Florence named best city in Europe
Last year travelers chose once more Florence as the best city in Europe in the Travel+Leisure awards. Just walking around is enough to realized why. In just few square kilometers no only you can find over 1 million works of Renaissance but also some of the most iconic buildings in Italy
Along the Arno River is the famous Ponte Vecchio, the oldest bridge in Florence. On this bridge you will find many shops, especially jewelries, but in the evenings is a great place for a ‘passeggiata’
A great spot for coffee or an aperitivo is the terrace of La Rinascente shop, right in the city center. With 360 view of the city this is a great place to admire Florence famous red roof tops
For me the highlight of this Florence trip was the roof top of the Hotel Plaza Luchessi. Here I found the perfect spot to photograph this beautify city at low light plus the perfect place to stay in Florence!
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Amalfi Coast & Euroconca Ristorante
There is a wonderful little place and restaurant along the Amalfi Coast which I discovered years ago but is always difficult to visit. The road is so busy during the summer months that it can take up to 3 hrs to reach by car!
Euroconca Ristorante is in Conca dei Marini, a small village just between Amalfi and Positano. From Salerno it is only 25 kms drive but in high season the small roads are so busy that it can take forever to get there! This time we came up with a good solution: a boat trip instead! We left our rented car in Salerno and took a boat to Amalfi.
This is such an easy stress-free way to visit the ‘Costiera’. From Salerno to Amalfi the boat take just 35 min and costs 8 euros per person each way. For some reason you cannot buy return, so you need to buy your return ticket on your way back. Seating on the upper level we enjoyed the views of all the little towns along the coast, Vietri Sul Mare, Maiori, Minori, Ravello among them.
A family Own local restaurant
Conca dei Marini is just 4 kms away from Amalfi, around 25 minutes on the local bus. Once arrived at Euroconca Restaurant we were warmly welcomed by brothers Massimo and Giuseppe Milo. Massimo as a head chef creates delicious dishes with fresh fish and local products, Giuseppe produces the charm as front of the house.
As 30 people were on their way for lunch, they rushed us to their beautiful terrace so we could have a good table and what a view we had! When you sit down and look to the majestic scenery you don’t mind the long travel to get here!
Fjord of Furore
After a wonderful meal and delicious local sparkling white wine, we walked 4 minutes down the road to visit Furore, another enchanting village next to the restaurant. Even if Furore is hidden in a fjord is quite a famous spot in the Amalfi Coast, every July an international diving competition takes place there. I preferred to go all the way down in a more civilized way, taking the steps down to the lovely beach!
Amalfi for the boat back to Salerno
On the way back and just before we took the boat back to Salerno we had a quick stroll around Amalfi, definitely worth being among hundreds of people just to see the beautiful cathedral and Piazza del Duomo!
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Going back to Termoli
It is something about Molise that keeps bringing you back. On my last visit I heard about Tremiti Islands so I knew I had to come back to Termoli. Staying in Termoli is the best way to visit these Islands.
This time we stayed in a fantastic B&B in the centre of town, Dimora Monsignore . It’s very convenient, close to many bars, restaurants and the local port plus you can park your car right outside at no extra cost. Owners Nicola and his wife Tonia will provide you with a five-star service, delicious breakfast with gorgeous homemade cakes and bread. With prices from only 70 euros per room per night (in low season) it’s a great place to stay.
As mentioned in a previous post , Termoli is quite a small place, it just took 10 min walk to the beach. Even in mid-September it was still quite warm and sunny. As expected the beach was almost empty, Italians consider 27 degrees to be too cold to be on the beach!
As the evening draw in, we walked towards the historical center. An ‘aperitivo’ watching Termoli’s magical sunset is the best option. In this town there are many good choices for dinner but this time we eat at Trattoria Tipica L’Opera here you can find delicious dishes and wines typical of Molise at a very reasonable price.
A day Tour to the Tremiti Island
From Termoli to the Tremiti Island a ferry ride is under one hour and boats departs as early as 8:40am. Thanks to Nicola we found Giusseppe, a very friendly captain with his boat ‘Maria Grazia’ based in the Tremiti Islands. For a full day around the islands including lunch and local wine Giuseppe will be happy to charge 60 euros per person. We were the only couple on his boat but he was kind enough to keep his word and took us out for the day.
Where are the Tremiti Islands?
Tremiti Islands are in the Gargano Peninsula, in the province of Foggia, Puglia. It is the only archipelago in the Adriatic coast made up of several small islands, among them San Domino, San Nicola and Capraia Island. The waters are just the most majestic aquamarine, so clean that you will think for a minute you are sailing in the Caribbean! Our first stop was in the Island of Caprara just above the ‘Padre Pio’ statute under the ‘Cala dei Pesci’, a feast of beautiful fishes of all sizes and colors were all around the statute.
Our next stop was at the San Domino Island. Here we visited ‘Grotta del Sale’ (Salt Cave) where Giuseppe dropped anchor and cooked a delicious lunch while we were snorkeling. He served us with a local soup, the ‘Tremiti Brodetto’ a pasta based tomato fish soup, simple but utterly delicious! After a couple of jars of local wine and dessert we finished our trip going around the unique San Nicola Island, the smallest and most populated island of all. Here you can admire the Fortress and Santa Maria Abbey, which from our boat looked exactly like Casterly Rock from the Game of thrones!
Trattoria Tipica L’Opera – +39 0875 808001
Dimora Monsignori B&B – +39 327 872 3945
Captain Giuseppe ‘Maria Grazia’ Boat – +39.389.0304586
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After a fabulous Fam Trip I could not leave Molise without seeing its famous coast in the Adriatic Sea. A few days after finishing our mountain trip I rented a car in Naples and drove all the way to Termoli. From here I knew I could explore the short 39 kilometers of Molise’s coast.
Driving up to Termoli, I found myself once more immersed in the majestic Molise mountains. After driving pass Campobasso landscape certainly change, softer hills and valleys were emerging. This main road towards Termoli goes over the Guardalfiera Lake, apparently the longest road over water in Europe. Just driving across this beautiful landscape was worth the visit!
My fist visit was to a family owned vineyard, Borgo Di Colloredo in the town of Nuova Cliternia. The Di Giulio family arrived from Abruzzo to Molise in 1960 to start a new life, planting their first vineyard and never looked back. Nearly 70% of their wine is now exported to Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and Canada. They produce the typical southern Italian grapes varieties such as Aglianico, Greco, Trebbiano, Malvasia and Falanghina but they are also experimenting and innovating with other varieties.
They also have a stunning luxury retreat call Masseria Le Piane. This is a private rural house with 4 rooms, restaurant, swimming pool and quite the best views of the Adriatic Sea! It is so secluded and peaceful that the only way you can reach it if by driving into a ‘Tratturo’. What is a Tratturo? Molise’s ancient roads where shepherds used to move their herds between Abruzzo and Puglia. Today these wild roads are quite popular to explore the region, lots of travel companies organize adventure tours by foot, jeep or horse riding.
Next stop? A visit to an award-winning olive oil factory in Ururi, the Marina Colonna Factory . My first impression was that I had arrived into a natural conservation area, the sound of birds in the trees surrounding the main house were incredible. Signora Marina kindly show me around her estate. The business is being in her family for over 200 years. Her factory produce four different oils from 18000 olive trees. You could also stay in this charming estate. Ms Marina has a luxurious two-bedroom private apartment in her stately family house.
I drove back to Termoli eager to see what somebody said was the most colorful sunset in Italy. With camera in hand I walked around the very small old town. It took less than 5 min to find the perfect spot, a little balcony behind the main square overlooking the bay. It was quite spectacular, friendly locals were stopping all the time to reassure me I was in fact in the best place to see their sunset!
Waking up very early next day to an even better sunrise I walked around the beach, towards the only surviving Trabocco. These are old wood constructions over the water designed by fishermen in the 18th century, most of them now close to the public. The sea in Termoli is one of the cleanest I have seeing in Italy. Their spectacular shades of aquamarine and emerald colors reminded me of ‘Palafitos’, over water bungalows in my beloved Venezuela.
My final destination were the towns of Carovilli, Guadiarola and Sepino. In Carovilli I had the best meal of this trip, at the Masseria Monte Pizzi Here Nadia and her family will prepare delicious meals with local and homegrown products and if you would like to enjoy their excellent wine you could also stay in one of their four rooms overnight. In this Masseria you will enjoy without a doubt the best views of Molise and the Apennine mountains!
In Guardiarola I visited Barak’s Casale Kolidur is another enchanting rural house in the Molise mountains. The owner Barak runs many different activities, from Yoga retreats to private sailing excursion to the Tremiti Islands. Final visit of the trip was to Saepinum, today known as Altilia. This was a Samnites town (600 BC) capture by the Romans in 293 BC. Remains of the city walls, theater, temples of Jupiter and Apollo plus other city buildings can be explored and you can go as close as you like! Free entrance.
Now you know, Molise is an Italian region full of history, beautiful nature, amazing landscapes, divine food, great wine, award winning olive oil and extremely friendly people. If you want to feel true Italian hospitality and reasonable prices head towards this hidden gem of Italy!
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Last minute invitation!
Last weekend I had a last-minute invitation to Molise by the Italian Tourist Board. First thing people asked when I said I was going to Molise was: where?
Molise is one of the smallest and probably lesser known regions in Italy. It’s Italy’s 20th region and the last to be created, in 1963, after they decided to separate from Abruzzo. Its borders are with Abruzzo, Lazio, Campania and Puglia and if you don’t know your Italian geography that well, it is kind of above the heal of your Italian boot map. I’ve been curious about this region as in all my years in the travel industry Molise has never been promoted, no wonder why the hashtag #MoliseEsiste is popular! (Molise does exist!)
You can reach the region by flying into Rome or Pescara. We flew into Rome and drove two hours south east until we reached the town of Castel del Giudice. This in what is known as ‘alto Molise’ (top of Molise) right next to Abruzzo. My first impression was how green and unspoiled the landscape was, it didn’t look anything like the other surrounding regions I know very well. Our first day started full of promise in a 4 x 4. Alessandro and Michele from Molise Explore were taking us for a drive around a valley full of wild horses, cattle, wild flowers and no roads! . The Montenero Valcocchiara valley is ideal for enjoying this wild and unique landscape. A glimpse of the snowy Apennines mountains in the background was a bonus!
From here we head towards the National Park of Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise, the Park is right in the middle of these three regions. Our first visit was to the workshop of a leather artisan, Marruca in the little town of Pizzone. You can visit her workshop for a couple of hours and learn how to do your own leather sandals. If you rather have your own made to measure leather shoes then she will happily take your measurement and post it wherever you are.
We continued to travel south, briefly stopping this time at the piazza of Castel San Vincenzo, where we enjoyed one of the most stunning scenery overlooking its beautiful lake and Mainarde mountains.
After a few pictures and an expresso we went to visit its famous Abbey. The original Abbey was built in the 13th century and the entire monastery spanned few hectares, sadly it was destroyed on many occasions by the Saracens, so a new church was built in 1963.
Alessandro then drove all the way up to Monte Marrone, in the heart of this National Park, in pursuit of the best Italian picnic I’ve ever had! We stop near the top where we found the owners of la ‘Bottega dei Sapori’ (Scapoli) twins Alessandro and Antonio cooking ‘al fresco’ the most unique pasta dumpling I’ve ever tasted, the famous ‘raviolo scapolese’. This raviolo is filled with potato, meat, dried sausage, chard, mozzarella and parmesan, so each raviolo weights nearly 100 grams, a couple will be more than enough to keep you full all day!
Finally, and quite slowly after our big meal we were on our way to Scapoli. Our first visit was to get a ‘digestivo’ at the Rufo Distillery, one of the few distilleries in the region. Here owner Emanuele produces a large variety of typical Molise liquors and grappa. My favourite one the ‘trignolino’ made from wild berries, is quite like my beloved Spanish Pacharan! We then walked around this small old town to visit the Sampegna Museum (bagpipes), the most iconic instrument of the Molise music and folklore.
Our last stop of the day was in one of the prettiest towns in Molise, Fornelli . As like most towns in Molise, it is a medieval town, and at 530 mts high altitude it is immersed in enchanting natural scenery. You can walk around on one of the best preserved castle walls I’ve ever see. The best time to visit is late afternoon as the sunset in this place is not to be missed! A famous quote in Fornelli says ‘unhappy the man who has never see the sun going down in Fornelli’. Here we also had one of the best meals on the trip, at the recently opened ‘La Vecchia Torre’, please do not leave without trying Ms Rosa’s heavenly Tiramisu!
On our second full day, we visited the town of Agnone, quite well known for the Marinelli Bell Foundry, one of the most ancient artisan bells producers in the world. This family business has been making artisan bells for over 900 years, you can visit the factory/museum to learnt how they are made. They use the Papal Coat of Arms in their bells as they were granted this privilege by Pope Pio XI in 1924 .
After the visit we had another delicious picnic waiting for us, this time in Agnone’s countryside, the Verrino valley. Mr Leone and his two dogs were waiting for us to go truffle hunting. Yes, Molise is quite famous for its truffles, 40% of the Italian truffle market comes from Molise, white or black! May is not the best month to eat them as they are not as tasty but we found few of them and Michele added to a delicious scramble egg.
After a wonderful farewell dinner enjoying a few bottles of delicious Tintilia wine from Torresacre Winery live music and dance we said goodbye to our hosts. The organizers, Molise Region, Molise Explore and Omega Travel went beyond duty to make our stay a memorable one,.Their passion and love for this land was infectious. We visited many places of interest and saw the most incredible unspoiled natural landscape, I honestly didn’t expect much of Molise but left with a strong wish to come back to discover more of its land and culture. I am already planning another trip to the coast next week!
I can’t believe it was a BBC program ‘Italy Unpacked’ that made me think of planning a trip to Matera. I said I cannot believe it as I have been travelling to the south of Italy all my life, my father was from nearby Campania
Matera is in the region of Basilicata, south of Italy. As our wedding anniversary was far approching I booked one night at the unique hotel Sextantio Le Grotte della Civita .This is an ‘albergo difusso’ (in Italy diffused hotels respect original heritage of the place) located in the most ancient Sassi of Matera, facing the Murgia National Park. With its 18 cave rooms, a breakfast room built in what is was originally a Rupestrian Church and astonishingly beautiful views over the rocky mountains, you won’t find a better place to stay in this town!
On arrival to Matera the first thing you notice are the ‘sassi’, the famous rocks of Matera that will leave you grasping for air and with a strong urge to discover every little corner of this ancient town. There are thousands of steps in Matera but after a few you will instantly realise why this small town in Basilicata was declared Unesco World Heritage Site in 1993.
“Matera has been chosen as European Capital city 2019, so just before everybody gets there hurry and book your holiday at this very enchanting place”.
Matera is one of the most ancient towns in the wold, its history running from the early Iron Age up to the Greek and Roman empire. Situated on the top of a big hill, your first impression will be to be looking at a giant nativity scene. A labyrinth of old caves, houses, steps and beautiful churches are divided into two main Sassos, ‘Sasso Barisano’ and ‘Sasso Caveoso’ The town centre is in Sasso Barisano where you will find the best views of this part of part of town looking down from the Piazza Duomo. Here you can visit the beautiful Duomo, the church of San Francesco di Assisi, or the Monastero di Sant Agostino where you can also take award winning pictures of this unique town.
In Sasso Caveoso you will find a rich archeological area with a unique little rupestrian church, the Church of Santa Maria De Idris. This would be a good place to start appreciating what Matera rupestrian art is all about, graphical or sculptural works left in hillsides, rocks or in the walls of caves/grottos. From here you could walk all the way up to Piazza Giovanni Pascoli where you will find an ideal spot for panoramic pictures of this archealogical Sasso. In this piazza you can have a rest at the lovely Lanfranchi Caffe and walk along the very trendy Via Ridola. In this street you will find lots of artisan’s shops plus another original church, the Chiesa del Purgatorio, a great example of Italian baroque style with spooky death images in the façade
A must when you visit Matera is a trip to the Crypt of Original Sin (La Cripta del Peccato Originale considered the ‘Sistine Chapel’ of the Rupestrian Art. Located 10 kms from the town center you will need a car or taxi to get to the meeting point, a petrol station just 1 km from the cave. After a little drive in the countryside and few steps down a small hill you will enter the most beautiful cave, with several frescos still in good condition dating from the 9th century. For thirty minutes you will listen to your guide talking about its history and explaining painting on the cave. You will be seated on the floor of the cave, so make sure you wear comfortable shoes and a cardigan, it can be quite fresh even in summer time.
On the way back to Matera you could stop at Dragone, few hundred meters from the cave, where you can try typical products and wines of Basilicata (firstname.lastname@example.org telf +39-0835-261740)
And on the food and wine subject there are a couple of restaurants worth mentioning: Osteria L’Arco (telf +39-0835-334626) and Osteria Pico ( telf +39-0835240424) both in Sasso Barisano. At the Osteria Pico you most try the pasta ‘fusilli ai peperoni cruschi’ a delicious vegetarian pasta dish with typical peppers of Basilicata, I wish I ordered two portions!
Matera has been chosen as European Capital City 2019 so just before everybody gets there hurry and book your holiday at this very enchanting place.
Where to stay in Lecce
For many years I used to book groups for a client in Lecce but never visited. Last summer well I could not avoid the trip, as we were very close by and very curious about why clients from as far as Australia were coming every year to Lecce. So I decided to take a look
It took some convincing for the husband to get out of the hammock, but I packed our bags and booked a couple of nights at the very central and very beautiful Patria Palace Hotel As this is where my clients were staying year after year, it was quite logical to start discovering Lecce from here.
The hotel is right in the middle of the historical centre, please make sure to use all your senses if you are driving. Your Sat Nav could land you right in the middle of the pedestrian zone and with an expensive fine, that’s what we did and we were lucky to encounter a couple of very friendly carabinieri!
First thing you notice is the most beautiful golden light of the city. As most building and monuments were constructed with Lecce Stone, a yellow limestone which is one of the main city exports, when the sun is out everything seems to be glowing under a golden yellow light. The city is known as the ‘Florence of the South’ but this really doesn’t do it any justice, for this is a city with its own most enchanting baroque character and beauty. A good place to start your stroll is at the Basilica di Santa Croce, situated a few meters away from the hotel. With this building you start appreciating the rich and amazing baroque style of the entire city, just looking at the elaborated façade will take plenty of time.
From there you can head towards Piazza Duomo by Piazza San Oronzo and Via Vittorio Emanuele II, were you will be right at the heart of the city. Plenty of shops, restaurants and cafes if you want a little break or appetitivo. Another monument to visit is the Teatro Romano, an open Roman theatre and if you are lucky enough you can catch a concert as many events take place during the summer months. A very unique museum is not far from there, the Museo Faggiano. This is a bulding that never intended to be a museum, it was the family home of Mr Luciano Faggiano. In 2000 he wanted to renovate the building as he intended to open a trattoria but he encountered some troubles with the toilet. As he was looking to fix the sewage pipe he started to uncover a subterranean world tracing back before the birth of Jesus. He is a very funny character and you can read more about his story at this link http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/15/world/europe/centuries-of-italian-history-are-unearthed-in-quest-to-fix-toilet.html?_r=0 (Museo Faggiano, Via Ascanio Grandi, 56/58, tlf +39-0832-300528 )
Most surprisingly it was to discover an array of fashionable clothes and jewellery designers continuing Italy’s rich design tradition, so not everything in Italy comes from China after all! A couple of shops worth visiting are Sartoria Artigianale Atika where it’s quite common to find the designer Mr Antonio Franco at his desk planning his original designs (Via Francesco Rubichi, 13, Lecce +39 0832 308428 http://www.atikasartoria.it/ ) If jewels are your thing then make sure to visit Maria Paola Barrotta at her studio in Via Arcivescovo Petronelli, 12 (http://www.mariapaolabarrotta.com/
Where to Eat
Food, well as with every time I visit a new place I think it’s the best in Italy! Orecchiete pasta, Burrata Pugliese (a very soft cheese similar to mozzarella) fish and Primitivo wine are a must when you are here. A couple of restaurants to recommend: near the Duomo you will find Corte dei Pandolfi Restaurant, situated in a lovely little square with outside tables ( Corte dei Pandolfi, 3 http://cortedeipandolfi.com/ ) and if fish is what you fancy then head to Pescheria con cottura near Piazza San Oronso, here you can choose your fish and they will cook it for you ( Via de Mocenigo, 23 Telf +39-0832-098366 http://www.pescheriaconcottura.it/ )
For more info on Lecce or Puglia check the website http://www.viaggiareinpuglia.it/hp/en