Lazio, is located 81 miles South of Rome is the site of the ancient Roman town of Casinum, but it is best known for its historic Benedictine Abbey that was a focal point for one the most bloody WWII battles. It was St. Benedict of Nursia who established this very first Benedictine monastery around the year 529.
After months of battle and tremendous loss of life in 1944, the Abbey suffered extremely severe damage as a result of bombardment by the Allied Forces. After decades of extensive restoration, this architectural wonder and historic landmark once again attracts tourists and pilgrims from all over the world. The site has been visited many times by Popes and other senior clergy, including Pope Benedict XVI in May 2009.
This modern rebuilding was not the only time Monte Cassino needed to be reconstructed. In 884 the Saracens sacked and then burned it down, and the Abbot Bertharius was killed during the attack. The monastery was subsequently rebuilt and reached the apex of its fame in the 11th century under the abbot Desiderius (abbot 1058–1087), who later became Pope Victor III.
St. Benedict founded a hospital that is considered today to have been the first in Europe of the new era. Benedictine monks took care of the sick and wounded there according to Benedict’s Rule. Benedict founded twelve communities for monks at nearby Subiaco and hospitals were founded as adjuncts to the monasteries to provide charity. Soon many monasteries were founded throughout Europe, and everywhere there were hospitals like those in Monte Cassino. By the 10-11th centuries Monte Cassino became the most famous cultural, educational, and medical center of Europe with great library in Medicine and other sciences. Many physicians came there for medical and other knowledge.
The site was also sacked by Napoleon's troops in 1799. After the dissolution of the Italian monasteries in 1866, Monte Cassino became a national monument.
The WWII Destruction
Curiously, during the Battle of Monte Cassino in the Italian Campaign of World War II, the abbey itself was not captured or used by the German troops as part of their fortifications. It was Albert Kesselring, the German commander, who wanted to prevent the historical site from becoming a victim of war.
But the abbey fell directly on the Gustav Line, which stretched from the Tyrrhenian to the Adriatic coast in the east, a crucial boundary. Monte Cassino itself overlooked a main highway on the path to Rome. On 15 February 1944 the abbey was almost completely destroyed in a series of heavy American-led air raids, an order given by the Commander-in-Chief of Allied Armies in Italy, General Sir Harold Alexander of the British army. The order was based on erroneous reports from troops on the ground that Germans were occupying the monastery. After the abbey was destroyed, it was confirmed that the only people killed in the monastery by the bombing were 230 Italian civilians seeking refuge there. It was only until after the bombing that its ruins became occupied by a German paratrooper division, because of its excellent vantage point.
The Abbey was rebuilt after the war; Pope Paul VI reconsecrated it in 1964.
What to See at Montecassino Abbey Today
Three war cemeteries were built: the "Cassino War Cemetery", housing the Commonwealth victims, the Polish Cemetery and the Germanic Cemetery.
The basilica, richly decorated in stucco and mosaics, enshrines the relics of St. Benedict and his sister, St. Scholastica, which survived the bombings. The abbey museum displays medieval art and artifacts from the monastery and explains the history of monasticism.
When the Carnivale di Viareggio began, there was a modest parade of festively decorated carriages in the heart of the old beach side resort town. The carnival's roots go back to 1873 when the bourgious of the town were protesting high taxes. They decorated carriages in a mocking fashion to poke fun of politicians in power. At the beginning of the 20th century, the parade moved to the wide Promenade where its popularity as well as the festive floats continued to grow, until today the displays are gigantic in size--some over 60 feet tall!
In 1954 the infant RAI TV broadcast the first ever live scenes of the carnival and in 1958 the event was covered throughout Europe on the Eurovision network. Due to their popularity and the floats growing dimensions, huge aircraft style hangers were built to store and construct them on Via Marco Polo.
The Carnival in days past
In 2001 the new, 800 foot long, elliptically shaped Cittadella del Carnevale was opened, an extraordinary architectural complex entirely dedicated to the creation and preservation of the Carnival of Viareggio. It's "Hangers" (still the term used) are immense, and while each bay's door is about 45 feet tall, the finished floats can be even taller--up to 60 feet--with their top parts being added by dedicated cranes after they are rolled out of their hangers.
Today the Viareggio Carnival claims to be the largest Italian folk event with a budget of € 5 million per year. The "Hanger" itself is also used for concerts and other public events throughout the summer.
Every year during the Mardi Gras season, the Carnival of Viareggio is live on national television (RAI 3) bringing its color, pageantry and humor to millions. Many famous celebrities, sports figures and even politicians come to Viareggio to admire their cartapesta (papier mâché) effigies, some poking polite fun, others with more blatant political or social commentary. The Carnival lasts for an entire month's worth of both daytime and nighttime festivities with parades of allegorical floats, local parties, masked balls and festivals. The sociopolitical commentary and satire is obvious (and sometimes shocking) in the design of many floats.
The main ingredient of the flats are characters--animals, people, monsters and characters from the likes of Swift, Andersen, the Brothers Grimm, Disney or even from popular films and graphic novels (comic books). The floats are usually accompanied by dozens of dancers and singers, and believe it or now, these huge creations are animated! (The videos below are worth watching... Cast or Stream onto your smart TV to watch the entire parade).
Viareggio is on the northern coast of Tuscany, about 12 miles north of Pisa and would be a wonderful way to spend the Mardi Gras season in Italy.
Carnivale di Viareggio website.
One of the most beautiful towns we visited in Puglia was Polignano al Mare. We walked the old historic center, took lots of photos, and were amazed by their beach, hugged by rocky cliffs of the Saracen Cove on either side. One of the most unusual offerings is the Grotta Palasezze, a restaurant built into a large grotto hanging just meters over the sea. If you frequent pretty much any social media sites about Italy, I'm certain you've seen photos of the place. It's definitely jaw-droppingly beautiful.
To be honest, Voyaging with an eleven-year old, we decided not to go there for dinner. You see, I had researched this place before our Voyage ever started. Not simply because we thought it wasn't kid-friendly (it really isn't), and not because our (then, 11 year-old) son Lucas wouldn't enjoy it. In actuality, he has a very sophisticated palette and handles him self very well whenever we go to posh places. We're always given compliments about him--ever since he was a toddler. There were two other main reasons...
One is the price. This place is very expensive. You're paying for their uniqueness and the view. They charge €10 per person for cover. They'll charge you €50 for a €10 bottle of regional wine which you can usually find in a local alimentari for around €6, but the rest of the wine list will cost from €100 - €600 a bottle. (We tend to like moderately priced, good wines and never pay over-inflated restaurant prices when we can avoid it). You'll pay another €45 or so for a single serving aperitivo. Then another €45 for la primo of pasta or risotto and €45 per secondi--fish or meat entrees. And be careful about surcharges ("market price") for things like shrimp and prawns (up to €150 a pound or more!) If you want to have a six plate tasting menu instead, that'll set you back €140 each. For dessert, a semifreddo is about €15.
So, given the exchange rate when we were there, if we did three tastings, one bottle of mineral water, desserts and no wine, we still would have spent over $600!
The second reason we opted no to go? This place is way too formal for our tastes. I mean, the waiters usually are dressed better than the clientele. There is an old-school dress code in place here... but the odd thing is, they really don't enforce it (for nicely dressed people), otherwise they'd be turning away most of the more casually dressed tourist clientele. Just don't show up wearing shorts. They will turn you away with a real attitude, reservation or not.
This is the new millennium, after all. "Dress codes" are pretty much meaningless, so why should the wait staff have to dress so darned stuffy, too? It's damned off-putting. Besides, if I'm going to be paying such over-inflated prices, I should be able to dress any damned way I want. In reality, you get an odd mix of tourists dressed nicely but casually, mixed in with a few locals dressed for their "bella figura" having dinner for a special event--anniversary or whatever.
And in the end, there are two things that prove this is an overpriced place marketed to foreign tourists: The menus are printed in both Italian and English--a sure sign of a tourist joint. Secondly (according to many online reviewers, and perhaps most important of all), the staff tends to rush you along through your meal, unlike most ristoranti. It's the Italian custom never to rush through a meal--especially when you're in a restaurant. Most local places expect to have only one cover per table each night. People may take 4 hours to enjoy their meal and conversation. At Grotta Palazzase they are trying to move you out of the way so they can have at least two sittings each evening, perhaps as many as four. Not very Italian of them, is it?
As it turns out, we still enjoyed the views of the sea at a chic bistro-pizzeria at the other end of the little bay, and had wonderful wine, fantastic aperitivi, the best pizzas in all of Italy and amazing desserts--all for around €60 for the three of us--at Terazza Pizzeria.
In the end, if you really want to have the experience of dining in Polignano al Mare, try the Terazza Pizzeria (very affordable, casual), or Il Bastione (affordable, casual) with an outdoor dining terrace hanging on the cliff above the Cove. It has a dramatic view of the Cove and its houses clinging to the cliff with a more affordable and diversified menu. (How does €60 for two sound?) The views will stay with you forever--along with most of your cash! If one compares the photos of the dishes served in Il Bastione and Grotta Palasezze, you'll see the quality looks very similar. This is Puglia, after all... most places serve wonderful food--especially from the sea.
Il Bastione, above - Grotta Palasezze, below
But if you're really hell bent on eating dinner in a cave, I suggest taking a drive to Matera, the Sassi city, where most of the restaurants in the Sassi district are in caves. No sea view, but still a great, romantic experience, especially if you take a passeggiata (stroll) down to the Piazza along the edge of the gorge at sunset.
Seventeen year old Giacinto Consiglio attends the Leonardo da Vinci high school in Bisceglie, Puglia. He designed the Florence Duomo and Baptistry entirely in Legos and will build the scale model, from the size of 60" long, 24" wide and 24" tall in the Tuscan capital on October 21 at the Opera del Duomo Museum, from 10am to 7pm .
The project will require over twenty thousand bricks of ten different colors, divided into about 400 different shapes--parts contributed by Lego enthusiasts from all around the world living in nine countries. Giacinto's work can be followed step by step by the public.
From October 22 to November 9, 2017, the model will be displayed in a room of the museum for which an entrance fee will not apply. On November 11 and 12, the play cathedral and baptistery will moved to Obi Hall for the Bricks in Florence Festival.
Young Giancintois supported by members of the AFOL group (Adult Fans of Lego), TuscanyBricks enthusiasts and the Italian Lego users group.
It never ceases to amaze me how interesting Italy is, and how far back its culture goes. In fact, nearly every region has its share of evidence of man in the earliest days of prehistory, such as the images carved into the bald rock face at the
Parco Nazionale delle Incisioni Rupestri (Incised Rocks National Park) in the alpine Valle Camonica, Lombardy. There you will find prehistoric images of hunters and their game, warriors, a primitive chariot, grass huts and other neolithic symbols.
Valle Camonica was settled by primitive tribes 15,000 years ago, at the end of last Ice Age, after the melting glacier first carved out the valley. It is likely that the first humans visited the valley in epipaleolithic times, and appear to have settled by the Neolithic period. When the Ancient Romans extended their dominions north of the River Po, they encountered a people called the Camunni, of unknown origin, populating the valley. About 300,000 petroglyphs survive from this period.
This was the first Italian archaeological park focusing on the carvings in Valle Camonica, opened in 1955, and is the primary site in a network of similar rock art parks that has grown up since the 1970s in the area. It contains 104 engraved rocks at an altitude of about 1200 feet. The engravings are seen on exposed outcrops of purple-grey colored Permian sandstone (Verrucano Lombardo), smoothed and shaped by ancient glaciers. After the glaciers finished their work polishing and exposing the mountaintop, the prehistoric inhabitants who live in the valley, ions before Christ walked the Earth, took over and decorated them with both illustrative and symbolic images, showing their connection to both the natural and spiritual worlds.
Interestingly, most of the engravings were made by striking the rock surface with a hammer-stone, chipping small pieces out as they carved images into the stone's surface. There are also a smaller number of images made by scraping techniques.
Most of the Naquane engravings date from the Neolithic (5th millennium BC) to the Iron Age (1st millennium BC). The phenomenon was particularly common during the latter period, when the valley was inhabited by the Camunni, although historical-era engravings, Roman and modern, are also present.
The road leading to the park passes by additional rock carving sites of Dos de l’Arca and Le Sante, finds from which may be seen in the Capo di Ponte museum (MUPRE).
As illustrated in the photos below, I'm amazed at how accurate some of the drawings are when compared to their real world counterparts...
Parco di Seradina-Bedolina
The Municipal Archaeological Park of Seradina-Bedolina was set up in 2005 and, located on the right bank of the river Oglio, collects inside its rocks primarily engraved with the Bronze Age (2000 BC) and the Iron Age (1000 BC ).
Il Parco Archeologico Nazionale
dei Massi di Cemmo
In the small valley of Pian delle Greppe, not far from the hamlet of Capo di Ponte, rises the National Archaeological Park of the Cassie Massi, an archaeological area of great importance in the history of the studios of Camuna peoples rock art. There are hundreds of carvings in this park, some dated back to the ninth millennium BC.
Parco di Interesse Sovracomunale
del Lago Moro Luine e Monticolo
The archaeological site of Luine boasts purple colored stone outcrops with engravings dating to the Mesolithic period, along with stone huts and dry stone structures used by one or more prehistoric communities to conduct collective ceremonies.
Il Parco Archeologico di
The Asinino-Anvòia Archaeological Park is located in the heart of the Ossimo-Borno plateau. The site is characterized by standing stone alignments from the Copper Age (3rd Milennium BC).
Riserva Naturale Incisioni Rupestri
di Ceto, Cimbergo e Paspardo
The Reserve is the largest protected archaeological area of Camonica Valley, extending over 750 acres spanning the three municipalities of Ceto (with Nadro village), Cimbergo and Paspardo. The engraved rocks, some as old as the 5th millennium BC, are nestled in a natural mid-mountainous environment alternating at places with man-made structures. You can spend hours to days exploring this area.
But what really makes me pazzo is the thousands of tourists who put
Casa di Giulietta (Juliette's House) on their must see list when they visit the beautiful Renaissance city of Verona. Here's a reality check so you don't waste your time
(and € 6.00) on #faketourist stuff when there is so much amazing history and beauty all over Italy:
For me, this pilgrimage is totally bogus and a waste of time. I've been to Clos Lucé in France and stood at the bed where Da Vinci died pondering his death mask made minutes after he passed on. Real. I've been a to a dungeon where Joan of Arc was held prisoner. Real. I've been to see and feel the actual desks where the Framers of the U.S. Constitution penned that great document. Real. I've stood under the great ceiling in the Sistine Chapel where Michelangelo climbed his scaffold for four years. Real. I stood where the Caesars stood in the Colosseum watching blood sports. Real. I visited each room under the Seven Gables in that famous house. Real. I visited the apartment where Victor Hugo penned his Hunchback story. Real. I've even picnicked at the spot where George Washington crossed the Delaware--a few miles from our home. Real.
But Romeo & Juliette in Verona? Go see their amphitheater instead--or re-read the play.