Sicily, Scicli, holiday, estevillas

Scicli Palazzo Beneventano

Take one disastrous earthquake, add in the creativity and exuberant genius of late Baroque architecture to the reconstruction, pour over the charm of the rose-hued carved limestone facades shining honeyed gold at sunset, and mix in the spice of the unexpected taste of chocolate crafted just like the Aztecs.

These are the very special ingredients of my Choco-barocco experience during a day trip to Scicli and Modica.

1693 from the tragedy to re-birth

In 1693, a devastating earthquake—one of the most powerful that had ever struck Italy—destroyed the Noto Valley on Sicily. To rebuild required the efforts of all the region’s inhabitants, not only the aristocracy and clergy but also architects and master stonemasons. Together, they transformed the area into the largest construction site of 18th century Europe and gave rise to a masterpiece: Sicily’s Late Baroque architecture.

Eight of the towns in the area are now included as Unesco’s World Heritage Sites: Scicli, Modica, Ragusa, Noto, Caltagirone, Militello, Val di Catania, Catania and Palazzolo

Scicli (pronounced shi-kli)

Set at a natural crossroad of canyons (and only 8 km from the beach) Scicli is a small off-the-beaten-track town with one of the most intriguing remnants of Sicily’s Baroque period: Palazzo Benventano. The palace’s walls host an array of eccentric, moustachioed faces embroidered on the stones.

Scicli Sicily, holiday, Estevillas Holiday Rentals

Palazzo Beneventano Scicli Southern Sicily – Estevillas Holiday Rentals

For another beautiful example of Baroque architecture, take a stroll down Mormino Penna Street.  Notorious for being the set for the tv movie Commissario Montalbano, stopping by the fictional police state on Mormino Penna is a must for fans of the show

For a taste of Sicily, pop into Pasticceria Basile on viale I° Maggio for a traditional Sicilian family pastry from a warmly welcoming staff.

Another culinary indulgence can be found at Pura Follia, home to one of the best pizzas ever at a reasonable price. (Reservations needed)

Chocolate Magic Makes a Stop at Modica!

The city of Modica is Baroque churches and palaces with wrought-iron balconies perched on a hill. Most importantly, it is the home of the singular chocolate prepared using the original Aztec technique brought to Sicily by the Spaniards in the 16th century.

Modica  S.Giorgio Cathedral Cathedral

Modica S.Giorgio Cathedral Cathedral – Estevillas

As it has been for hundreds of years, the cocoa beans are worked at a low temperature so the sugar mixed in does not melt, resulting in the unique grainy texture this chocolate is so famous for. With each bite, you taste pure chocolate with no added cocoa butter, soy lecithin or other food additives. This method of cold-working the beans preserves more nutrients and more flavor.


For those needing an excuse to indulge—because one chocolate is never enough—eating 10 grams of Modica chocolate is reported to improve vascular function and make artieries more elastic. This is in addition to dark chocolate’s well-known antihypertensive properties. So no need to feel guilty!

Modica Chocolate, Sicily , holiday, Estevillas Holiday Rentals

Modica Chocolate Tasting in Antica Dolceria Bonajuti

Antica Dolceria Bonajuto, Sicily’s oldest and most famous chocolate factory, is not to be missed. With its old fashioned ambience, you can experience Modica chocolate as if you had stepped into ancient Mexico. Savour the cinnamon, vanilla and chili chocolate in true Aztec style or be tempted by more exotic flavor combinations such as rosemary, white pepper, cardamom, salt and orange. Another speciality offered by this magic place is the cannoli made with fresh ricotta and pistachios. They are simply awesome.

After your visit to Antica Dolceria Bonajuti you can stop into nearby Osteria dei Sapori Perduti for a quick lunch of Sicilian specialities. Try the Scacce, thin layers of a pizza-like dough filled with many different combinations (simply with tomato sauce, or with onions, spinach, or cheese) or the Caponata with eggplant, bell peppers, tomatos, onions, olives, capers, pine nuts, basil, vinegar, oil, salt and pepper.



From Scicli to Marina di Ragusa  16 km/10ml  – From Scicli to Modica 10km/6,5 ml

Pasticceria Basile Viale I Maggio, 3, 97018 Scicli, Sicilia, Italia (Closed on Thursday)

Pizzeria Pura Follia  Piazza Busacca snc, 97018 Scicli, Sicily, Italy  +39 339 8476585



From Modica to Marina di Ragusa  34km/21,6 ml

Antica Dolceria Bonajuto Corso Umberto I 159  Modica

Osteria dei Sapori Perduti Corso Umberto I, 228, 97015 Modica RG tel +39 0932 944247

Where to stay; click here

Written by Luisa Castiglioni

Edited by Amay Smith

All Rights Reserved

Related post Southern Sicily: The Perfect Winter Hideaway


The south-east of Sicily off season: miles of unspoiled sandy beaches, awe inspiring UNESCO World Heritage Sites, extravagant baroques towns, great food, excellent wines.

Sicily is the perfect getaway to help survive our long cold winter.

Being at the same latitude as the North African coast, Sicily has a mild climate. Spring starts early, covering the fields with wild flowers by the end of February and it’s possible to sunbathe and swim in the sea well into November. Frost and snow are unknown and summers are pleasantly warm and dry. What more could you ask for?

The lively town of Marina di Ragusa on the southern coast is a perfect travel-friendly haven. Beautiful beaches, blue sea, mountains, volcanoes, fascinating and intriguing culture itineraries and the best culinary traditions mark this part of the island.

beach, Sicily, Holiday, Estevillas , villa rental

Marina di Ragusa beach – Estevillas


Restaurants spill onto the beach side promenade, palm trees line the streets and a beautiful harbor marina hosts a community of visitors from all over the world who overwinter aboard their boats.

A visit to the coffee shop could have you sipping a cappuccino among a crowd of the locals, Brits, Americans, Kiwis, French and Dutch, all gathered to enjoy the warm winter sun. The area around the marina is an especially English-friendly part of town.


This is the territory of excellent products and genuine flavours. Those who turn their nose up at the view of the town’s green houses will change their mind after sampling the delicious veggies and fruits growing here: each season offers plenty of tasty culinary treats.

Sicily Countryside - Estevillas Holiday , villa rentals

Sicily Countryside -Estevillas


Touring a farmers market and discovering the local producers is a cultural initiative. It reconnects any visitor to the traditions of the centuries-old culinary knowledge handed down in the family from grandmothers to mothers.

I am happy to be here, eating naturally and appreciating the zero-mile meals prepared with crisp cherry tomatoes, fresh artichokes, juicy oranges and savory herbs from the garden.

While the coast offers seafood delicacies, the land just behind the beaches is ideal for vegetables, oil and fruit. The inland’s beautiful countryside at the foot of the Hiblean mountains is the area of Sicilian cheeses, of Ragusano Dop and of fresh tempting ricotta—the main ingredient of cannoli, the best-known Sicilian pastry.

Venturing to this coastal locale is very easy: Comiso Airport is a twenty-minute drive and the city of Catania is only 136 km away. As for golfing fanatics, Donnafugata Golf Club Resort is only 13 km from town.


Marina di Ragusa - Estevillas

Marina di Ragusa – Estevillas

Marina di Ragusa is also a perfect starting point for exploring the enchanting Sicilian towns of Syracuse, Catania, Enna, Caltagirone and Noto, all of which have been listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites.

A little over one hundred kilometers from town is Agrigento, the location of the magnificent Valley of the Temples, one of of Sicily’s most famous historical attractions.

The stunning Villa Romana del Casale in Piazza Armerina–only 90 km inland–is home to some of the best preserved Roman mosaics, spreading over 3500 square meters.  Also the same distance away is Syracuse, once the most important city of the Magna Graecia (“Great Greece”, the ancient Greek colonies in Italy ).

That’s why Marina di Ragusa will now be my home base for all my East Sicily adventures.



map sicily

Day Trips from Marina di Ragusa:

The Temples Valley Agrigento: 130 km/80 mi (consider at least 2 hours for the visit)

Villa Romana del Casale Piazza Armerina:  90 km/60 mi  (consider at least 1 1/2 hours for the visit).  Better to book in advance (+39 3389515245). Ask for guide Maria Grazia (fluent in English, German and Italian).

Donnafugata Golf Resort & SPA: 13km/8 mi  

Via Mongibello, 2  97100 Ragusa  Tel. +39 0932 914200 


Where to stay  in Sicily :  click here


Written by Luisa Castiglioni

Edited by Amay Smith

All Rights Reserved

Related article Southern Sicily – Scicli and Modica: A Day of Sightseeing Promises Delicious Delights

Arte Fiera, Italy’s premier art show is bigger and better in 2015.

The country’s largest and oldest art fair begins this Friday and will run for four days in Bologna from the 23 to the 26 of January. The international modern and contemporary show will attract upwards of 50,000 visitors.

Arte Fiera, the only national art show to work in partnership with the Italian Association of Modern and Contemporary Art Galleries, will showcase more than 2,000 individual works by more than 1,000 artists in 185 different art galleries, a 47% increase over the last two years.

The 39th annual show will feature internationally acclaimed Italian artists such as Lucio Fontana, Piero Manzoni, Enrico Castellani, Alighiero Boetti and Michelangelo Pistoletto. Also showcased will be Alberto Burri, who is soon to have an exhibition at New York’s Guggenheim Museum.

Bologna will also host the return of Art City for a third year, a hugely successful schedule of cultural events designed to draw more visitors to the city’s many museums and art venues. Included this year will be the national premier of the film Mr. Turner, a probable Oscar candidate and Cannes film festival favorite about the nineteenth century British painter.

These are only a few example of the hundreds of events that will take place in Bologna during the weekend. One such exhibition is organized by THE POOL NYC, an art gallery founded by three young Italians art experts living in New York City. The show take place in one of the most beautiful palazzos you can find in town: Palazzo Sassoli de’ Bianchi.

The exhibition “ALLIEVO e Maestri. Andrea Salvatori e Bertozzi & Casoni” shows several works by three excellent Italian contemporary ceramists. Below is one of the most impressive sculptures I saw this afternoon.

If you want to know more about THE POOL NYC visit their website.

“Astratto” Bertozzi & Casoni ceramic policroma

Around Bologna during ArteFiera 2015…

Yesterday we went to ArteFiera 2015 Vernissage and it was very exciting!

Below are some gallery photos from the show. The first is a Nicola Bolla and the second is made by famous Italian sculptor Igor Mitoraj.

Igor Mitoraj - Estevillas

Igor Mitoraj – Estevillas



Bologna is not only art. It is also superb food, great shopping and more. Two tips for you: a design store and a bistrot.

Just right next to Palazzo Sassoli de’ Bianchi is the can’t miss Galleria Cavour and one of our favorite shops in town, Il Borgo delle Tovaglie.


Borgo 1

Born in 1996 as a tablecloth manufacturing firm in the ancient Via delle Tovaglie in Bologna, it was transformed in 2005 by the eclectic Valentina Muggia and her husband Giuliano Di Paolo. It established an intense dialogue with contemporary times, becoming a reference point in the panorama of furnishing and decoration.

Today Borgo delle Tovaglie is a worldwide known brand that can be found in the best furnishing shops. It is a brand that finds its vital force in the cultural roots of the best Italian tradition and over the years has expressed a strong heart of modernity and innovation guided by the continuous search for the new and exciting. It is worth a visit!


If you are tired of browsing the shops and looking for something delicious, young and dynamic to finish your day on the town, go to Twinside Bistrot. You will not be disappointed at all!

Arte Fiera:

Where: Bologna Exhibition Center, West Entrance

When: January 23 – 26, 2015

Friday 23 – Sunday 25: 11 am – 7 pm

Monday 26: 11 am – 5 pm


Daily: € 20.00

2-Day: € 30.00

3-Day: € 33.00

4-Day: € 35.00

Free admission for children up to 10 years

Group discount (15 people or more): € 15.00 per person


The Pool NYC exihibition

Palazzo Sassoli de’ Bianchi

Via Farini 14, 40124 – Bologna

22‐26 January 2015


Il Borgo delle Tovaglie

Via Farini 10, 40124 – Bologna


Twinside Bistrot

Via de’ Falegnami 6,  40121 Bologna

Manota Palazzo Te : Room of the Giants

Manota Palazzo Te : Room of the Giants

By  Eileen Ogintz

  • Published January 09, 2015·


After all, I’m staying in a palace — the Palazzo Castiglioni, which dates back to the Renaissance, located right across the piazza from the 500-room Palazzo Ducale in Mantua, Italy.

Where? That was my reaction when Kit Burns, whose company Doorways specializes in booking villa vacations to Italy, suggested we spend a few days in the palazzo that has been owned by the same family since the Renaissance, in a city just 40 minutes from Verona. (If you know your Shakespeare, you’ll know this is where Romeo came to buy the poison.)

Today you won’t find that many tourists here, but you will find the quintessential Italian experience — restaurants spilling out onto cobblestoned piazzas, locals starting their morning with a cafe, the weekly market that takes over the entire Piazza Sordello (we see it from our window) selling everything from socks to cheese and sausage. During the Renaissance, we learn, Mantua was famous for its music, art and the powerful Gonzaga family. I’m so glad we’re here but we nearly missed the opportunity. Burns acknowledges that suggesting visitors stop here can be a hard sell when there are so many more famous sites to see in Italy, but that makes Mantua (Mantova in Italian) all the more special. “It’s hard to find a place that’s off the beaten track in Italy,” Burns said. “Here you can immerse yourself in what was and what is.” Without tripping over other tourists, she adds.

skyline 2

At one time, Mantua rivaled Florence for its art. But sadly, the Austrians and then Napoleon stole much of it. There’s still amazing architecture and frescoes like the Camera Picta painted room in the Ducal Palace with huge wall paintings by Andrea Mantegna. There’s the amazing Biblena Theater where Mozart played as a young teen; In June, there is a music festival where chamber musicians play short pieces in the ancient rooms of the Ducal Palace.

I was nervous suggesting Mantua to the extended family traveling with us, but nothing ventured, nothing gained, I thought. The stop turned out to be a high point of the trip. We met Guido, Luisa and their father, Baldesar Castiglioni, whose family own the Palazzo Castiglioni where we stayed (a portrait of their ancestor by Raphael hangs in the Louvre right near the Mona Lisa). There are also impromptu pasta-making lessons in a tiny restaurant outside of town, the local Sbrisolona traditional tart, amazing frescoes in the Palazzo Te, the pleasure palace Federico II Gonzaga, a young duke, built for himself with the help of Raphael’s top pupil Giulio Romano, to get away from his mother — some things never change!

Most important, unlike other Italian cities packed with tourists and cruise passengers, the locals were genuinely glad to see us and show us their city. That’s why in 2015 I’m going to aim to get off the tourist track more — and I encourage all of you to do so as well. Of course, when you let the kids lead the way you always go in new and unexpected directions.

That doesn’t mean you’ll always find a hidden gem — like Mantua — but when you do, you remember why you’re traveling in the first place — to get out of your comfort zone and share something new with those you love most and, of course, eat great food!

Locanda Le Grazie Mntova

Locanda Le Grazie Mntova

“Come see our pasta maker,” said Daniela Bellintani, who with her husband, Fernando, owns the charming La Locanda delle Grazie in the village of Grazie just a few miles outside of Mantua. The pasta maker turned out to be Chef Fernando and three smiling young men who were happy to show us how they make the local specialties — the pumpkin ravioli, which we happily sample along with pasta with homemade duck ragout, an assortment of local salamis and ham and local Lambrusco wine.

“My father says if you don’t share your recipes, they just die with you,” says Anita Aldighieri, the couple’s daughter, explaining their plan to offer cooking classes, including those for families who will want to visit the Santa Maria del Grazie church. This is a church like none other you’ll visit — and one the kids will remember most. Even before the church was built in the 15th century, pilgrims came to pray for miracles. You’ll see the strangest statues of those whose prayers were heard — a man fished out of a well; another who couldn’t be hanged when a beam broke. Perhaps the strangest and what kids love most is the embalmed crocodile hanging from the ceiling that’s at least 500 years old.


Daniela Bellintani Le Grazie Restaurant

Daniela Bellintani Le Grazie Restaurant


Every August, thousands make a pilgrimage of a different sort here for a unique festival during which artists from around the world are chosen to create chalk paintings on 10-by-10-foot squares of pavement about something that relates to the miracle-making Madonna.


Mantova Palazzo Castiglioni in Piazza Sordello

Mantova Palazzo Castiglioni in Piazza Sordello

The Castiglioni family — Luisa owns a villa rental management company in Italy — has turned a few rooms of their palazzo into the most unique inn I’ve ever seen. (Think sleeping in a palace room — there is even one with an ancient fresco on the wall — but with all the modern conveniences and breakfast, starting at under $200 a night.) While they don’t want their city overrun with tourists, they certainly would like more people to discover its charms — like the Palazzo Te, which is considered one of the great Renaissance palaces.

Kids love the Hall of Horses with life-sized paintings of some of the young duke’s favorites from the 1520 and the astounding Chamber of the Giants with paintings that cover the walls and ceilings, telling the story of the fall of the giants who tried to climb Mount Olympus. When a big fire was going in this room, we’re told, with light playing on the walls, it was like a Renaissance 4-D experience.

It’s pretty great in the 21st century, too.

Eileen Ogintz is a nationally syndicated columnist and creator of Her new  Kids Guide to Boston is available online and from major booksellers, along with the Kids Guides to NYC, Washington, DC, Orlando,  LA and Chicago. Coming  later this year: San Diego, San Francisco and Denver


Where :  Mantua / Mantova  Lombardy Italy – Milano  189km/117ml ; Venice 159 km/85km

Palazzo Castiglioni

Palazzo Te viale Te 13 Mantova  Italy
Palazzo Ducale piazza Sordello 40 Mantova

Locanda delle Grazie

Address: Via San Pio X, 2, Grazie MN
Phone: +39 0376 348038
Post production coordinator Sonia Vaccaro

IMG_1171 web

Fox News Travel video

Everyone loves the food in Italy and there may be no better time to sample it than winter when the crowds are gone.

Hotel rates in cities like Venice are more $50 less in winter, according to Trivago, which tracks hotel rates around the globe. The average rate in Rome between November and January is just $137, Trivago says — significantly cheaper than Paris or London.

Another plus: You won’t bust your budget on meals, nor will haughty waiters make you feel like you don’t belong. You won’t go wrong either with a crusty baguette, salami and cheese for lunch.

Don’t be shy about sharing portions — Italian meals can have several courses with large portions starting with an appetizer, a “primo” that’s a pasta or soup, followed by a  “secondo” main course — a meat, fish or chicken dish — and desert.  Make your pasta your main dish; skip desert for a gelato shop.

Ask locals you meet — the taxi driver, the tour guide, the front desk clerk–for their suggestions. Check out websites like Home Food, EatWith or Meal Sharing, which connects locals who want to invite visitors for a typical meal.

I discovered on a recent trip, you won’t go wrong with house wines either. But whenever and wherever you go in Italy, make sure to sample local and regional specialties. I asked Italian foodie Luisa Castiglione, who travels the country overseeing her villa rental company, for some advice.

Obviously, if you are in Venice, you’ll eat seafood.  Try something you’ve never seen before—maybe cuttlefish or pan fried sardines. Venice is also famous for fried fish. We also had fun at little wine bars where we had the Venetian version of tapas—little toast with various toppings.

Want a spritz? That’s the popular red aperitif you’ll see people drinking everywhere. It’s made with white wine, seltzer and usually Aperol.  I admit I wasn’t a fan and usually stuck to wine.

If you love wine, you might want to visit the hill towns south of Turin famous for Barolo or, of course, chianti.  Go where your favorite wines are made—pinot grigio in the Trentino region, for example, chardonnay in Lombardy near Milan or Puglia in the South.  I usually don’t like lambrusco sparkling wine but loved the locally-made version outside the Renaissance town of Mantua in Grazie.  (See what I wrote about our visit.)

Expect most pizza to have a thin crust.  Modern pizza was of course invented in Naples but you’ll find all variations everywhere in Italy.  Pizza Margherita, people believe, was invented  in Naples as a tribute to Queen Margherita who loved the pie made in the colors of the Italian flag — red (the tomato), green (basil) and white (mozzarella cheese).  I think the best pizza I’ve ever had was in Naples; it would be fun to rank your pizza and gelatos during your trip.  Where did you find the best ever?


Have you tried risotto?  It’s a delicious north Italian rice dish cooked in broth until it’s creamy. It can be very rich—lots of butter.  In the fall, have Risotto alla Milanese cooked with saffron, suggests  Castiglioni.  You’ll find every variety of risotto—with seafood, vegetables, sausage.

How about pumpkin-filled ravioli? That’s a specialty in Mantua and Bologna and it was one of my favorites on a recent trip. If you like filled pastas like tortellini and ravioli, you’ll love this region.




In Tuscany, you’ll want to try Pappa al pomodoro (Tuscan Tomato and Bread Soup) that people eat hot or at room temperature.  There’s also stewed beef with pepper and garlic that, the story goes, dates back to the 15th century when Florence’s famous cathedral was being built and the workers making the terracotta tiles used one side of the oven to stew their meat — in wine of course.

In Rome, try Artichokes Roman Style — stuffed with bread, garlic, parsley, Romano cheese and oregano.

There’s only one downside — coming home five pounds heavier. Good thing you’ll be doing so much walking on your trip.


Eileen Ogintz is a nationally syndicated columnist and creator of Her new  Kids Guide to Boston is available online and from major booksellers, along with the Kids Guides to NYC, Washington, DC, Orlando,  LA and Chicago. Coming  later this year: San Diego, San Francisco and Denver

© 2014, Eileen Ogintz, 5 Viking Green Westport CT 06880. All rights reserved.


Exploring Florence with kids in tow is a great opportunity to discover things we wouldn’t have noticed in an adults-only traveling party.

Palazzo Vechhio

Palazzo Vechhio

The Palazzo Vecchio Family Museum offers a number of attractions for children of all ages.

One such tour is Life at Court: An itinerary through the rooms – and through centuries – to discover the history of the Palazzo’s many masterpieces.

Today Palazzo Vecchio is a museum but during the sixteenth century it was the residence of Duke Cosimo I de Medici, his wife Eleonora de Toledo and their eleven sons.

At the end of the guided visit you can wear a cape or an overcoat, shoes and hats of the sixteenth century and even enjoy playing with some of the princes’ toys.

Children’s tour at Palazzo Vecchio – Florence by Jane Black

Whilst staying at La Novellina in Chianti with our young children aged 4 and 7, we were highly impressed with the number of fantastic children’s activities available to us in the surrounding area.

One of the highlights was our trip to Palazzo Vecchio in the center of Florence, where the

children were able to dress up in traditional Renaissance costumes.  My daughter loved the dresses and shoes of a true Renaissance lady, whilst my son could not choose which sword he liked best as a knight.


The first room we entered was full of costumes and the kids could pick and choose which ones they liked best. There were also some original and very old costumes (antiques) that they could look at and ask about, but not touch! The children were able to spend plenty of time trying on several different costumes, which was such fun.

After we had finished dressing up, the friendly English-speaking guide then organized a tour around the palazzo for the children, which was very interesting and interactive. They explained what used to happen in each room to the kids and how the people used to behave. They also showed the kids where the wives used to spy on their husbands through little holes in the walls and also where they used to eaves drop on conversations so they thought they had an idea of what was going on around them.

The children learned a lot about history and to this day (12 months later) still talk about the experience. It was not expensive and a wonderful way to spend a few hours in Florence with children. We highly recommend this to families staying around Tuscany.

-Jane Black, Italian Villa Vacations


The Palazzo tour was created for adults and families with children from 6 to 10 years of age. 
It’s available in English, French, Spanish and Italian.

Maximum number of participants: 25

Duration: 75 minutes

Where: Palazzo Vecchio, Piazza della Signoria, Florence

Price: (2014):

€12,00 (25-65 years)

€10,00 (18-25 and >65 years)

€2,00 (<18 years)

Duration: 70 min.

Schedules: Everyday at 3.00pm; on Saturdays and Sundays at 11.30am and 3.00pm

For private individuals
 Tel. +39 055 2768224 – +39 055 2768558

Monday to Saturday 9:30am – 1pm and 2:30pm – 5pm.

Sundays and Bank Holidays 9:30am – 12:30am

Written by Luisa Castiglioni

Edited by Amay Smith

All Rights Reserved

Mantova skyline night

Mantova skyline at dusk

Eileen Ogintz is considered a leading USA travel expert for family travels and syndicated columnist of the weekly column Taking the Kids. Eileen is often quoted in major publications such as USA TodayThe Wall Street JournalThe New York Times and numerous parenting and women’s magazines on family travel. She has appeared on such television programs as 48 Hours, The Today Show, Good Morning America and Oprah, as well as dozens of local radio and television news programs.


Mantova, Italy (Day Five) — I feel like royalty.
After all, I’m staying in Palazzo Castiglioni that dates back centuries, right across the Piazza Sordello from the Palazzo Ducale in the city of Mantova between Milan and Venice and a short drive to Verona.

During the early middle ages, I learn, this city was enclosed by walls and was a very famous renaissance city. “One of the best cities in Italy,” declares Roberto Tebaldio, a local tourism official. The city is famous for its renaissance buildings, its salamis (Levoni has been in business for more than 100 years), its Sbrisolona (traditional crunchy tart), authentic food like pumpkin ravioli, its palace with over 500 rooms and the fantastic Palazzo Te, a 16th century palace with its amazing frescoes.

Mantova Piazza Sordello Palazzo Ducale

Mantova Piazza Sordello, Palazzo Ducale

“We’re like Venice without all the tourists,” local Claudio Bini told me at a cocktail party given by Luisa Castiglioni, who founded the villa rental company Este Villas and whose family owns Palazzo-Castiglioni-Mantova that dates back to 1280, the oldest palace in the city. Am I really staying here?

“Mantova is off the beaten track, which is hard to find in Italy these days,” says Kit Burns, whose company Doorways Villa Vacations specializes in arranging Italian villa vacations for Americans. “It is a place so charming, so interesting and so not over-run by tourists, that it is a pleasure to explore…Shakespeare wrote about it.”

In fact, Mantova is the city where Romeo went to buy the poison to take back to Verona.

At one time, Mantova—called Mantua in English — rivaled Florence for its beautiful art, Mantova guide Giuliana Varini told us. Sadly, the Austrians and then Napoleon stole much of the art.

“Because of this, it is not known to the world in the way Florence is,” observed Burns, who said she has a hard time convincing Americans to include Mantova in their itinerary. “But what remains? Architecture. Frescoes! Unbelievably wonderful frescoes.”

We are able to visit the fantastic “Camera Picta” painted room currently closed to the public in the Ducal Palace with huge wall paintings by Andrea Mantegna.

Castiglioni tells us her ancestor is in one of the paintings—whispering in the ear of the Marquis Ludovico Il Gonzaga.

The Palazzo Castiglione may date from the 12th century but our room has all of the modern conveniences—WiFi, AC, walk-in shower, but overlooks the ancient plaza and ducal palace. Our cousins have opted for the “Tower Room” with a fresco dating back to 1200. We saunter down to the piazza to enjoy our morning café and croissant that is included with our room, sitting among cyclists and elderly men and women out doing their shopping—not another tourist anywhere.
All I can say is wow! I’m so glad my sister in law speaks Italian.

Mantova Palazzo Castiglioni in Piazza Sordello

Mantova Palazzo Castiglioni in Piazza Sordello

There is a fantastic Bibiena Theater — Mozart played here as a young teen just after the theater opened in January 1770 — that is home to the Mantua Chamber Orchestra (tickets start at under $20!) and a Music Festival the end of June where musicians play short pieces in some of those 500 rooms in the palace – as many as 60 just in one day, the musicians speaking to their audience in between.
Still, this town is “a little sleepy,” another local tells me. It is decidedly off the tourist track, especially for Americans.

Locals hope that will change. “Mantova is a city for cultivated tourists with fantastic food and the chance to sleep in a palace,”says Riccardo Braglia who seems to know everyone in town and is an expert on the Gonzaga family who ruled here during the 15th and 16th centuries when the palace was really a private city of some 10,000 people.

“This is a beautiful Italian city with an ancient historical center that will give you a chance to immerse yourself in what was and what is,” said Burns. “Then there is the unjaded hospitality and arguably some of the best food in Italy.”

We experienced that first-hand, trying tiny restaurants on impossibly small streets like La Porta Accanto, the more casual version of the elegant Aquila Nigra, and others that spilled out onto the open piazzas like Il Grifone Bianco or the oh-so-pretty IL CIGNO – TRATTORIA DEI MARTINI, with plenty of options for gelato and pastry and pizza everywhere we turned. Don’t miss the amazing pasta and pastry shop Panificio PAVESI –a good place to try the region’s typical Sbrisolona cookie-like pastry. Yum!

There is so much history here—dating back to Virgil’s time. He was born near here and Mantua has always been known as Virgil’s town.

But we experienced a decidedly 21st century Mantua at the Thursday morning market sprawled across the ancient cobblestoned square, crowded with sellers hawking everything from socks and underwear to all varieties of cheeses, ham, salami, rotisserie chicken and fish and locals looking for a bargain—and their groceries.

Castiglioni’s father, Baldesar Castiglioni, 88, still has an apartment here and is the descendant of Baldassare Castiglione, the famous author and nobleman of the Renaissance whose book about court etiquette was widely read all over Europe—the bestselling author of his time.

His portrait was painted by Raphael and hangs in the Louvre near the Mona Lisa; a copy of the portrait hangs in her father’s apartment. I’m mesmerized by the very old Murano glass chandeliers—all of the colors! ALL of the shape of the glass!

Baldesar Castiglione portrait by Raphael

Baldesar Castiglione portrait by Raphael

“Here you have the experience and a relationship with the local people,” says Luisa Castiglioni, who is working to create a community of villa owners around Italy who can offer a similar standard of service—from luxury staffed villas to simple country cottages to Renaissance palazzos like this one where we incredibly meet the family who owns it—and has owned it for centuries. She and her brother Guido, who oversees the property, worry what will happen in the future as none of their children, in their 20s and 30s, seem interested. I hope that changes.

This has got to be one of the most unique places I’ve ever stayed, with an arched sleeping alcove and views of the ancient ducal palace and the square from the big windows. Restaurants spill outside; we amble from one square to another, walking everywhere. I really feel like royalty because we are parked inside the gates and need a special clicker to open them.

Palazzo Castiglioni suite Torre

Palazzo Castiglioni suite Torre

She says in recent years, guests have become more demanding—most of her business is Americans “but there is no perfect villa nor is there a perfect guest!”

“We have to find the right villa for the right people–whether you want a cooking class for the kids or someone to come and cook for you. The concept is being able to connect with the customs and the people of the country,” she says.

You might shop at the local market or weekly street market for groceries and take day trips out into the country side like we did today with local Riccardo Braglia, an art historian and consultant, who took us to the small town of Borghetto on the Mincio River for a long outside lunch at Lo Stappo overlooking the water. We feasted on bruschetta and risotto with pumpkin along with other locals.

We go to Parco Sigurta Giardino that won “Italy’s Most Beautiful Park” award last year and it’s easy to see why — miles of stone paths, 30,000 roses, and a million tulips. Let’s not forget the amazing views.

Braglia insists we not leave the area without stopping at the town of Sabbioneta, a World Heritage Site, which was built as a “model town” by Vespasiano Gonzaga in the second half of the 16th century, planned according to the vision of the Renaissance. We visit the Teatro all’Antica, the first theater of the modern age and still used today and the synagogue—the Jewish community thrived here. Sadly, after Gonzaga died, residents moved outside the walls which may be why the town is so well preserved.

It’s really nice to be off the tourist track—or at least one not followed by many Americans.
© 2014, Eileen Ogintz, 5 Viking Green Westport CT 06880. All rights reserved.


Where: Mantova (Mantua) Lombardy, Italy Mantova tourist office
Location: Palazzo Castiglioni Piazza Sordello 12 Mantova
How to get there:
-by train: from Milano 1 hr; Venice 1 hr; Bologna 40 min
-closest airport: Verona (30 min shuttle)
-by car: motorway A22 Brennero Modena
Riccardo Braglia journalist and art critic
Giuliana Varini english speaking guide
Sonia Vaccaro Post production Coordinator


Once upon a time a lovely young woman and a brilliant young man fell in love. They wanted to create a life together and decided to celebrate with an unforgettable Italian wedding in enchanting Lake Como.

It was a ceremony right from their dreams, in an intimate and magical villa with the blessing of their families and friends. The weeklong festivities were full of romance and memories of laughter and love with their dear ones. It was an unforgettable way to say, “I do.”

The perfect setting for their day was found in Laglio, Lake Como. They found two villas clustered together with a pool, private landing pier, a panoramic terrace and bedrooms with views overlooking the lake. Everyone was so excited to travel to Italy and live together for the wedding preparations. And what a location, in the same village as George Clooney’s own Lake Como villa!

Evening Party by the Lake -Estevillas

Evening Party by the lake



The morning of her wedding, the bride donned her dress with her two bridesmaids in her suite overlooking the deep blue lake. In his tailored black tuxedo, the groom welcomed guests by the pool. The bridal party arrived in style at the villa’s launch by private boat. The bride appeared on her father’s arm and was guided to the ceremony on the open terrace.

Wedding by the Lake -Estevillas

Wedding by the Lake Estevillas


After the wedding ceremony, guests enjoyed a cocktail hour strolling in the garden with the glittering lake at sunset in the background. The idyllic evening continued with an authentic and perfectly prepared Italian meal under fairy lights strung through the branches and trees. The elegantly dressed tables were draped with fine tablecloths and strewn with roses, grapes and lofty candlesticks. The night came to end with dancing to good music by the light of the reflection of the moon on the water. What a fantastic and memorable day.

Wedding Dinner by the Lake Estevillas Holiday Rentals

Wedding Dinner by the Lake – Estevillas

Location: villa Regina and villa Traversi, Lake Como Italy

Written by Luisa Castiglioni

Edited by Amay Smith

All Rights Reserved

THE PLACE: Milan, Italy

THE ITINERARY: Porta Nuova to Corso Garibaldi, discovering the trendiest places to eat, drink and shop.


Excited to inspect each single inch of the Versace, Armani and Gucci glam boutiques? There is so much more than designer fashion to see in Milan.

The brand new Porta Nuona neighborhood in the center of the city is home to the hippest spots to dine, sip a cocktail or go on a shopping spree.


Porta Nuova is Milan’s main business center, featuring the futuristic Cesar Pelli complex: three glass towers dominating the impressive Piazza Gae Aulenti with fountains, sculptures and elevated arcades that radically change the Milan skyline.

 Just a few steps from the complex is Corso Como, the fashion and design street dedicated to shopping and night life. Take your time, as there is a lot to discover. 

The gem of the street is 10 Corso Como concept store, not only a fashion and design store but also an art gallery, bookshop, café, restaurant with a roof garden, and fantastic place for an aperitivo or romantic dinner.

For more than 20 years, the three-story location, designed by Kris Ruhs, has been synonymous with the lifestyle of Milan: a philosophy of seeing and shopping that is meant to entice visitors and customers to leave their hurried mood behind and take the time to enjoy finding small treasures.


Promenade through art, design and fashion in a single space. Stroll through the courtyard and then on to the gallery to see an art exhibition, stop for a drink at the café, shop at the store or visit the bookshop and sit to read. The bookshop is one of the city’s best sources for fashion and design related literature. 10 Corso Como is a multifunctional space, a meeting place. It is culture and commerce in one.

Carla Sozzani—journalist, fashion expert, gallery owner (and sister of Vogue Italia editor-in-chief Franca Sozzani)—founded 10 Corso Como in 1990. She personally selects all the items, looking for those that are part of the zeitgeist but haven’t yet become popular.

Sozzani’s store is cool but can be quite an expensive experience. If you are looking for some more affordable trendy items, your destination is a little bit farther in a hidden courtyard off XXV Aprile Square: The High Tech Store.

You can find almost anything in this 2000 square meters full of unique and fun house wares, gift ideas, stationery and furnishings. It is a must see, fascinating place.

If your energy is zapped and you start to dream of a place to sit down and something delicious to taste, you are definitely in the perfect place.



Turn left and you are at Eataly, the temple of gourmet Italian food. Housed in the former Smeraldo Theater, the store is dedicated to music in honor of its history and iconic performances.

Eataly consists of 5000 square meters of Italian delicacies on three floors: breads, pastries, fruit and vegetable markets on the ground floor; fish shop, delicatessen, and a butcher on the first floor; a wine area and many restaurants on the second floor, from fried to pizza to seafood, including the Michelin-star restaurant of chef Alice Viviana Varese.

Not quite exhausted yet? Go farther in your adventure. Continue your walk on Corso Garibaldi to number 79 and enter Lipstick Vintage for haute couture clothing and accessories, bags, sunglasses, belts and jewelry. You can buy rare clothing and accessories or search for inspiration in the historic section. In Lipstick Vintage you can find Antonio and Roy, who will provide you with their best advice and expertise.


WHERE : Milano, Porta Nuova


By Subway :

Line 2(Green) Garibadi Station

Line 5 (Blue) Garibaldi Station

line 2 ( Green) Moscova station

by Train :

There are many trains connecting Milano Porta Garibaldi railroad station with Lake Maggiore, Florence or Rome



Piazza Gae Aulenti to Piazza XXV Aprile = 500 meters

Piazza XXV Aprile to Corso Garibaldi 79 = 700 meters



Corso Como 10

Store: everyday 10:30 am – 7:30 pm

Restaurant and café: 11 am – 1 am



Piazza XXV Aprile, 12, 20124 Milano Italy

Phone: 02 624 1101

Open: 10:30 am – 7:30 pm



Piazza XXV Aprile, 10, 20124 Milano Italy



Corso Garibaldi, 79, 20121 Milano Italy
Opening times
Mon – Fri | 10:00 am – 12:30 pm | 2:30 pm – 6:30 pm
Sat | 9:30 am – 12:00 am | During winter, Saturday morning only by appointment


Written by Luisa Castiglioni

Edited by Amay Smith

All Rights Reserved

White Truffle

“No olive harvest this year. No oil.”

Fans of organic extra virgin olive oil be warned: 2014 has been the ‘Annus Horribilis.

Blame the weather for a mild winter that didn’t kill pests, followed by a hot and humid summer that caused the proliferation of the olive fly.

While 2015 will hopefully provide a better harvest, we suggest olive oil enthusiasts be very careful and pay attention to labels. Make sure not to buy cheaper imported oils sold as “fine extra virgin, organic Italian olive oil.”

However, every cloud has a silver lining.

It’s been a great year for truffles, and we have to thank the weather for heavy summer rains and a warm autumn that created the perfect conditions for truffle growth and produced a crop 30% larger than usual.

For once, the so-called “food of the Gods” is more affordable. The price this year is 300 euros/100 grams (3,50oz). This means that for every 8 grams of shaved truffles over your risotto, you will pay around 24 euros.

The flavor is unique and unforgettable. Shave the truffle raw over fresh home made tagliatelle, Carne Cruda all’Albese (a sort of Carpaccio), or fried eggs.

The first week of December this year saw the discovery of the world’s largest white truffle by Sabatino Truffles in the Umbrian region of Italy. The mammoth delicacy weighed in at 4.16 pounds or 1.89 kilos.

The truffle was purchased by a buyer from Taiwan for $61,250 (£39,313) at Sotheby’s auction in New York on Saturday, the 6th of December. The auction house said the Balestra family plans to donate proceeds from the auction to a number of charitable organizations.

Read more: world’s largest truffle, Sotheby auction white truffle

Botanical name: Tuber magnatum pico “white truffle”

When: October to December

Where: you can buy white truffles in gourmet food shops (for example: EATALY fresh truffles) or spoil yourself with a delicious meal in a good restaurant

Truffle fairs and hunting areas:

Piemonte region: Alba, in Langhe and Monferrato areas Fiera del Tartufo

Tuscany: San Miniato (between Pisa and Florence, close to Empoli) truffle in Tuscany

Emilia Romagna: Brisighella, the ancient medieval town close to Faenza will host “His Majesty the Truffle.” During the feast, chefs from local restaurants will prepare several delicacies perfumed with white and black truffles

Umbria: “Gubbio National,” the National Fair of White Truffles

Written by Luisa Castiglioni

Edited by Amay Smith

All Rights Reserved