Thursday, October 27, 2016

Tuscany

TUSCANY

Tuscany is the most visited region in Italy, with good cause. Tuscany has everything representative of Italy! Every hill town and/or walled city has amazing history. The walls are a reminder of how Italy was before unification. Each area of Italy had its own government, army and institutions. There were natural enemies which required cities to construct walls and towers. Cities were constructed on hills to make them easier to defend. Today the rivalries are about cuisines, wines, traditions, and re-enactments of historic battles. These are times of festivities, parades and honors.

There are so many things to see and do that it is difficult to mention all of the cities and towns, and their highlights. Space requires that I can mention a few of the most popular, but I always recommend spending enough time in Tuscany to "wander" around and find your own favorites.

I will share some of my favorites for various reasons. 
Cortona: Lots of history, Etruscan influences, fantastic views, great restaurants, enotecas, shops, etc. You can roam the streets and alleyways for hours.
Arezzo: A fully functioning working city, two cities really, modern and commercial outside the walls and very interesting in the historical center. Arezzo also has great restaurants shops. It is the gold capital of Italy.
Montepulciano, Pienza and Montalcino: I put these together because they are a perfect threesome for a day/evening trip. First the wines in Montepulciano, Vino Nobile and Rosso Montepulciano, are consistently great wines, and the wine in Montalcino, Brunello and Rosso Montalcino, excellent wines as well. Pienza, designed as the perfect plan for a city by Pope Pio, whose name it bears,  is one main street with side streets and alleys opening up to great vistas of rolling hillsides and valleys. Pienza is known for its cheeses, and meats. 
Siena: Second in size only to Florence, it is a remarkable but large spread out city with lots of history and home to the Palio which is a horse race held in the main piazza twice in the Summer. Every "neighborhood" is represented in the race sporting their specific colors. It is a remarkable thing to watch particularly forom the vantage point of a hotel on the square.
San Gimignano: Built to defend itself at all times, the city once boasted 20+ towers. There are seven remaining and one can be climbed to the top for spectacular views. Great shops, restaurants, also present here.

There are so many more to see, including Florence, Fiesole, San Sepolcro, Luca, Pisa, Viareggio and Follonica, on the coast, Montecatini Terme, Montecatini Alto, and so many small and quaint villages. My advice is to get lost and the road will take you to wonderful places and you will meet warm, friendly people proud of their towns, their food and their wines.\
Enjoy it all!!



The Bell Ringer of Montepulciano





The famous towers of San Gimignano

Our favorite agriturismo in Tuscany




                                         

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

ASOLO AND BASSANO DEL GRAPPA

Asolo

Asolo is a town and comune in the Veneto Region of Northern Italy. It is known as "The Pearl", and also as "The City of a Hundred Horizons" for its mountain settings. 

Some of the sights Include:
Remains of an amphitheater and of an aqueduct;  Rocca (castle, late 12th-early 13th centuries); Castle of Caterina Cornaro, now home to the Eleanor Duse theatre; Palazzo della Ragione, housing the city's museum; The Cathedral, built in 1747, houses the Assunta altarpiece .

Asolo is often defined as one of the most evocative historical centers in ItalyAsolo is known for its architectural sights and is famous also for some characters who were fascinated by its originality.  What fascinates most right from the start in Asolo, is the aristocratic atmosphere you can breathe through its alleys, in the squares and cafés. A brief walk soon leads you to the historical center.





                                             Asolo Historic Center lends itself to strolling
Aerial View of Asolo

                                                View from Rocca Castle high above the city


                             Getting to  Rocca Castle above Asolo is great exercise



Bassano del Grappa

Bassano del Grappa is a very pleasant town, and it is not just about Grappa. It is easy to walk and most of the town is free of cars. The Brenta River is beautiful and flows under the famous wooden bridge, Ponte degli Alpini. There are good photo ops from the bridge along the river. You should take advantage, however of the place where Grappa was "invented". There are tasting rooms and retail shops for purchasing the Italians' favorite digestive (digestivo). Grappa has grown in popularity outside of Italy and there is now grappa made from many grape varieties and some are even flavored like the seasonal licorice grappa. Give it a try! 


In the heart of the town, opposite the historic Ponte degli Alpini, in the old "Palazzo delle Teste", is the Poli Grappa Museum.The Poli Grappa Museum, is the result of a long and passionate desire of the Poli family. The Museum was created by the Family in appreciation of Grappa. The Museum consists of five instructional rooms and visits are self-guided. Well worth seeing to appreciate what grappa is all about, followed by a tasting. Just ask me or my son!!!

Other points of interest:

  • The Cathedral built around the year 1000 but renovated in 1417. It has works by artists Leandro da BassanoOttavio Marinali and others.
  • The church of St. John the Baptist, built in the 14th century and restored in the 18th century.




  • The wooden covered Bridge, or Ponte degli Alpini, on the Brenta River, designed in 1569 by the architect Andrea Palladio to replace a pre-existing construction existing at least from 1209. The bridge was destroyed in 1748, and was rebuilt three years later. The Nardini tavern on the bridge, is unchanged since 1779!
  • The Palazzo del Municipio (Town Hall), erected from 1404. It has a noteworthy loggia and a fresco attributed to Jacopo da Bassano..
  • The Nardini Grappa Factory, an architectural marvel, just outside of the old town
  • Nardini Grappa Factory



    Postcard type photo of Ponte degli Alpini,
    Along the peaceful Brenta River for good photos
    Poli Grappa Distillery and Museum for your after lunch digestive
    Ponte degli Alpini for crossing the Brenta river


Monday, June 6, 2016

BOLOGNA



Bologna is a marvelous and fascinating city. It is well-known for its fabulous cuisine, and I am pleased to say, that on my many visits there I have had the pleasure of tasting a great deal of it. There is no question that it is one of the best "foodie" places in the world. The famous Bolognese sauce was created here and remains one of Bologna's signature dishes. The original recipe can be found in the archives of the University of Bologna. The mortadella with pistachios is also an original product of Bologna. There are many fine ristorante and trattorie in Bologna, but one of my favorites is Trattoria Gianni, with great menu choices in all of the courses. If you don't get there, don't be concerned because it is hard to find bad food in Bologna or in the rest of Emilia Romagna.
There is, of course, more to Bologna than its cuisine. It is the home of the oldest university in Europe, so it is a vibrant and alive city. It is a place not to miss in Northern Italy.

The sidewalks of many of the streets of Bologna are covered with porticoes, and that feature along with the city's layout, makes it an easy city to walk around and enjoy. It is also known as the city of towers.
From Bologna you can easily access the cities of Parma, Modena, Ferrara, and the Adriatic coast.



                                                            Piazza e Fontanna de Tritone



Typical Portico
                                                                       Classic small street
 
                                                       Polpette (meatballs) Bologna style


The Two Towers