Five great things to do in Veneto

From our romantic apartment in Asolo, we not only enjoyed the culture and lifestyle of the captivating town just beyond our doorstop, we had easy access to other wonders of the Veneto region of Italy on side trips during our four-day stay.

Bassano del Grappa — view from Ponte Vecchio

Bassano del Grappa — view from Ponte Vecchio

 

With our expert guides and gracious hosts Mr. TWS and I explored highlights that included regional wine, art, and architecture. Here are five places that we recommend for your Veneto itinerary.

Villa di Maser

Along Veneto’s Strada dell’Architettura (Architectural Road) are numerous examples of the exquisite architecture of Andrea Palladio (born in Padua in 1508). The style is characterized by the symmetry and proportions of classical Greek and Roman architecture, especially temples. Another common characteristic is the portico with arches and columns that provide the unique appearance of the front of the building. The distinct Palladian architectural style spread to England, other European countries, and also to North America. For example, the design of the White House in Washington D.C. was influenced by the Palladian style.

Villa di Maser

Villa di Maser

 

We visited Villa di Maser (officially known as Villa Barbaro del Palladio) in Maser, just about 7 km from Asolo. The villa (with the 230 hectares of agricultural land upon which it sits) has been owned by several different important families over the years. We were warmly greeted by the villa’s current owner, Count Vittorio dalle Ore whose wife is of the Diamante family who bought the property in 1934 and restored it after WWII.

With Vittorio Dalle Ore, the estate winery, one of two sundials on the facade, and the Nymphaeum of the villa’s garden

With Vittorio Dalle Ore, the estate winery, one of two sundials on the facade, and the Nymphaeum of the villa’s garden

 

Open to the public since the 1930s, Villa Maser was included as part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site designation of “City of Vicenza and the Palladian Villas of the Veneto” in 1996. In the six rooms that can be toured, visitors can admire the beautiful frescoes of Paolo Veronese (which took ten years to paint) and sculptures by Alessandro Vittoria, considered important works of the Venetian Renaissance. The family lives in the villa and there are a a few spots where you can get a glimpse of the living quarters. Also seen from inside is the Nymphaeum (a classical Greek/Roman arched wall which was a monument to the nymphs), a beautiful garden, and a fishing pool. The estate has also been making wine since 1560 on 33 hectares of vineyards, important to the economy of the villa since its early days.

Possagno – The Land of Canova

Veneto is very rich in art of many types, particularly in an area that our guide referred to as the “Golden Triangle” of artists and painters roughly defined by the vertices of Castel Franco to Possagno to our base in Asolo.

In Possagno, the birthplace of neo-classical sculptor Antonio Canova (1757 – 1822), we had some surprises relating to the great sculptor. First was the sight of the imposing 19th-century hillside temple that Canova designed and where he is buried. The Temple of Canova, designed and financed by Canova, looks like an ancient Roman/Greek temple nestled on an isolated hilltop against a mountain backdrop. As dramatic as the building and setting, a stunning patterned mosaic lies before it leading up to the impressive steps before the portico. The temple looks very much like the Pantheon in Rome. But Canova’s surprises weren’t through for us this day.

Temple of Canova in Possagno

Temple of Canova in Possagno

 

Our next surprise was Museo Canova, Passagno’s museum dedicated to the famous sculptor. Its unassuming exterior left us unprepared for what was inside. Within were many of the actual works of Canova that were steps in the creation of his sculpture before committing to marble; they provided a comprehensive representation of his art. The first room you enter contains paintings, drawings and sculptures of Canova which leads outside to a separate building, the Gipsoteca. The building, composed of two large halls, was filled with the plaster cast models of many of Canova’s sculptures, works that are in famous art museums of the world, such as Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss in the Louvre and Perseus Triumphant in the Vatican. The casts are made from the initial clay sculptures as the step before committing to marble.

During World War I, a bomb damaged many of the statues in the Gipsoteca, but they were carefully restored by Possagno artists, Stefano and Siro Serafin. The museum also includes a library, and a courtyard garden. To one side of the garden is the home where Canova was born. On exiting the museum, there was one more surprise we hadn’t noticed on the way into the museum. As you exit, you view across a stone paved area, up an impressive stairway that directly funnels your vantage up the hill to showcase a view of the temple.

Bassano del Grappa

Buildings of Bassano del Grappa (liberty style seen at the top) and Ponte Vecchio over the River Brenta

Buildings of Bassano del Grappa (liberty style seen at the top) and Ponte Vecchio over the River Brenta

Bassano del Grappa is a lively, international city that attracts tourists from all over the world, and also has attracted many current residents who have come here to live from other places. In fact, as we strolled around town, Mr. TWS and I contemplated how great it would be to live there ourselves. Bassano del Grappa dates back to Roman times and is famously known as the ceramics capital of Northern Italy, as the birthplace of grappa (the liquor distilled of the grape remains from the winemaking process, i.e. the skins, pulp, seeds, and stems), and for architectural gems in its beautiful location along the Brenta River. We were able to spend the afternoon here walking the town and exploring some of its locations and sites.

Ponte Vecchio, the wooden covered bridge that spans the river, is the city’s symbol and a famous symbol of Italy. It was designed in 1569 (though earlier versions go back to the early 13th century) by Palladio, and destroyed and rebuilt many times, including the last time during World War II. After the war, it was reconstructed by the Alpini, the elite mountain force of the Italian army, and from that day the bridge has also been called Ponte degli Alpini (Bridge of the Alpine Soldiers). World War I also was key to the city’s history and nearby Mount Grappa was the site of many fierce battles. To honor those who died in the battle, the city name Bassano Veneto was changed to Bassano del Grappa.

During WWI, Ernest Hemingway stayed many days in Bassano del Grappa recuperating from injuries received when the ambulance he was driving was struck by a mortar. The experience became part of the basis for A Farewell to Arms which is commemorated in the city’s Heminway and Great War Museum that particularly portrays aspects of American involvement in WWI from an Italian perspective.

 

Museo Poli Grappa Museum entrance and collection; having a taste of grappa at the Nardini Distillery

Museo Poli Grappa Museum entrance and collection; having a taste of grappa at the Nardini Distillery

Of course, we couldn’t pass up a taste of grappa while here. We started at the Poli Grappa Museum, which has interesting exhibits including the copper cauldrons used in distillation of grape pomace and a collection of grappas from Italian distilleries.  I didn’t before realize that there was such a variety of styles of grappa with different tastes depending on several factors, including the vines, the vintage, the aging, distillation process, and herbal and aromatic infusions. The Poli family has been making grappa since 1898. Poli also has a larger museum in Schiavon, 12 km from Bssano del Grappa.

At the Ponte Vecchio is the store and tasting room of the Nardini Distillery, where Bortolo Nardini invented and first produced grappa in 1779. The old and historic tasting room has a large bar with artifacts from early distilling days and displays of the many products today. We sat by a window in an adjoining room which gave us a great view of the river below.

Tempted by a menu of delicious-looking grappa cocktails, I still chose a basic sample (one that was quite smooth, contrary to how many think of grappa’s characteristics. I would definitely like to come back to Bassano del Grappa to walk around some more and also see other attractions, such as the Duomo, the castle, the ceramics museum, and the Hemingway and Great War Museum.

Treviso – City of Art and Water

One of the largest cities in Veneto, Treviso was another side trip that we would recommend as a must if staying in Asolo or visiting Veneto. We spent about a half day walking around (but clearly there’s more to do in Treviso to warrant at least several days) and we loved the city. There are a lot references we saw to Treviso as a little Venice and we could easily see why. In particular, the water and canals remind one of Venice as well as narrow winding streets and colorful period buildings and houses.

With Mr. TWS in lovely Treviso

With Mr. TWS in lovely Treviso

 

Entering the city by way of one of its three gateways through the well-preserved 15th-century walls, we admired many of Treviso’s liberty-style buildings (such as the one in Bassano del Grappa that grabbed my attention). We mostly walked the city center which on this Saturday in May was bustling.  From our parking spot we passed the Benetton Treviso rugby stadium – needless to say we were surprised to find rugby as opposed to football in Italy. The professional rugby team is owned by the Benetton clothing company, headquartered here.  Trevios has a Roman design with its right angle roads and it bears similarities to Venice particularly with its winding streets, and numerous canals and bridges.

 

Fresh seafood, white asparagus, and artichokes at the markets in Treviso

Fresh seafood, white asparagus, and artichokes at the markets in Treviso

Saturday was market day in Treviso, which added to the bustle. We enjoyed seeing the fish market (open every day Tuesday through Saturday) located in the middle of a small island in the Canale Cagnan. Surrounded by the canal, it was one of Mr. TWS favorite spots in Treviso.
Art of Treviso — sculptures on the river (left), photographer Alessandro Trevisin (top right), Fontana delle Tette (bottom right)

Art of Treviso — sculptures on the river (left), photographer Alessandro Trevisin (top right), Fontana delle Tette (bottom right)

Wonderful elements of art and water are seen throughout Treviso, e.g., as in the sculptures on the canals in the pictures above. The Fontana delle Tette (in English, he Fountain of Tits) is a reproduction of the famous statue and symbol of the city originally build in 1559 providing water during a severe drought. Back then at various times of celebration, the fountain poured red wine from one nipple and white wine from the other; it certainly captures your attention. At the church of San Francesco, we met a photographer, Alessandro Trevisin, who was exhibiting a collection of his photographs representing colorful geometric patterns present in close-ups of everyday objects.

For lunch, we sat outside at Cantinetta Venegazzù on Piazza Giannino Ancillotto for a tasty sampling of local cheese, ham, and bread accompanied with Prosecco. Just a few yards away is Le Beccherie, the restaurant that claims creation of tiramisu (though another restaurant in Treviso and others in Italy claim that they were first).

The Prosecco Road and Villa Sandi

Reminiscent of wine routes such as in the Napa Valley is Veneto’s Strada del Prosecco (Prosecco Road) that runs from Valdobiadene to Coneglano through the hillside vineyards that make up the regions DOC. It’s in the hills of Cartizze where the best grapes for Prosecco are produced. This area along the River Piave has historic significance, too. This is where during WWI and WWII, the Italian people fought significant battles that ended these wars.

In the Cartizze hills along the Prosecco Road

In the Cartizze hills along the Prosecco Road

 

Villa Sandi in Crocetta del Montello is the biggest wine estate of the area located between the COCG area of Prosecco of Valdobbiadene and DOC area of the Montello and Colli Asolani.  The villa is a Palladian-style beauty that was built in 1622 and has been in owner Giancarlo Moretti Polegato’s family for many generations

 

Tunnels, Murano chandeliers, and Prosecco tasting at Villa Sandi

Tunnels, Murano chandeliers, and Prosecco tasting at Villa Sandi

 

A big treat is a tour of the 18th century underground cellars that stretch out for over 1.5 km under the villa. The tunnels were used as military headquarters in WWI. The humidity and constant temperature of the galleries provide the perfect environment for the wine. Bottles of Villa Sandi’s classic method sparkling wine “Opere Trevigiane” are stored here. The tour ends with a generous tasting of Prosecco Superiore, one of the winery’s premier vintages that we also enjoyed later with a bottle that we took back to our apartment.

The villa itself is beautiful and I was really impressed with the gorgeous Murano chandeliers in several of the rooms open to the public.

Other Veneto Highlights

Asolo is a great place to visit and it is well situated as a central point for visiting many sites and attractions in Veneto. The ones we mention here were the side trips we did in just a 4-day Asolo stay. We could imagine a much longer stay affording time to spend more time just in Asolo, more time on the side trips mentioned here, and going further afield in the region.

We talked to our hosts about what other places to see in Veneto on a return visit. Here are a few of them:

  • Vicenza — Sites to see include the basilica, the theater, and Villa Almerico Capra (also known as La Rotonda), another masterpiece of Andrea Palladio.
  • Padua — The setting for much of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, some of Padua’s key sites are the historical center, a famous caffè frequented by Padua artists, the market which is open every day, the largest square in Europe, and the Basilica San Antonio.
  • Verona — Verona is well-known as a setting in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (the fictitious Juliet’s balcony) and was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its many historical buildings, some dating to Roman  times. The arena in Verona hosts many special events such as summer operas.
  • Marostica — Besides its imposing castle and ancient city walls, Marostica is known for its traditional human chess festival held every two years in September. I would love to see that!
Statue of Alpini soldier kissing his sweetheart goodbye in Bassano del Grappa

Statue of Alpini soldier kissing his sweetheart goodbye in Bassano del Grappa

Goodbye to the Veneto and on to Venice!

Arriving in Venice by boat as a light rain falls

Arriving in Venice by boat as a light rain falls

 

Directly from Asolo, we headed to the fairytale-like capital of Veneto — Venice. We went by car to Portegrandi where we embarked on the Silis, a tour boat operated by Navigazione Stefanato, a family-owned and operated Italian river cruise company, to arrive in Venice by boat. The four-hour cruise included delicious fresh seafood snacks and generous pours of Prosecco. Mr. TWS loved the delicious fried smelt served by the plateful by the fun and courteous crew. The cruise also included a stop in Murano for a glass-blowing demonstration and a quick walk around.  We got to see many other islands in the Venetian lagoon and the beautiful views of the city as we arrived. In the photo above, you can see the very cool surreal look of the city that was created by the light rain that was falling. It was a great way to travel and arrive in Venice. Check out Navigazione Stefanato for more about their tours and services.

Map showing our Veneto highlights locations

itinerary

itinerary

by Catherine Sweeney Traveling with Sweeney

Villas and apartments in the area

Asolina and Elena in Asolo

 

Romance in Asolo, “The City of a Hundred Horizons”

Mr. TWS in a romantic mood in Asolo — Photo credit: Federica Donadi

Mr. TWS in a romantic mood in Asolo — Photo credit: Federica Donadi

 

I often think of Asolo. Since our April visit to this town in the Veneto region of northeastern Italy, I’ve thought back fondly to many moments of our stay there. The picture-perfect hilltop town exudes romance with its winding lanes, beautiful villas, galleries, cafes, and fabulous views from its lofty position. In part, this explains why great writers and artists have loved the town and found inspiration here. Robert Browning (for whom a street in the city center is named), Ernest Hemingway, and Henry James are just a few who came to Asolo as frequent visitors or residents.

One of Asolo’s stunning views from the panoramic vista point of Queen Cornaro’s Castle

One of Asolo’s stunning views from the panoramic vista point of Queen Cornaro’s Castle

Italian poet Giosuè Carducci called Asolo “The City of a Hundred Horizons”, aptly describing the many beautiful panoramic views of mountains and the Veneto countryside its hillside setting provides. From vantage points during walks in town or from the windows of our EsteVillas Elena apartment, we took in the character and scenery of Asolo for four days and nights — a time that proved to be too short. Like the horizons to which Carducci referred, there are a hundred reasons why our stay in Asolo, a town I only recently learned about, touched us so much. Here are a few of the highlights of our stay.

Our romantic “Elena” apartment in Asolo

Elena-building

“Elena” apartments above Caffé Centrale on Piazza Garibaldi

Fitting the romantic character of Asolo are the two beautifully-renovated apartments (top two floors shown in the photo above) owned by our host Elena Benassi. We stayed on the top floor and the other apartment was on the second floor (1st floor in European terms) just below it. The two apartments are above the iconic Caffé Centrale on the ground level. Our “Elena 3” apartment consisted of three bedrooms, four baths, full bright kitchen, and elegant living and dining areas. Elena’s impeccable style was evident with the carefully-selected antique furnishings and stylish finishes throughout. The decor preserves the architectural style of the building and a sense of a romantic past.

 

Elena 3 apartment dining and living area

Elena 3 apartment dining and living area

 

From the windows of our apartment, I drank in the sights of historic Asolo — the fountain on the small piazza below, picturesque buildings lining the square, and the lane leading up to the majestic castle of Queen Caterina Cornaro. It was a great, central location to feel part of Asolo life and enjoy the town with easy walking to attractions and restaurants.

Room with a view: Queen Cornaro’s Castle seen from our “Elena” apartment on Piazza Garibaldi in Asolo

Room with a view: Queen Cornaro’s Castle seen from our “Elena” apartment on Piazza Garibaldi in Asolo

A warm and delicious welcome to Asolo

We had the pleasure of spending time with Elena and our EsteVillas trip organizer Beatrice at a delightful welcome dinner prepared by a local chef, Maurizio Gallina — right in the kitchen of our charming Asolo apartment. We enjoyed fresh regional dishes and fine wines during a relaxing dinner with lively conversation about the attractions of Asolo and the Veneto region.

Chef-Maurizio

As the chef was busy in the kitchen, we began with a sampling of appetizers including fried parmesan and zucchini flowers accompanied by a refreshing glass of Prosecco. Although I couldn’t fool anyone that I really participated in the meal preparation, Chef Maurizio was kind to let me give the risotto a few stirs, too

Herb, borage leaves and ricotta pie (top right), white asparagus and egg salad (bottom right), and delectable tiramisu

Herb, borage leaves and ricotta pie (top right), white asparagus and egg salad (bottom right), and delectable tiramisu

On the menu for our feast was a delicious array of the chef’s recipes of local dishes using primarily products of the Veneto region. Top among the ingredients was white asparagus that was perfectly in season during in April. While in Asolo, we enjoyed white asparagus served in many dishes and styles, but Chef Maurizio’s asparagus and egg salad was one of the most creative and delicious. Another key component of our special meal was a risotto made with Vialone Nano, a rice variety grown in Veneto. With each course, Chef Maurizio paired an appropriate wine —  Maculan Vespaiolo, a Veneto white wine, was perfect with the asparagus.

It was quite a start for our stay and we would highly recommend including a private dinner of your own prepared by Chef Maurizio when you stay in Asolo. As a “chef on demand”, he specializes in private dinners like this and he also offers cooking classes. These options are among the extra services that you can easily arrange when renting one of Elena’s apartments.

More highlights of our stay in Asolo

Walks around town

Though our hosts kept us quite busy with the many entertaining and informative side trips outside of town, we also enjoyed the time we spent just walking Asolo’s winding lanes past shops and restaurants, medieval buildings, historical sites, and landmarks.

 

Cathy-and-Mr-TWS

Admiring ancient frescoes during a walk in Asolo — Photo credit: Federica Donadi

 

One of the many shops that attracted our attentions as we strolled was Asolo Kilim Gallery where we could have spent hours admiring the colorful and eclectic selection of art, textiles, jewelry and antiques. We were thrilled to get a look at a very special old register signed by many international guests of the hotel that was once located in the building. Be sure to ask to see it when you visit

Asolo-Kilim-001

Colorful and eclectic art and objects at Asolo Kilim Gallery

 

Seen from many vantage points in the area and in town, La Rocca, the city’s ancient fortress, sits prominently atop Mount Ricco. A defining landmark of the Asolo landscape that can be seen for many miles, we always knew when we were getting close to “home” returning from our nearby Veneto excursions.

Above the trees — La Rocca atop Mount Ricco seen from Piazza Garibaldi

Above the trees — La Rocca atop Mount Ricco seen from Piazza Garibaldi

As we walked to the top, there was a mild, but steady winding climb providing good exercise and wonderful views. Although the fortress wasn’t open to visitors that day, we enjoyed the stunning 360 degree views of the hills and valleys of the area from the hilltop location.

on top of Mount Ricco - La Rocca

on top of Mount Ricco – La Rocca

 

The women of Asolo

Guided by the lovely and knowledgeable women of Asolo today, BellAsolo guide Laura Serafin and Discovering Veneto representative Francesca Zuccolotto, we got an introduction to three remarkable women of Asolo past — Freya Stark, Caterina Cornaro, and Elenora Duse. Each of these amazing women are central characters in the stories of Asolo as officially documented in guides and books, but also in the stories of locals who have personal recollections or those passed down in family history.

With Laura Serafin (left) and Francesca Zuccolotto at Villa Freya

With Laura Serafin (left) and Francesca Zuccolotto at Villa Freya

Touring the gardens of Villa Freya we learned about Freya Stark, British journalist and avid world traveler. Freya was a solo woman traveler pioneer who traversed the Middle East and other distant lands beginning in the 1930s. She had come to Asolo as a child near the beginning of the twentieth century and chose to return later in life because she loved the town. Freya died there in 1993 at the age of 100 and is buried in Asolo at the Cemetery of Sant’Anna.

In the gardens of Villa Freya

In the gardens of Villa Freya

The gardens in the large area behind the villa were beautiful with a wide diversity of flora, some varieties brought here by Freya from her travels. Although much of it was in bloom, the long rows of its popular English roses were not yet budding. Behind the garden are ruins of a Roman theater and views down into the valleys below.

On the grounds at Queen Cornaro’s Castle; Bell tower of Asolo Cathedral visible on the right

On the grounds at Queen Cornaro’s Castle; Bell tower of Asolo Cathedral visible on the right

Married at the age of 14 and widowed at 19, Caterina Cornaro (1454 – 1510) ruled Cyprus as queen for 15 years before being deposed by Venetian merchants in 1489. It was then that she came to Asolo, retaining the title of queen and had her palace built just up the hill from Piazza Garibaldi. It was quite an occasion when she arrived in Asolo, an event commemorated annually with a festival that includes many donning fancy 15th-century attire. Queen Caterina hosted Renaissance artists and intellectuals during her reign giving Asolo the early distinction of being a center of literature and the creative arts. An interesting connection to the United States is that the theater built there in 1798 was dismantled and stored in 1930, then purchased by the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art to be reassembled and reconstructed in Sarasota, Florida in the 1950s where it has been in use ever since.

Elenora Duse (1858- 1924) was an actress called “Divine” by her fans. She had said of Asolo, the place in which she chose to live, that it was a “small town of lace and poetry”.  A theater named after her is located in Queen Cornaro’s Castle. She is highly regarded as one of the great actors of the period and was reviewed favorably in comparison to her contemporary and rival, the acclaimed Sarah Bernhardt. Fitting our theme of romance, Elenora was celebrated for her acting but she was also known for her famous romances. Like Freya, Elenora is buried at the Cemetery of Sant’Anna.

A taste of Asolo

Although it may be tempting to stay in the comfortable Elena apartment for all meals, there are great dining options within a few minutes (some a minute or two) walk from there. From our experiences, we can recommend these places for wining and dining.

Caffé Centrale

How lucky we were that Caffé Centrale, an important center of Asolo’s culture, was in the same building as our apartment. But I would have made it a point to go there even if it wasn’t so convenient. Over scrumptious croissants and cappuccino, Mr. TWS and I reveled in thoughts of the many literary figures and celebrities who frequented the cafe and who have been memorialized with their names on the red director’s chairs on the patio of Caffé Centrale. During our breakfast ritual, we could imagine a young Hemingway in the 1920s writing a novel while sitting there. Besides our morning breakfast ritual, we also had a great lunch of lasagna and salads sitting on the patio on a gorgeous sunny afternoon, an afternoon gelato, and a late night liqueur.

 

Caffè Centrale, a meeting place for literary greats and celebrities of the past and present

Caffè Centrale, a meeting place for literary greats and celebrities of the past and present

Lele and Ezio Botter are the two brothers who own and operate the bustling cafe. We enjoyed a chance to sit down with Lele who graciously shared part of his busy day and enthralled us with marvelous stories of Asolo’s celebrity residents and visitors during his years of working at the cafe as well as those found in records and original letters dating back to 1796, some of which are in the cafe’s possession. From those documents they learned that the building was initially an exclusive club for noblemen, but much to the patrons’ dismay the owner opened it to others because the owner said that others will pay, the noblemen don’t. Among his stories, was one of Napoleon and a plot ostensibly to kill him that was centered in Asolo and particularly the club. The club was closed for several years (reopening as a coffee shop) and the conspiracy suspects were imprisoned. He also mentioned that a descendant of Robert Browning had visited just a few days earlier.

Antica Osteria Al Bacaro

Smiling service and delicious simple Italian dishes at Osteria Al Bacaro

Smiling service and delicious simple Italian dishes at Osteria Al Bacaro

 

Al Bacaro is a small osteria on Via Browning that has been operating since 1892. It was one of our favorite Asolo experiences. In fact, we went there twice to enjoy the ambiance of a spot frequented by Asolani (as locals are called) as well as the local delicious cuisine and very friendly service.

Trattoria Due Mori

For dinner with a spectacular view, reserve a window table at Trattoria Due Mori. Everything during our long, leisurely dinner from the appetizers to the tiramisu was excellent.

Dining with a view at Trattoria Moderna Due Mori

Dining with a view at Trattoria Moderna Due Mori

 

Tappo Bar

Our choice for our last dinner in Asolo was Tappo Bar a few steps across the piazza from our apartment. The meal was very good as was the service and it appeared that the other customers were locals.

Perfect combination — pasta and tiramisu (one of the best we’ve had) at Tappo Bar

Perfect combination — pasta and tiramisu (one of the best we’ve had) at Tappo Bar

Farewell to Asolo

We said our goodbyes to our lovely and gracious host Elena over afternoon tea at the Hotel Villa Cipriani. The villa was once owned by Robert Browning who bought it in 1889 shortly before he died. Passed on to his son, subsequent owners transformed the property into a country inn (including the famous Guinness family of Ireland) before Giuseppe Cipriani took over management and it became Hotel Villa Cipriani. The hotel is just a short walk from Elena’s apartments and is a perfect place for tea time and a walk in the garden to admire the views of the surrounding countryside.

Elena at Hotel Cipriani

Elena at Hotel Cipriani

 

On our last night in Asolo, Mr. TWS and I stopped in for a nightcap of Amaro Montenegro (an Italian herbal liqueur) at Caffé Centrale, trying to prolong the night and our stay. We were already missing romantic Asolo

Caffé Centrale on our final night in Asolo

Caffé Centrale on our final night in Asolo

What else to see and do during a stay in Asolo

In a future post, we’ll be talking about some of the excursions we took outside of Asolo that included art, architecture, wine, and beautiful towns. There are many outdoor activities like golfing, hiking, biking, boating that are available nearby. In the city center, there are flea markets every second Sunday of the month throughout the year. Asolo also plays host to special annual events such as Palio di Asolo (late June) and the Asolo Art Film Festival (August 29th to September 7th in 2016).

Distances from Asolo to key cities

Treviso – 30 km
Venice – 51 km
Verona – 81 km
Padova – 40 km
Vicenza – 39 km

Highlights of four nights in Asolo, Italy — a beautiful and romantic town on a hilltop in Italy’s Veneto region. Where to eat, sleep, and see the sights.

By Catherine Sweeney may 2016

Surveying the Mantua skyline from the tower rooftop at Palazzo Castiglioni, I thought of the stories of power, wealth, love, and war that unfolded here from the city’s Etruscan origins and Roman occupation, through the Renaissance. I imagined being here in the days of the House of Gonzaga and especially Isabella d’Este, the “First Lady of the Renaissance” who ruled Mantua when her husband was off fighting wars and after his death. She influenced culture, fashion, the arts, and even funded a school for girls in Mantua

Imagining the Renaissance on the rooftop of Palazzo Castiglioni

Imagining the Renaissance on the rooftop of Palazzo Castiglioni

The historic city center of Mantua along with nearby town of Sabbioneta was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008. Mantua also has the distinction of being designated as the “2016 Italian Capital of Culture”, the first city in Italy to be awarded this honor. And no wonder — music, history, art, and regional food and wine specialties were all part of our stay. Plus there were beautiful walks in and around the city and other outdoor activities.

Mantua is a vibrant city with a rich history, but it is the period of rule by the powerful Gonzaga family (1328-1707) that is the most fascinating to me. The Gonzaga’s wealth and influence have left their indelible marks on this Renaissance city of culture and art.

Our stay at Palazzo Castiglioni in Mantua

What could be a better place to stay in Mantua than in an intriguing palace of great historic significance in the very historic center of the old city? We loved our three-night stay at Palazzo Castiglioni.

Palazzo-on-Piazza-Sordello

The 12th-century palace is the largest in Mantua and was home to the ruling Bonacolsi family during their reign from 1200 AD to 1312 AD. During the 18th century, it was purchased by the noble Castiglioni family, descendants of Baldesar Castiglioni, an eminent Renaissance scholar, diplomat, courtier, ambassador to the pope, and writer of an iconic book of the times, Il Cortegiano (The Courtier). His friend, the great artist, Raphael, painted his portrait which is on exhibit at the Louvre. The family still resides in the palace and owns a fascinating archive of documents and letters from the period.

Enjoying the view of Mantua from the balcony of our tower suite

Enjoying the view of Mantua from the balcony of our tower suite

Part of the palace has been renovated with designs of Italian architect and designer Filippo Feroldi, creating five spacious luxury suites, each with unique decor that provides modern convenience while preserving the grandeur of the palace. Rooms in the family’s apartments are available for weddings, anniversaries, and special events. Palazzo Castiglioni has been pleased to have many notable guests, including world-renowned musicians and literary figures who come for the city’s annual festivals. If staying in the palace wasn’t enough, we had the pleasure of staying in the spacious Tower Suite, a magnificent suite on the entire top floor of the palace’s tower and a spectacular rooftop garden. This is a true destination accommodation, where people come to Mantua just to stay in tower, including art and history experts and enthusiasts. The medieval suite architecture was highlighted by an amazing 8-meter high fresco on the tower walls representing the “tree of life”. The 13th-century fresco is one of the oldest non-religious frescoes in Europe. And there it was, right in our room!

Enjoying the view of Mantua from the balcony of our tower suite

Enjoying the view of Mantua from the balcony of our tower suite

It was thrilling to climb the suite’s narrow spiral staircase to get the full view of our elegant accommodations with antique furnishings, canopied bed, and the beautiful fresco. A door at the top of the staircase opens to a rooftop garden with panoramic views of Mantua, its landmarks and its lakes, and miles beyond into the countryside all seen over the city’s red-tiled rooftops. Below is a sunrise picture from the rooftop featuring one of the prominent statues on the Church of St. Andrew on Piazza Sordello.

It felt like we had stepped back in time but for the availability of modern conveniences. Palazzo Castiglioni is filled with the ambiance of Renaissance style and is located only steps away from many main attractions and piazzas of Mantua.

Sunrise over Mantua from the rooftop garden of Palazzo Castiglioni

Sunrise over Mantua from the rooftop garden of Palazzo Castiglioni

 

Highlights of Mantua

We had a wonderful and busy itinerary with our hosts and guides during our three days that included some free time to wander the streets and piazzas of Mantua on our own. Our impressions of Mantua were that it’s a very livable city, one where residents can be part of very many cultural activities in the midst of rich historical significance.

In separate future posts about some of the places mentioned here, we’ll have more pictures and details to share, but in this post we hope to give you an idea of our visit and highlights of things to do in and around Mantua.

Mr. TWS and I with our Mantua hosts Guido, Luisa, and Baldesar Castiglioni

Mr. TWS and I with our Mantua hosts Guido, Luisa, and Baldesar Castiglioni

 

The Palaces

Palazzo Ducale

Across Piazza Sordello from Palazzo Castiglioni is Palazzo Ducale. With 500 rooms and several courtyards, the palace was home to the Gonzaga family during their reign (1328 to 1707). We were able to take a quick self-directed tour of portions of the large complex during our time in Mantua. Particularly fascinating are the mesmerizing paintings of Andrea Mantegna, one of the greatest artists of the time.

Stunning frescoes of the Sala degli Specchi in the Palazzo Ducale

Stunning frescoes of the Sala degli Specchi in the Palazzo Ducale

 

Andrea Mantegna ceiling fresco in the Camera degli Sposi

Andrea Mantegna ceiling fresco in the Camera degli Sposi

When touring Palazzo Ducale, your attention will be turned often to the ceilings with the gorgeous frescoes. Of special importance are those in the Camera Picta or Camera degli Sposi, the bridal chamber with the amazing work of Andrea Mantegna. Below are photos of the ceiling and one of the wall panels which depict a court scene with the Gonazaga family.

Andrea Mantegna ceiling fresco in the Camera degli Sposi

Andrea Mantegna ceiling fresco in the Camera degli Sposi

 

Palazzo Te

It’s all about love at Palazzo Te, the palace Federico II Gonzaga had built to have a place for spending time with his mistress. Room after room designed by artist Giulio Romano presents a variety of beautiful, playful, and daring paintings

One stunning example is the ceiling in the Chamber of the Giants with a scene from Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” where Jupiter punishes the giants who planned to overthrow the gods. This is just a brief introduction to this great attraction. In a separate future post we’ll provide more pictures and detail about Palazzo Te.

Ceiling by Giulio Romano in the Chamber of the Giants

Ceiling by Giulio Romano in the Chamber of the Giants

 

The music

A gorgeous theater with fantastic acoustics, Teatro Bibiena, built in 1769, is home to the Mantova Chamber Orchestra and a main venue of the Mantova Chamber Music Festival. Read more in our article, The Musical Essence of Mantua.

Preparing for a rehearsal at Teatro Bibiena

Preparing for a rehearsal at Teatro Bibiena

 

The piazzas

The piazzas of Mantua are great places to feel part of the city. On market days, the squares are crowded with vendors and shoppers. We arrived in Mantua while the weekend flea market was in full swing on Piazza Sordello.

Flea Market

Flea Market

A short walk from Palazzo Castiglioni is Piazza delle Erbe, a beautiful square surrounded by shops and restaurants with plenty of outdoor seating in view of its imposing 15th-century clock tower. The Basilica of Sant’Andrea is also on Piazza delle Erbe and worth a visit for it’s ornate interior decor and art. It is said that beneath the marble in front of the altar is a container holding earth that had been soaked with the blood of Christ.

Early evening on Piazza delle Erbe

Early evening on Piazza delle Erbe

 

The lakes

Visitors and locals can also retreat to the nearby pathways and parks along the shores of the three lakes, created in the 12th century for defense purposes, that virtually surround the city — Lago Superiore, Lago di Mezzo, and Lago Inferiore

Strolling along of the lakeside paths in Mantua

Strolling along of the lakeside paths in Mantua

 

On the Sunday we arrived, we took a walk along the lakeshore and took notice of the many couples and families who were enjoying leisurely time with each other.

Mantua restaurant tip: In easy walking distance from Palazzo Castiglioni up a quiet side street is Tiratappi di Scicolon on Piazza Leon Battista Alberti where Mr. TWS and I had a lovely dinner outside on a mild evening. We liked the food, service and romantic ambiance. I had the Risotto alla Pilota — a Mantuan specialty of local sausage sauteed in butter with garlic and pepper. Delicious!

Nearby excursions

 

Grazie di Curtatone

Grazie is a small section of the town of Curtatone about five miles from Mantua on the Mincio River. The main attraction there is the Sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin Mary which was built in the early 15th century by Francesco Gonzaga in gratitude to the Virgin Mary at the end of the Plague.

Sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin Mary and area where artists create their chalk drawings

Sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin Mary and area where artists create their chalk drawings

The reason the photo above has a long view toward the church is to show the area where each year artists from around the world take their chalk to the pavement and create their religious representations in honor of the Virgin Mary on the feast of the Assumption, August 15th. There was still some residue of the colorful drawings faintly visible on the pavement when we visited in April.

Unusual decor of the Sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin Mary — votive mannequins (left) stuffed crocodile (right)

Unusual decor of the Sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin Mary — votive mannequins (left) stuffed crocodile (right)

The interior of the church is different from any church I’ve seen before. Upon entering, one’s attention is immediately drawn to the stuffed crocodile hanging from the ceiling. One theory about this unusual church decoration is that it symbolizes holding back the forces of evil.

As you explore further, you next see what appear to be typical religious statues on both sides of the church. But a closer look reveals something else; many of the statues depict gruesome scenes, including torture, a hanging, and a beheading (as shown in the photos above). They are actually votive mannequins given in thanks for the mercies shown by the Blessed Virgin Mary saving these people in their hours of dire need. In addition to the votive mannequins, there are also statues of many dignitaries from Italian and church history. The sanctuary is also home to the remains of Baldesar Castiglioni in a tomb designed by Giulio Romano.

Grazie di Curtatone restaurant tip: One of our favorite dining experiences in Mantua was an al fresco lunch of Mantuan specialties at Locanda delle Grazie which is close to the sanctuary. It is another great reason to visit Grazie to Curtatone. You can read more about it soon in an upcoming post.

 

Parco Giardino Sigurtà (Sigurta Garden Park)

Open from March 6 to November 6 (2016)

Unusual decor of the Sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin Mary — votive mannequins (left) stuffed crocodile (right)

Unusual decor of the Sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin Mary — votive mannequins (left) stuffed crocodile (right)

We were able to combine our love of bike-riding and enjoyment of the beauty of nature with an excursion to Parco Giardino Sigurtà, prize-winning gardens about 18 miles north of Mantua in Valeggio sul Mincio. We took a fun bike tour through the park with Mantovabikexperience with our guide Stefano Cabrini. You can read more about it in our article Biking in the Park: Parco Giardino Sigurta

Valeggio Sul Mincio pasta tip: We enjoyed a delicious lunch of assorted fresh pastas, including various tortellini (the specialty of pasta-makers in the town of Valeggio Sul Mincio) at Tortellini Remelli at Via A. Sala 24 in the village. They sell their fresh pasta in their shop, but also prepare and serve it in their restaurant. Mr. TWS had such a look of pure joy as he devoured every bite on his plate. (Sorry, no photo.)

Fresh tortellini being made, in the shop display case, and being enjoyed by me

Fresh tortellini being made, in the shop display case, and being enjoyed by me

 

 

More we’d like to do during a stay in Mantua

  • If you visit in September, you’ll catch Festivaletterature. This is a very prestigious annual literary festival bringing world-renowned literati to lead, participate, and enjoy workshops, concerts, and a myriad of cultural events. In 2016 the festival will take place from September 7th to September 11th.
  • In addition to bike paths and tours within the city of Mantua, there are extensive bike routes for all levels of cyclists in countryside, parks, and along the rivers. Other activities include walks, horse riding, and boat trips.
  • Sabbioneta, Mantua’s UNESCO sister city, is only 30 km away. Built between 1556 and 1591, it is considered to be a perfect example of an ideal city of the modern Renaissance.

 

I think that Isabella d’Este would like the Mantua of today. Don’t you?

 

How to get to Mantua

We arrived in Mantua by car from Milan (185 km) on the A4 (toward Venice) and A22 motorways (toll roads). There is also Trenitalia railway service from cities including Milan, Ferrara, Padova, Parma, and Verona. The nearest airport is Verona Villafranca “Catullo” Airport (20 km).

 

Thanks to Palazzo Castiglioni Mantova for hosting our Mantua cultural experience.

Palazzo Castiglioni Mantova  Piazza Sordello 12 Mantova

Locanda Le Grazie Curtatone  Via San Pio X, 2 – Grazie di Curtatone Mantova

Mantova Bike Experience info@mantovabikexperience.com

Parco Giardino Sigurtà Via Cavour 1 – 37067 Valeggio sul Mincio

Remelli  Via A. Sala 24 Valeggio Sul Mincio (Vr)

 

 

 

Aging cheese, lots of cheese, at a special artisan shop in Italy

 

By Eileen Ogintz

Cheese tour - Guffanti Arona

Cheese tour – Guffanti Arona

— Parmigiano Reggiano… Pecorino… Fontina…Gorgonzola. Cheese made from sheep’s milk, from goat’s milk, from cows and some made with all three.

 

Shelves and shelves of giant rounds of cheese, square cheeses in rooms carefully controlled for cold and humidity as the cheeses age for months and some cases for years

 

They’re covered with walnut leaves, with pepper and some with saffron… Some are “bathed” in tomato so they have a reddish hue. Others are covered with pressed grapes after the wine harvest. The cheeses come from artisan dairies and are “prepared” here and watched over carefully.

 

Welcome to Luigi Guffanti 1876 in the northern Italian town of Arona that has been buying cheese from the same production sites since 1876, then refining them in special “caves,” sometimes for years before they are sold around the world. They are artisans and specialists who oversee more than more than 200 kinds of cheese here
“Everything you do to the milk changes the taste of the cheese,” explained Walter Carbo, who tours us around the chilly caves. Even the grass where the animals graze impacts the taste.

 

 

“The selection is the hardest part of the work,” Carbo says

 

 

After the cheese is removed from the pot, it is wrapped in cloth and is put in a mold that sets its final form. “Now the cheese is ready for a little nap — and when it wakes up it will have taken on its final form!” the book says. Some of the cheese is placed between pieces of wood and pressed. Salt is added to the cheese and then the cheese “has to rest” and is aged for any time from a few weeks or years. The cheese experts we meet need to rotate the cheese, wash it and most important, watch it.

 

I’ve never seen so many giant cheeses in one place — big rounds I couldn’t even lift.

 

“We watch it and we wash it and we turn it,” Carbo explained.   One cheese is covered in ash, balsamic vinegar and juniper; another is washed with particular oils. Some are meant to be enjoyed fresh, others only after aged a few years.

 

Several generations of the family have been in the business, started when Luigi Guffanti purchased an old mine at the foot of the Alps to age his cheese. The company experts select cheeses made with raw milk; some made only in the summer in the mountains according to ancient traditions. The company is by the shores of Lake Maggiore, which has an ideal micro-climate for the aging process.

 

Don’t ask me what’s the secret to all this. All I know is that the cheeses taste great!

 

By Eileen Ogintz Taking the Kids  eileen@takingthekids.com
5 Viking Green
Westport, CT 06880

Magical Maggiore: Our Stay on the Lake

There’s something magical about Lake Maggiore

“It’s magical.” We repeated that often during our stay on Lake Maggiore, a sister to Lake Como, the more famous celebrity-studded of the northern Italian lakes.

There was definitely something special about Lake Maggiore from the moment we arrived at our villa rental in Lesa until we left four days later. Did it start with the warm welcome we received from our hosts? Was it the natural beauty of the water, islands, and gardens? Was it our special experiences that included a private world-class concert? I think it was a combination of all of those things wrapped up into one magical experience.

 

Sweeney Isola-Bella-002

Lake Maggiore, with shoreline located partly in Italy’s Piedmont and Lombardy regions and also in Switzerland, is the second largest lake (after Lake Garda) in Italy.

Our stay on Lake Maggiore at Casa del Lago in Lesa

Lesa is located in Piedmont along the lake between the towns of Arona (at the southern tip of the lake) and Stresa (the most well-known town of the area for its famous music festival and access to attractions of the lake area).

Sweeney View-from-archway-001

 

Casa del Lago is a romantic lakeside cottage in Lesa that we called home for four nights. There is a separate wing of Casa del Lago where the villa’s owner lives part-time, but there is complete privacy for guests with private entrances and patio

 

Sweeney Sweeney

Casa del Lago is roomy, yet cozy — perfect for a small family or group of friends looking for a quiet place to enjoy their vacation and/or use as a base for the many nearby sites and activities. The decor includes comfortable furnishings and upgraded baths. The warm kitchen and dining area were my favorite parts of the house where we enjoyed views of the lake as we had breakfast or caught up on some work. On our first night, we debated whether or not to go out to dinner. We were eager to try recommended restaurants in nearby Lesa, but ultimately decided to pamper our jet-lag by a simple evening in the comfort of our own place with wine and snacks. And it was a wise choice. The picture above captures the experience.

Sweeney Sunrise-view

 

In the mornings, we awakened to the sounds of chirping birds and spent a little time just listening, noting that otherwise there was silence. Mr. TWS walked out on the dock to enjoy every beautiful sunrise, each as peaceful and quiet as the picture above portrays. There are a few other residences along the private road leading to the villa, but we rarely heard or saw another car or person. We got a kick out of the Casa del Lago mascots, two ducks who greeted us at the cottage door first thing in the morning and whenever we returned to the villa after our day’s activities.

 

Lake Maggiore highlights:

Casa del Lago is perfect for either a relaxing vacation by the lakeshore or as a base for exploring the area and taking advantage of its many activities and sites. These are highlights of the lake that we enjoyed and some of them will be covered in more detail in future posts.

Borromean Islands

One of the most memorable parts of our stay was a visit to two of the Borromean Islands of Lake Maggiore on a perfect weather day. A short boat ride from Stresa (about 9 km from Lesa) took us first to Isola Bella to tour the Borromeo family’s grand baroque palace and stunning terraced gardens where we were accompanied by our excellent guide Vittoria. You’ll see more photos of the palace and its fairytale-like gardens in an upcoming post

The terraced gardens of Isola Bella

The terraced gardens of Isola Bella

The Borromeo family has owned the island (and neighboring Isola Madre) since the 1600s and still use two floors of the palace as a summer residence. The palace has 100 rooms, 25 of which are open to the public to see its extensive collections of important paintings and grand rooms. A large grotto for the residents of yore to keep cool in summer opens onto the gardens and a street outside the palace gates features several high-end Italian brands.

Isola Pescatori (on the right) on Lake Maggiore

Isola Pescatori (on the right) on Lake Maggiore

 

Another short boat ride took us to Isola Pescatori (Fishermen’s Island) for lunch at Ristorante Verbano. The local seafood specialties were delicious and the setting was so lovely that we could have spent the rest of the afternoon there on this gorgeous day

Terrace dining at Ristorante Verbano on Isola Pescatori

Terrace dining at Ristorante Verbano on Isola Pescatori

 

Villa Taranto

Just as I was surprised at the sheer beauty and architectural design of the gardens of Isola Bella, I was struck by the expanse of the Villa Taranto gardens and the thousands of varieties of flora on the property. A pathway winds up through the woods and gardens and offers panoramic view of the lake at the top. We have too many beautiful photos to choose from for this post, so stay tuned for future flora posts.

Villa Taranto gardens in Pallanza

Villa Taranto gardens in Pallanza

Let there be music

If you visit Lake Maggiore in summer you can enjoy the famous Stresa Festival (founded in 1961) that attracts renowned musicians, orchestras, conductors, and vocal artists from around the world to perform in a diversity of venues around and on the lake, such as Isola Bella. Under the leadership of Artistic Director Gianandrea Noseda, the 2016 55th annual festival series begins with the Midsummer Jazz Concerts (July 19th to 24th), continues with Musical Meditations (July 26th to 28th), and features its main series Building Bridges (August 23rd to September 6th).

 

Tea and conversation with Massimo Marenzi of the Piano Academy at Villa Sandra

Tea and conversation with Massimo Marenzi of the Piano Academy at Villa Sandra

 

Although we wouldn’t be at Lake Maggiore for the Stresa Festival, we were lucky to attend a private performance of Roberto Prosseda, an internationally acclaimed pianist, at Villa Sandra. An intimate affair, we were entertained with Prosseda’s masterful renditions of pieces by Chopin and Mendelssohn. The next morning, we enjoyed tea with Villa Sandra’s founder and president Massimo Marenzi (shown above) whose passion for music inspired him to create the Piano Academy, an intensive two weeks of music lessons and immersion taught by master musicians. The Piano Academy offers concerts by its students and teachers to the public during the summer session (July 2016). We were enthralled by Massimo’s enthusiasm for music, the initiatives of Villa Sandra, and the Stresa Festival.

The charming towns

On our drives between Lesa and other points on the Piedmont side of Lake Maggiore, we were constantly pointing out beautiful lake views and admiring the towns and villages through which we passed. On the weekend, we shared the road with bicyclists enjoying their exercise in this beautiful setting, too.

Stresa

Stresa is a main tourist area of the lake and there is much to do — shop, dine, and catch the ferries to the islands and other Lake Maggiore destinations. Stresa has a literary connection, too. Of note, Ernest Hemingway spent time in Stresa at the elegant Grand Hotel des Iles Borromées (pictured below) on the shore of the lake. Lake Maggiore is a setting in his novel, A Farewell to Arms.

Grand Hotel des Iles Borromées in Stresa

Grand Hotel des Iles Borromées in Stresa

 

Lesa

Lesa, the small waterfront town near Casa del Lago, has restaurants, shops, and a lovely promenade to stroll. There is also a market convenient to the villa to stock up on supplies for your stay.

Boats in the harbor at Lesa

Boats in the harbor at Lesa

For a small town (population just over 2,000 people), I was surprised that Lesa was such a cultural and business center. Italian fashion brand, Herno, has its headquarters and concept store here. We visited the store and my only regret is that I didn’t choose among the wide selection of its colorful and lightweight signature rain jackets and make a purchase.

Arona

Arona, at the southern end of Lake Maggiore, is the largest town on the west side of the lake and is considered the liveliest with many restaurants, shops and a waterfront promenade with a view of Rocca Borromeo di Angera. On a hilltop nearby, a large bronze and copper statue of San Carlo Borromeo stands 35 meters high. We didn’t take time to climb the stairs of the hollow interior, but we’re told that from the top you can look out the statue’s eyes and ears for beautiful views of the surrounding countryside and the lake.

 

Arona street scene, San Carlo statue, and view of Rocca Borromeo di Angera from the waterfront

Arona street scene, San Carlo statue, and view of Rocca Borromeo di Angera from the waterfront

Orta San Giulio on Lake Orta

It was a fun drive inland to Lake Orta staying off the main highways through the wooded hills and small villages of the Vergante area. We had the pleasure of sitting back and enjoying this scenic route since our host and driver Luisa knows these narrow and curvy roads so well. A spot to which I must return someday is the Umbrella Museum that we passed along the way in Pettenasco. I love finding intriguing museums like that when I travel.

Lake Orta and Isola San Giulio seen from Piazza Motta in Orta San Giulio

Lake Orta and Isola San Giulio seen from Piazza Motta in Orta San Giulio

 

The overcast day struck me as adding a bit more romantic ambiance as we walked around the car-free town of Orta San Giulio admiring its colorful buildings and beautiful Piazza Motta.

At Pan e Vino, a restaurant on the piazza, we were served regional Piedmont meats, cheeses, and wines. The fantastic platter shown on the right below includes a selection of cow, sheep, and goat cheeses, served with fruit jams. Another platter had a variety of delectable salami and ham options. It was truly a feast paired with Piedmont wines, Gattinara (a red wine) and Arneis (a white wine). The fireplace in the comfortable dining room and the warm and friendly service made us feel like we were guests in a home.

 

Wine, cheese, and meat specialties of the Piedmont region at Pan e Vino in Orta San Giulio

Wine, cheese, and meat specialties of the Piedmont region at Pan e Vino in Orta San Giulio

More to do during a stay at Lake Maggiore

There are many more sports and outdoor activities available nearby Casa del Lago such as sailing, water skiing, canoeing, golfing, hiking, horse riding, swimming, and tennis. Lake Maggiore also has the largest wilderness area in Italy, Parco Nazionale della Val Grande, and in winter, there are the ski resorts of Mount Rosa which are only 65 km from Lesa. So there are plenty of activities year-round. Or you could just relax at the villa soaking up the Italian lake ambiance and letting the magic happen.

Our hosts

Eva is an engaging woman and we were fortunate to have an opportunity to join her for an al fresco meal one evening along with her daughter, son-in-law, and Luisa. We felt a special, fun companionship with these lovely people, an immediate connection, that is something I’ve found more in Italy than anywhere else. Then it was time to go back to our villa — once again to “our place” feeling like locals who had just left our neighbors after a friendly get-together

 

With Sara, Luisa, and Eva at Casa del Lago

With Sara, Luisa, and Eva at Casa del Lago

 

On our last night, Mr. TWS and I stood on the edge of our private dock looking at the lights in the hills across the lake and listening to the gentle lapping of the water. I thought about the great experiences we’d had and the nice people we’d met. And one last time while at Lake Maggiore, I said to Mr. TWS, “It’s magical.”

How to get to Lake Maggiore:

The lake is easily accessible from many points by car, boat, and train. The nearest international airport is Milan Malpensa (MXP) from where we drove about 45 minutes to reach Casa del Lago. Railway stations are located in Arona and Stresa. Boats and ferries traverse the lake in all directions. The main ferry ports are Arona and Stresa, but there are also docks in many of the towns where boats can be hired.

For more villa information, photos, and booking information: EsteVillas – Casa del Lago

Disclosure: Our stay and activities at Lake Maggiore were hosted by Casa del Lago, EsteVillas, and local sponsors

Map of main places we visited

3 days itineray

 

Villa Sandra  via davicini 40 –28040 Lesa, (NO) Italy

Isola Bella Isole Borromeo Phone +39 0323 30556+39 0323 30556 E-mail info@borromeoturismo.it

Boat Service to the Islands  Lido 2000 Tiziano Rossi  Phone  +39 3472524829

Villa Taranto Pallanza can be reached by car or by boat  the shipping company “Navigazione Lago Maggiore” has a landing stage called “Villa Taranto” right in front of the Gardens entrance

Restaurant Verbano Isola Pescatori Phone +39 0323 30408/32534

Pane e Vino Lake Orta +39 393 8583293 Piazza Motta 37 Orta San Giulio (No) Italy (please note Pane e Vino is located in a pedestrian area, no cars are allowed)

After Hours in St. Mark’s Basilica

On most any day of the year, Piazza San Marco, Venice’s magnificent square, is bustling with tourists admiring the architecture, shopping for souvenirs, or soaking up the ambiance at outdoor cafes. It’s a stunning sight to enter the enormous square whether from the city’s maze of alleyways or from the waterfront promenade. Prominent is St. Mark’s Basilica, named for the patron saint of Venice, St. Mark the Evangelist. It is one of Venice’s most recognizable landmarks beneath its imposing bell tower and adjacent to the Doge’s Palace……….

From our personal experience in Venice, we give you our recommendation for the best way to visit St. Mark’s Basilica to avoid the crowds and make the most of the experience — an exclusive after-hours tour by Walks of Italy. Find  more in Traveling with Sweeney  post

St Mark Venice

St Mark Venice

Instagram highlights of northern Italian treasures

“Open my heart and you will see

Graved inside of it, ‘Italy’ .” — Robert Browning

It shouldn’t be surprising that art, literature, and music are essential aspects of northern Italy. Surrounded by stunning natural beauty, dramatic history, and deep cultural traditions, it’s easy to understand why writers (such as Browning), artists, and musicians have been enamored of and inspired by various locations in the four regions of Italy we visited on our latest trip — Piedmont, Lombardy, Veneto, and Emilia-Romagna. We were captivated each day by the lakes, gardens, cities, countryside, and historic sites. Of course, this is Italy, so culinary delights are also an important part of any visit and we savored a delicious diversity of regional food and wine. In particular, Mr. TWS seemed to be tasting heaven in every bite.

We covered a lot of territory traveling by car from Lake Maggiore (Piedmont) to Mantua (Lombardy) to Asolo (Veneto) and finally to Tredozio (my third visit to Emilia-Romagna and second to Tredozio) with interesting side trips each day and varied accommodations — lakeside cottage, 12th-century palace, romantic apartment, and countryside villa. (We also spent a few days in Venice, but that’s for another story.) So there will be much to show and tell beyond this preview, and we will in future posts. These photos from our Instagram gallery are an introduction to our trip to whet your appetite.

Casa del Lago in Lesa (Lake Maggiore) — our base in Piedmont

Pictured below was the gorgeous, peaceful sunrise that we captured from the waterfront at Casa del Lago, the lovely villa we called home for four nights on Lake Maggiore. What a beautiful place on earth! We could have happily spent the entire four days here, but it was ideally located providing easy access to many sights and activities we experienced

View from Casa Del Lago Lake Maggiore

View from Casa Del Lago Lake Maggiore

 

What a glorious first day we had on Lake Maggiore as we traveled by boat from the town of Stresa to the Borromeo Islands of the lake. The view below was from the palace and gardens on Isola Bella (meaning beautiful island — and indeed, it is). There was still a bit of snow showing on the Alpine peaks in the distance.

Isola-Bella-palace

Tulips of all colors and types were on display in the expansive and gorgeous botanical gardens of Villa Taranto in Pallanza, a must-see when visiting Lake Maggiore. I loved this combination of purple and orange/pink tulips.

Villa Taranto Gardens Pallanza Lake Maggiore

Villa Taranto Gardens Pallanza Lake Maggiore

Don’t tell anyone! Let’s keep this old village in the Piedmont region a secret. Well, it’s probably too late for that, but Orta San Giulio is a quiet and romantic treasure in the Italian lakes area. The town is situated on a hillside on the shores of Lake Orta, lesser-known than other lakes of northern Italy. Pictured below are colorful buildings with shops and restaurants on Piazza Motta.

Lake Orta Piemonte

Lake Orta Piemonte

 

Palazzo Castiglioni in Mantua — our base in Lombardy

 

Mr. TWS and I have fond memories of the view pictured below from our private Tower Suite rooftop at the grand Palazzo Castiglioni in Mantua. A UNESCO World Heritage Site and 2016 Italian Capital of Culture, Mantua is well-known for its annual literary festival and is rich in history, the arts, and culture

 

 

Palazzo Castiglioni in Mantua — our base in Lombardy

Mantova, Lombardy, view from Palazzo Castiglioni

Mantova, Lombardy, view from Palazzo Castiglioni

Mr. TWS and I have fond memories of the view pictured below from our private Tower Suite rooftop at the grand Palazzo Castiglioni in Mantua. A UNESCO World Heritage Site and 2016 Italian Capital of Culture, Mantua is well-known for its annual literary festival and is rich in history, the arts, and culture

Palazzo Castiglioni Mantova, the frescoed wall in the tower

Palazzo Castiglioni Mantova, the frescoed wall in the tower

We were fortunate to catch a rehearsal of a fantastic chorale group during a tour of beautiful Teatro Bibiena. The theater is one of the main venues of the Mantova Chamber Music Festival organized by the Mantua Chamber Orchestra. Of great historical note, Mozart performed his first solo concert on stage here at age 13. About the theater, his father wrote that he had never seen anything more beautiful of its kind

Bibiena-Theater Mantova Chamber Orchestra

 

Go ahead … have a taste. These were a few of the totally delicious specialties of Mantua that we had for lunch at Locanda delle Grazie in Curtatone — fruit (apples and pears) mustards, pumpkin ravioli, and Sbrisolona (a crunchy almond dessert). Lambrusco Mantovano, a local Lombardy DOC, paired perfectly

Locanda Delle Grazie Curtatone Mantova

Locanda Delle Grazie Curtatone Mantova

Elena 3 in Asolo — our base in Veneto

Beautiful Asolo! Pictured below is the panoramic vista of residential buildings against the backdrop of the Alpine foothills seen from Queen Cornaro’s Castle.

Asolo, Veneto

Asolo, Veneto

Having cappuccino and pastries at historic Caffè Centrale (pictured below) was a delightful ritual while in Asolo. Literary greats (and other notables) like Ernest Hemingway, Henry James, and Robert Browning hung out in this very place in times past. Our lovely in-town apartment was on the 2nd floor (3rd in U.S. terms) above Caffè Centrale which faces the quaint Piazza Garibaldi with a lovely fountain, the cathedral, and a few small shops and restaurants

Asolo Caffè Centrale

Asolo Caffè Centrale

A beautiful side trip from Asolo took us to Prosecco wine country and a drive along the Prosecco Road. Inside the extensive underground tunnels beneath the Villa Sandi wine estate are a million bottles of aging wine (pictured below). There’s also interesting history here — the tunnels were used by the Italian military during World War I to get troops to and from the front line. Villa Sandi offers a great tour through the tunnels as well as the villa with a taste of their Prosecco Superiore

Villa Sardi winery

Villa Sandi winery

When visiting the lively town of Treviso, always be on the lookout for beautiful frescoes on the facades of buildings in the historic center. How beautiful is this? The historic city has many similarities to nearby (and much more famous Venice), which had considerable influence on Treviso style and architecture. It is very accessible as a day trip from nearby Asolo.

Treviso Veneto

Treviso Veneto

Torre Fantini in Tredozio — our base in Emilia-Romagna

Irises were in bloom at Torre Fantini, once a lookout tower, now a beautifully-restored cozy hillside villa, where we stayed in Tredozio. It’s a gorgeous setting with a spectacular view (one of our favorites anywhere) of hills covered with vineyards, fields, and woods. It is a very peaceful place for a relaxing stay. This was our second stay at Torre Fantini and we’d would love to return.

Tredozio Torre Fantini Garden

Tredozio Torre Fantini Garden

One of the many convenient and scenic side trips from Tredozio is the medieval town of Brisighella. In the photo below, the clock tower is seen from La Rocca. the ancient fortress on a nearby hilltop. I love the patches of clouds in the blue sky of this spring day, which enhanced the spectacular views in many directions from many observation points.

Brisighella

The bright sunshine highlights the pretty buildings of the historic center of Brisighella where the colorful facades follow the curvature of the ancient city walls.

Brisighella

Brisighella

I’ll close this series of photos with a little romance. I really like this photo of Mr. TWS (his first appearance on Instagram) and me (2nd time) in the ballroom of Villa La Collina, an elegant luxury holiday rental on a hilltop high above Tredozio. It was a memorable experience visiting the villa and meeting its lovely owner Contessa Maria Teresa Vespignani Boselli (who is also seen in the photo). The contessa graciously provided a tour of the villa and gardens, and also a delicious lunch of local dishes

Tredozio Villa La Collina

Tredozio Villa La Collina

Disclosure: During our trip, our accommodations and activities were sponsored by EsteVillas and local hosts

Posted on May 6th 2016

Written by Catherine Sweeney  Travelling with Sweeney

Casa del Lago Lake Maggiore , Isola Bella , Locanda Le Grazie  Via S. Pio X, 2, Grazie MN, Italy tel +39 0376 348038

Palazzo Castiglioni Mantova , Mantova Chamber Orchestra,

Elena 3 Asolo, Caffè Centrale , Villa Sandi ,

Torre Fantini Tredozio , Villa La Collina Tredozio

From Bologna to the villages of Emilia-Romagna

After a one hour train ride from the stylish bustle of cosmopolitan Milan, we arrived in Bologna, a historical and cultural center in northeast Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region. It is a large city with an enormous, just-opened, new railway station — a destination for international visitors as well as a connecting point for business people and local residents. But our itinerary moved us quickly out of the city by car with our travel blogger friends to begin a 9-day journey through Emilia-Romagna beyond the locations commonly found in travel guides, Mr. TWS and I were to spend our first night in the village of Tredozio on the border of Tuscany about 40 miles southeast of Bologna.

Ponte della Signora in Modigliana

Ponte della Signora in Modigliana

 

Along the way in Modigliana

Exiting the busy main highway out of Bologna, our drive quickly turned scenic as we took winding roads through rural areas of vineyards and olive trees. A stop in the quiet village of Modigliana gave us the chance to cross the steeply-arched Ponte della Signora (San Donato Bridge) built in the 18th century and wander the streets of this town of under 5,000 residents. We met several friendly locals who helped us to find Antichi Sapori, a great place for a lunch of “pasta fresca”. This was our first experience with the authentic homemade pasta of the region, made from scratch in the kitchen. It was the start of a long series of wonderful meals as we ate our way through Italy.

Pasta

Pasta

Tredozio

After lunch, we continued on to Tredozio, a village of about 1,300 residents within the lush Parco Nazionale delle Foreste Casentinesi (Casentinesi National Park). It is an ancient town once inhabited by the Romans which later became part of the province of Florence until Benito Mussolini changed the borders of Romagna in 1923, making Tredozio part of Forli in Emilia-Romagna.

We were told that we’d be staying in an 18th century vintner’s tower for our lodgings the first night and were looking forward to such a unique experience. As we approached the driveway of Torre Fantini we were amazed with an awesome view of the Apennines and the valley below with a farmer at work in the fields.

 

Torre Fantini

While we took deep breaths of the exceptionally fresh air, it was easy to imagine spending several days there, instead of just one night. The property has 3 double bedrooms with en suite bathrooms, a nice garden and a pool with great view over the valley. From our “Old Tower” room we had windows facing the hills from the bedroom and bath, as well as a view of a woodland from a window on another side of the room.

Bedroom

La Vecchia Torre bedroom at Torre Fantini

A walk around the grounds and a bit of relaxation at the gorgeous pool provided panoramic views — what a setting!

Panoramic pool at Torre Fantini

Settled in our room, we took a short 10 minute walk to the village of Tredozio where we enjoyed the feeling of a small Italian town and had an opportunity to interact with a few of the residents, who even with our language difficulties were friendly and helpful.

The town was quiet and irresistible. It captured exactly what we’d hoped from the trip, being able to experience a less-traveled, hidden part of Italy.

Tredozio

The village of Tredozio

Completing a circuit of the town, we snapped several photos of the 17th and 18th century buildings, as well as the 14th century church, Chiesa della Compagnia. We found that most of the shops were closed for siesta, but we did find a small restaurant open with an outdoor patio to enjoy a cold drink, the village sights and watch the locals while they strolled and conversed with friends and family.

Church

The Church of La Compagnia

Palazzo Fantini

GM-4443

Palazzo Fantini courtyard

In the evening, we met with Beatrice Fontaine, the owner of Torre Fantini, in Tredozio at Palazzo Fantini, an elegant residence belonging to her family since the time it was built in 1753. Beatrice gave us a tour of the Tuscan-baroque style house and beautiful grounds. From the modest presentation from the street front, the house and gardens were surprisingly large and exceptional.

The gardens created in the 1800s had been designed not by a famous architect but they appeared to be. The gardens were bursting with roses thriving after an unusually wet month of May in the area. Beside the roses, there were various flowers and trees all positioned uniquely to create a peaceful and beautiful floral setting, making it a perfect venue for weddings, concerts and other events.

Gardens 2

The Garden

 

Palazzo Fantini is listed by Great Italian Gardens, an organization that promotes the heritage of gardens in Italy.

We also toured the buildings that were once used for housing horses and other animals That area as well as two large courtyards and a granary were restored to their original design. These buildings are painted an intriguing pattern of red and gold stripes (the original design) to differentiate the living quarters from the farm buildings.

Striped buildings

Striped buildings at Palazzo Fantini

The living quarters are actually four different structures that had been joined, the original building constructed in the 17th century, enhanced in the 18th century, then restored as a project by Beatrice’s father in recent years.

Gardens

The Lemon House

The evening continued as we moved to the residence to the living area for conversation, then the warm and spacious kitchen/dining for dinner. Beatrice was a generous host; we enjoyed her conversation and appreciated her interest in our upcoming blog project in Emilia-Romagna officially starting the next day.

Dinner

Dinner at Palazzo Fantini

The kitchen was warm and welcoming and the company and conversation made for a memorable evening, enhanced by the inclusion of Mafalda, a charming woman who has worked with the family for many years. Despite our language differences, I felt that we communicated brilliantly with our smiles, Mafalda’s smile as she served being as warm as the pasta soup was hot. We devoured the steaming pasta soup, salad, and fruit which was prepared by Pierluigi Gentilini, chef of Tredozio’s Michelin–rated Il Mulino di San Michele. We now truly anticipated that this trip to Italy was going to be the culinary delight we hoped. It was also clear that we could expect to add a few pounds before our time in Italy was finished.

Mafalda

Mafalda cooked for us!

A fresh start to our fresh project

After a nearly silent night and peaceful sleep, delicious homemade pastries from the village bakery and flavorful coffee in Torre Fantini’s breakfast room were a perfect way to begin the day. From Tredozio, we would be heading off through Casentinesi National Park to Portico di Romagna to continue our project exploring more of hidden Emilia-Romagna. But our short stay at Torre Fantini has put Tredozio on our list of places to return someday.

Breakfast

Breakfast at Torre Fantini

 

Take a look at EsteVillas website for details, more photos and booking information for Torre Fantini and other properties in this area.

Posted on Jan 18 2016

Written by Catherine Sweeney – Travelling with Sweeney

Discovering the art of Pietrasanta

Of the many highlights that Mr. TWS and I enjoyed during our stay in Tuscany, one of our favorites was learning about the rich art culture of Pietrasanta, a town near the Versilian coast (Tuscany’s Riviera) in the foothills of the Apuan Alps.

One of several sculptures by Igor Mitoraj in Piazza Duomo

One of several sculptures by Igor Mitoraj in Piazza Duomo

In the company of our expert local guide and Tuscany travel consultant, Serena Giovannoni, we strolled among intriguing public art, watched artists at work on their creations, saw the nearby quarries where the area’s famous pure white marble is sourced, and enjoyed the beauty of Tuscany.

A marble quarry in the Apuan Alps near Pietrasanta

A marble quarry in the Apuan Alps near Pietrasanta

The precious marble

Although familiar with Michelangelo’s masterpieces and lucky enough to have seen a few in person, I didn’t know that in the quarries of the Apuan Alps near Pietrasanta he procured the fine marble for his sculptures. On our drive on winding roads above Seravezza just a few miles from Pietrasanta, we got a direct view of one of them cut into the forested hillside. Imagine back in the 16th century how difficult it must have been for Michelangelo and others to get their marble from hillside to workshop.

Students creating marble sculptures at an open-air art class

Students creating marble sculptures at an open-air art class

Also on our drive through the foothills to Pietrasanta, Serena took us to a unique art school where student artists were working with hammers and chisels to sculpt their masterpieces from marble slabs obtained nearby, inspired by the  gorgeous scenery of the mountain vistas.

Religious marble works in progress in Pietrasanta

Religious marble works in progress in Pietrasanta

In the town of Pietrasanta, we visited a marble sculpture workshop where we carefully stepped around dusty slabs of gorgeous marble recently removed from the quarries to watch the activity of the artists. Religious works for churches were being created alongside statues for other venues.

LOVE sculpture in a Pietrasanta marble workshop

LOVE sculpture in a Pietrasanta marble workshop

I’ve seen the familiar LOVE sculpture below in several other places in my travels, but I’ve never seen one while it is a work in progress.

Sculpture by Igor Mitoraj in Piazza Duomo

Sculpture by Igor Mitoraj in Piazza Duomo

 

Pietrasanta public art

During our afternoon in the city center of Pietrasanta, it was easy to understand why it is known as “Little Athens” and “City of the Artists” and why it is home to many Italian and international artists. The city exudes a passion for art with galleries and public art exhibits being key elements of the historic center.

One perspective of a prominent bronze sculpture by Igor Mitoraj on Piazza Duomo

One perspective of a prominent bronze sculpture by Igor Mitoraj on Piazza Duomo

Entering the city center at Piazza Duomo is a feast for the eyes with public art on display in the square. Prominent are the sculptures (shown here and in the photo at the top of the post) by Polish artist, Igor Mitoraj, who set up a studio in Pietrasanta in 1983 and contributed several works to the city.

Among the fashion boutiques and cafes on on Via Garibaldi, Pietrasanta also has numerous galleries  showcasing contemporary Tuscan artists. Although we didn’t visit the Museo dei Bozzetti on this visit, I’d like to return to see its extensive collections of over 600 sketches and models of the sculptures of more of 300 Italian and foreign artists, including Fernando Botero (whose bold sculptures we previously saw in Maui in art installations at the Grand Wailea Resort).

Porta della Pace (Doorway of Peace)

Porta della Pace (Doorway of Peace)

 

A lovely symbol of art and peace in Pietrasanta’s public art is Porta della Pace (Doorway of Peace) at the end of the main street in town.

The mosaic master: Piero Giannoni

A highlight of the afternoon was a personal visit with Piero Giannoni, a master mosaic artist who gave us a very warm welcome. During a walk-through that he graciously provided, his passion for his craft was evident as he spoke of completed projects and described the project in progress on a large open area on the floor of his studio. Working seven days a week to meet orders but also to fulfill his love of the art itself, he is clearly committed to his craft.

Mosaic master Piero Giannoni at work in his studio in Pietrasanta

Mosaic master Piero Giannoni at work in his studio in Pietrasanta

We watched Piero and another artist in his shop cutting, polishing, and placing each individual piece of glass. His many artistic accomplishments are diverse and include mosaic portraits for celebrities such as fashion designers Giorgio Armani and Roberto Cavalli as well as large mosaic art pieces that adorn churches and secular venues around the world.

Mr. TWS and I particularly appreciated the mosaic representation of “The Kiss” (below left), a favorite Gustav Klimt painting.

Left: Piero Giannoni’s mosaic of Gustav Klimt’s “The Kiss”; Right: Mosaic artist at work in the studio and colorful glass pieces

Left: Piero Giannoni’s mosaic of Gustav Klimt’s “The Kiss”; Right: Mosaic artist at work in the studio and colorful glass pieces

My day was made when Piero selected a large sampling of colorful glass mosaic pieces and gave them to me — it was a special treasure and a great souvenir.

The art of a Pietrasanta villa

Driving from the city center about four miles into the Versilia hills above Pietrasanta, we reached the beautifully restored 18th century Villa Sant’Andrea for a tour by the owners and Serena, who upon request provides wedding planning and concierge services for guests. Its baroque style with beamed ceilings, extensive manicured gardens, and decorative frescoes seem a perfect fit to the theme of art in Pietrasanta.

Villa Sant’Andrea in the hills above Pietrasanta

Villa Sant’Andrea in the hills above Pietrasanta

The building itself is stately and elegant and the panoramic vistas of the towns below on the Versilian coast are dramatic. The villa embodies a much more Mediterranean Riviera ambiance than that of more well-known Tuscany images of rolling hills dotted with vineyards.

CSW 13 Sant-Andrea-exterior1

As we walked through the stylish living and sitting rooms, large kitchen, eight spacious bedrooms, and seven baths, we admired the fine furnishings, marble and ceramic tiles, and the fine art. Particularly impressive are the frescoes, some of which are shown in the photos of the villa’s interior below.

Gorgeous frescoes in living room of Villa Sant’Andrea

Gorgeous frescoes in living room of Villa Sant’Andrea

 

Elegant decor and beautiful frescoes in first floor living room of Villa Sant’Andrea

Elegant decor and beautiful frescoes in first floor living room of Villa Sant’Andrea

 

Delicate frescoe patterns on the walls of a bedroom in Villa Sant’Andrea

Delicate frescoe patterns on the walls of a bedroom in Villa Sant’Andrea

Villa Sant’Andrea is ideally suited for large gatherings and special events accommodating up to 20 people. A private consecrated chapel is appealing for weddings and other celebrations. We could easily envision being part of a large group of guests at the villa and relaxing around the pool followed by cocktails on the terrace to enjoy the stunning views

Inviting pool of Villa Sant’Andrea overlooking the Versilian coast of Tuscany

Inviting pool of Villa Sant’Andrea overlooking the Versilian coast of Tuscany

Beyond the villa, the location is convenient for visiting Pietrasanta and the coastal town of Viareggio, enjoying the beaches of the Versilian coast (nearest beach is 6 km away), a golf course in Forte dei Marmi, and important cities of Tuscany such as Lucca, Pisa (also the nearest airport), and Florence.

Art travel tip: Viareggio and La Cittadella di Carnevale

Serena had a surprise for us before the end of our tour with her — a visit to nearby Viareggio (where there are many Art Deco and Art Nouveau buildings to admire) and La Cittadella di Carnevale, a property with 16 huge hangars where floats for the very popular annual carnival in Viareggio (to be held during February in 2016) are made and stored. The floats are amazing and in the photo bottom right you get a sense of their size. The largest floats can take five months to build and can be as wide as 20m and as tall as 14m. During open hours, you can stroll around the grounds and visit the workshops.

Hangars housing the enormous floats of La Cittadella di Carnevale in Viareggio

Hangars housing the enormous floats of La Cittadella di Carnevale in Viareggio

Grazie to Serena Giovanonni, Villa Sant’Andrea, and EsteVillas for hosting our day discovering the art of Pietrasanta.

With Serena Giovannoni on a bridge across the Burlamacca Canal in Viareggio

With Serena Giovannoni on a bridge across the Burlamacca Canal in Viareggio

Take a look at the EsteVillas website for details, more photos, and booking information for Villa Sant’Andrea and other properties in their collection.

Posted on Dec 16 2015

Written by Catherine Sweeney  Travelling with Sweeney

Villa Santandrea  Pietrasanta, Versilia, Tuscany

A day in Chianti begins

 

By now, it’s not a secret that Mr. TWS and I were smitten with Tuscany on our first visit to the region. Each day brought new experiences in the hilltop villages, historic towns, and countryside. On this day with the promise of more tasty and interesting activities ahead, Mr. TWS and I were driving along Tuscany’s country roads among the vineyards and olive groves enjoying the burst of colorful spring blooms on the wooded hillsides.

Vineyards and olive groves in the Chianti hills of Tuscany

Vineyards and olive groves in the Chianti hills of Tuscany

Tasting Chianti

Chianti, a well-known name to wine drinkers and Italian restaurant patrons worldwide, is a wine zone in Tuscany that grows the grapes used in its namesake wines. What better way to begin a day in Chianti than in one of the foremost wineries of Tuscany with a tour and tasting?

Wine and architecture

Antinori nel Chianti Classico (Cantine Antinori)
Via Cassia per Siena, 133
San Casciano in Val di Pesa, Bargino

Newly opened in October 2012, Cantine Antinori is a striking work of architecture on the Chianti landscape. Created with local materials and a focus on having minimal impact on the environment and saving energy, it complements the natural surroundings of its rural hillside location in Bargino

Tuscany countryside reflected in the glass of the Cantine Antinori in Bargino — innovative architecture designed by Archea Associati in harmony with the landscape

Tuscany countryside reflected in the glass of the Cantine Antinori in Bargino — innovative architecture designed by Archea Associati in harmony with the landscape

Usually, I’m not much for introductory films before tours, but the very interesting video at the beginning of our tour explained the Antinori family’s history in the wine business and particularly how innovation has always been a driving force in their operations. In 1385, Giovanni di Piero Antinori, head of the noble Florentine family, began the centuries-long history of producing wine. Through 26 generations, the family has remained directly involved in management of the winery. Antinori built the new facility and moved its headquarters from Florence to this location to continue advancing their innovative approach to wine making while honoring their long traditions. As Marquis Piero Antinori, current head of the family business, says: “Ancient roots play an important role in our work. But have never been a limit to our innovative spirit”.

Innovative architecture and design of Cantine Antinori -- From top left: A circular skylight fills the lobby with light; "Biosphere 06" art by Tomás Saraceno installed in cellar stairway; ; views of Tuscan hills from lobby; soft and colorful seating in lounge area; looking up through the spiral staircase from the parking lot

Innovative architecture and design of Cantine Antinori — From top left: A circular skylight fills the lobby with light; “Biosphere 06” art by Tomás Saraceno installed in cellar stairway; ; views of Tuscan hills from lobby; soft and colorful seating in lounge area; looking up through the spiral staircase from the parking lot

The geometric and abstract designs of the structure and interior decor are eye-catching as you peruse the Antinori family art collections and information exhibits on the main level. I particularly liked the views of the Tuscan hills and Antinori’s Sangiovese vineyards through the expansive glass windows (top right above).

From top left: Time for tasting after the tour; alluring display of wine bottles in the shop; terracotta vats for olive oil production; vaulted wine cellar

From top left: Time for tasting after the tour; alluring display of wine bottles in the shop; terracotta vats for olive oil production; vaulted wine cellar

 

There are several guided tours available that cover the wine-making process from the vineyard to the bottle and provide an excellent introduction to Antinori wines.

When in Italy … Although still before noon, Mr. TWS and I had no problem sampling a few wines during the tasting at the end of the tour. We began with a Bramito Chardonnay from Umbria that was perfect for early imbibing, followed by two of their signature Chianti Classico vintages. Chianti Classico is a designation that not only refers to a geographic district in Chianti, but also to the particular blend of grapes with Sangiovese being at least 80% of the blend.

Cheese and more wine

Fattoria Corzano e Paterno
Via San Vito di Sopra snc
San Pancrazio, San Casciano

But this day in Chianti wasn’t all about wine. Much to our pleasure, cheese was also involved.

Ancient stone buildings of Fattoria Corzano e Paterno in San Pancrazio, San Casciano, ItalyAncient stone buildings of Fattoria Corzano e Paterno

Ancient stone buildings of Fattoria Corzano e Paterno in San Pancrazio, San Casciano, ItalyAncient stone buildings of Fattoria Corzano e Paterno

 

Across the River Pesa, down winding tree-lined rural roads through hills dotted with Tuscan estates is Fattoria Corzano e Paterno, a family owned and operated cheese factory and winery. In the 1970s, with visions of living closer with the land as he began a new chapter of his life, the late Wendel Gelpke, a Swiss architect, came to Tuscany and bought two centuries-old farms — Corzano (in 1972) and Paterno (in 1976). We were given a tour of the farm by Arianna Gelpke, Wendel’s daughter and the winery’s assistant winemaker.

Touring the cheese factory with Arianna; Antonia’s luscious cheese creations on racks in the factory

Touring the cheese factory with Arianna; Antonia’s luscious cheese creations on racks in the factory

The cheese

Since 1992, the cheeses of Fattoria Corzano e Paterno have been produced by hand using traditional methods using the milk from the farm’s Sardinian sheep, chosen for their adaptability to the hilly terrain of Tuscany. The original small herd of 50 sheep purchased in the early 1970s to help clear the fields for vineyards has grown to 650 sheep, managed by Wendel’s son, Tillo. Reflecting the farm’s belief in sustainability and giving back to the land, the sheep also provide manure that enriches the soil in the vineyards and olive groves.

Antonia, wife of Wendel’s nephew Aljoscha, is a master cheesemaker who has managed the dairy since 1986 and has created many varieties of cheese. Among her inventions are the popular Lingotto (with smoked bacon aromas) and Rocco (a creamy and tangy cheese).

The wine

Aljoscha is the winemaker whose experience began 30 years ago when he helped his uncle on the original six hectares of land, which have grown to 18 hectares. Arianna assists Aljoscha and is in charge of the newer wine cellar built in 2005. Their grape varieties include Sangiovese, Canaiolo, Malvasia, Trebbiano(each common to the Chianti area), as well as other varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay.

The tasting

A highlight was sampling the freshness of Corzano e Paterno with a wine and cheese tasting in the courtyard in front of the shop where their wine, cheese, cured meats, and other local products can be purchased. On this warm afternoon with flowers in bloom, the Il Corzanello Toscana IGT Bianco was a perfect accompaniment to the cheeses we sampled (described below). We also tasted one of their red wines, Terre di Corzano Chianti, a Sangiovese and Canaiolo blend, and we couldn’t resist buying a bottle before we left.

Top left: Marzolino (soft cheese like mozzarella), Erbolino (fresh pecorino with garlic, parsley and hot pepper), and goat cheese; on the terrace with our guide Babeth and Arianna enjoying Il Corzanello Bianco 2014; fresh eggs in the shop; beautiful irises at the dairy

Top left: Marzolino (soft cheese like mozzarella), Erbolino (fresh pecorino with garlic, parsley and hot pepper), and goat cheese; on the terrace with our guide Babeth and Arianna enjoying Il Corzanello Bianco 2014; fresh eggs in the shop; beautiful irises at the dairy

 

Luxury country holiday villas

Within easy reach of Cantine Antinori and Corzano e Paterno are two of Este Villa’s luxury holiday rentals near the town of San Casciano, Borgorosa and Casa Mattei. Although we didn’t stay in these villas, we toured both of these properties and were instantly impressed with them as options for stays in Chianti. Each is distinctive in its accommodations and amenities, but being in the heart of Chianti, they both share convenient accessibility to many of Tuscany’s alluring cities and attractions, including the gorgeous Renaissance city of Florence which is only 18 km.

Borgorosa holiday rentals in a restored barn and olive mill

Borgorosa holiday rentals in a restored barn and olive mill

Filled with history in a secluded setting among the cypress trees of the Chianti hills is Borgorosa, a historic estate with holiday rentals. At the beautiful and grand villa adjacent to the rentals, Mr. TWS and I enjoyed meeting the owners, Andrea and his wife Claudia whose family has owned the property since the 1700s. During a tour and gourmet Tuscan lunch with our gracious hosts, we also liked learning about the history of the villa.

A memorable dining experience in Renaissance ambiance with Andrea and Claudia in their villa

A memorable dining experience in Renaissance ambiance with Andrea and Claudia in their villa

The villa was first built in the 13th century as a lookout tower to watch for enemy factions. As many of these types of structures in Italy, it was subsequently destroyed and rebuilt during the following centuries. In 1520, the villa was purchased by the famous Florentine noble, Matteo Strozzi, for a summer residence. He had it enlarged and decorated in grand Renaissance style by the most important sculptors and painters of the time. We had a glimpse of some of the ornate and richly-furnished rooms of the villa, including a stunning ballroom, but because photography was not allowed we are not able to share. The private chapel has stunning frescoes (top left below) painted by Michele Tosini, a student of Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio, a renowned Renaissance painter. Claudia’s ancestors in the Cancellieri Ganucci family bought the villa from Strozzi in the 1700s.

cr Borgorosa ev

 

Besides being a summer home for the nobility, the villa has seen its share of history through the centuries. According to Claudia’s grandfather’s diary, during World War II the villa was first occupied by the German Stasi command and then by the American army when the Germans had withdrawn.

Crossing the wide expanse of lawn to the Borgorosa holiday rental buildings from the family villa

Crossing the wide expanse of lawn to the Borgorosa holiday rental buildings from the family villa

Across a wide expanse of lawn from the main house are Borgorosa’s holiday rentals located in two buildings (shown above and below).

Borgorosa rental unit with private courtyard and outdoor dining area

Borgorosa rental unit with private courtyard and outdoor dining area

Andrea and Claudia have shown great style in the furnishings of the rental units (completely restored in 2011) using classic terracotta floors, original artwork, and tasteful antiques. A few of the comfortable and cozy rooms of the units are shown below.

A glimpse of interior rooms of Borgorosa units

A glimpse of interior rooms of Borgorosa units

Five units accommodating up to 22 people in 11 bedrooms are located in the restored buildings — three in the former olive oil mill and two in what was previously the barn. The units can be rented separately or together. Each unit has full kitchens, living areas, and private outdoor areas for al fresco dining in addition to outdoor common areas for all guests. Below the units among the olive trees is the inviting pool. Nearby activities that may interest guests include horseback riding, golf, and tennis.

Lawn and terrace of a Borgorosa unit overlooking pool surrounded by olive trees

Lawn and terrace of a Borgorosa unit overlooking pool surrounded by olive trees

Borgorosa seemed a great spot for a couple’s getaway or for large group and family gatherings, especially with the elegant loggia in the villa that would be perfect for special occasions

 

Casa Mattei

At Borgorosa, we were met by Babeth, the lovely property manager of Casa Mattei, the next villa we would be visiting just a few minutes away, partially along an unpaved road. At first sight, I knew I would be taken with Casa Mattei, a former monastery that dates back a thousand years

Casa Mattei

Casa Mattei

The building was completely restored in 2006 and its rooms were meticulously decorated in contemporary fashion. Enjoying refreshments with Babeth on the terrace with expansive views of the wooded countryside, I could easily envision a festive family gathering or vacation with friends here.

 

Enjoying refreshments on the terrace of Casa Mattei

Enjoying refreshments on the terrace of Casa Mattei

Casa Mattei’s spacious and beautifully-designed interior looked ideal for family and group gatherings, accommodating 5 to 6 couples or a family of up to 14 people. The main rooms include a large dining room that opens onto the terrace, two kitchens, a spacious living room, cozy sitting rooms, five bedrooms (each with a private bathroom), and a wine cellar.

Spacious living areas, large kitchen, bright dining area, and wine cellar of Casa Mattei

Spacious living areas, large kitchen, bright dining area, and wine cellar of Casa Mattei

Next to the villa is a separate small and charming building (shown below bottom left) that can sleep 2 additional people.

Olive trees and flowers on the grounds; outdoor pizza oven (top right); separate unit (bottom left)

Olive trees and flowers on the grounds; outdoor pizza oven (top right); separate unit (bottom left)

I felt the peaceful character of Casa Mattei as we strolled with Babeth on the lawn outside to the organic gardens (where they grow artichokes, tomatoes, zucchini, and other vegetables), the olive groves, and next to the freshwater mosaic-tiled swimming pool. The view of the pool and villa below seems to epitomize the luxury of life in Chianti

the pool

the pool

And so a day in Chianti ends

We would have liked to spend more time relishing the ambiance of Borgorosa and Casa Mattei, tasting wine, and enjoying the company of the gracious people we met this day. Passed by an occasional Ferrari (apparently a popular tourist driving experience in Tuscany), we were on our way through the beautiful countryside while reflecting on our day and looking forward to the next day’s exploration in Tuscany.

Ferrari-spotting on the country road in the Chianti hills of Tuscany

Ferrari-spotting on the country road in the Chianti hills of Tuscany

 

by Catherine Sweeney  nov 2 2015

Grazie to our hosts at Borgorosa and Casa Mattei for making our day in Chianti so enjoyable.

Take a look at the EsteVillas website for details, more photos, and booking information for Borgorosa, Casa Mattei, and other properties in their collection.

 

Antinori Winery via Cassia per Siena 133
Loc. Bargino 50026 San Casciano Val di Pesa -Firenzeto book a visit  http://www.hospitalityantinorichianticlassico.it/Default.aspx

 

Corzano & Paterno – Via San Vito di Sopra, snc – 50020 San Casciano in Val di Pesa – Florence – Tuscany – Italy – tel. +39 055 8248 179

 

Borgorosa  and Casa Mattei  are both located in the heart of Chianti