“One can forgive a place three thousand miles from Italy for not being Italian.”*

Hello 2018! Mariella here. And welcome back to the Hidden Treasures of Italy blogging initiative.

Yes, we at HTI took an unintentional “vacation” from our new blogging intentions in 2017… in effect, too many unexpected distractions throughout the year derailed our noblest of intentions. Our sincere apologies.

But 2018 is indeed a new year… and we are determined to double down on our blogging intentions… buoyed by the much appreciated “loyalty” of so many of HTI’s clients (friends?) who kept us so busy throughout the past year. With so many return visits to Italy, our favorite destination, of course. But also with many new requests for our personalized planning assistance for other popular vacation destinations in Europe. We thank you all for your votes of confidence… and we thank you for your return business, as well!

This year I will also be inviting contributions from guest bloggers from time to time, especially from my husband, Rick… my informal “partner in crime” from the very beginning of my HTI adventures. Together, we have travelled throughout all of Italy over the years (and widely across Europe, as well)… so yes, our hearts are firmly rooted in my own Italian homeland!

Our blogging promise? At least one new posting every Friday… to share our thoughts, our experiences, our insights about the many incredible destinations to be found not only in Italy, but also in other attractive destinations across the Old Continent.

We will talk about many things: about culture, about food, about sites and sights, about local activities and about our favorite accommodations (hotels, B&B’s, villas, apartments) – new, old, recently discovered or recently rediscovered. We will also be sharing some of your own feedback, as well. About your own personal discoveries as you have wandered off the beaten path in the free time always allowed for in our originally agreed itineraries!

In net, yes, we may indeed be called Hidden Treasures of Italy, but as Elizabeth Wharton has intimated above, not all great destinations can be Italian. Italy is not the only destination in a lifetime full of travel opportunities…it’s just the best one!

See you again next week.

Mariella

* EDITH WHARTON, Itlalian Backgrounds

Hidden Treasures of Apulia…or Puglia, as we in Italy call it.

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If you have already visited Rome, Florence, Venice and maybe Lake Como, as well as the Cinque Terre and the Amalfi Coast, and if you might be thinking you have now seen everything worth visiting in Italy… think again! There is no region, no city or even no small village in the country that will not surprise you with its history, art and natural beauty. Actually, these are the places (the Hidden Treasures?) that are more likely to provide the kind of experience that most of our clients describe as their “dream” when we talk about their desired itineraries: to feel like residents, to know the people, to be part of daily life… in other words, to stay away from the usual touristy spots.

Such a list is endless, but since we need to start somewhere, let’s start with Puglia (or Apulia, as it is called in English), and with one of its most fascinating coastal villages, Polignano a Mare.

The origins of Polignano would seem to date back to the fourth century BC, but for sure some remains of the original Roman roads can still be seen descending the steps next to the bridge, leading to a small and beautiful pebbled beach, once the ancient port. From here, it is almost incredible to see how the ancient inhabitants built their city overlooking the sea. The historic center was protected by a large wall, restored in the 16th century, with a long stretch of the remains still visible near Piazza Garibaldi, as it was the ancient watchtower by the sea.

In Piazzetta Miani stands the monumental and soberly elegant Palazzo Marchesale (the Marquis Palace), dating back to 400 AD. The city’s cathedral and the medieval Palazzo dell’Orologio (the Town Hall) are both found in Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II.

But if you are a sea lover, or you are a diver, don’t miss Cala Incina Tower, a virtual natural pool in the open waters where a marble statue of the Madonna was placed 14 meters below the surface. Or, take a boat trip to the natural sea caves created by the erosive action of waters creating a unique play of colors and light. Once you reach the most popular cave – the Palazzese Grotto (or Palatial Cave) – you can even take a break and lunch at one of the small authentic seaside restaurants in the area, all providing breathtaking views.

In addition, Polignano is also a perfect base for exploring the general area, to visit Alberobello (the Trulli District), the Castellana Caves, Monopoli, Martinafranca, the city of Bari and even Matera, the UNESCO World Heritage Site, home of the famous “Sassi” where Mel Gibson filmed his movie “The Passion of Christ”.

And since one of our most appreciated services is to always look for and recommend unique accommodations for our clients, you could treat yourself and stay at the beautiful Covo dei Saraceni. This Hotel stands on a spectacular stretch of coast on a cliff edge over the cobalt blue sea, with the enchanting Cala Paura small beach at just 200 meters, and the historic centre of Polignano, with its whitewashed houses and lovely little shops just a very short walk away. The rooms are very comfortable and are furnished in the typical local style, with wrought iron beds, colored ceramic floors and white and blue mosaics in the bathrooms; the four suites have a large terrace with a spectacular view of the sea and of Polignano itself.  Needless to say, the hotel’s panoramic terrace is a special place where you can relax in the evening and enjoy the flavors of one of the most inviting regional cuisines in all of Italy.

 

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Hotel Covo dei Saraceni

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Terrace with a view

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A room at Covo dei Saraceni

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The flavors of Puglia

 

 

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things” (*)

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In the ’70s

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Today

Walking along the canals in Milan – Back in the ’70’s, the area of the canals (“navigli” in Italian) was where poorer people, immigrants and artists used to live in Milan. Rents were low, the canals were often dry and just as often they were used for industrial (and household) waste. But everything started to change in the ’80’s, when the Milanese élite began to discover the charm of the canals – thanks to art exhibitions, antique fairs (still on every last Sunday of the month), musical events and a selection of great restaurants – and decided to bet on the future of this area. So did young professionals and real estate companies, all somehow knowing that this was to become “Milan’s Montmartre”.

And so it actually happened! But let’s take a step back: I believe not many American travellers even know that Milan used to be a city of canals, so much that by the end of the 12th century Milan was a “city on water”. In the beginning, the canals were mainly used for irrigating the countryside, but they soon became an important means of commerce exchange and transportation of goods (the marble used for the construction of the Cathedral was transported via the canals from the quarries to the construction site).

The history of Milan’s canals is extremely fascinating and would require a long chapter all its own, but I would like to concentrate right now on the area as it is today, one of the many reasons why Milan is well worth much more than just a day or two visit on any Italian itinerary.

The canal area today is beautiful: buildings have been renovated, shops and artisan studios are all along the pebble streets, weekends are animated by flower and antique markets, the many bridges are crammed with young people, adults and children, outdoor areas of restaurants and coffee shops are always full, bicycles run on the dedicated paths – as a friend visiting the city once told me, “it’s so unexpected, it doesn’t even seem to be Milan!”

A very well organized service offers four different boat tour itineraries along the “Naviglio Grande” and one on the “Martesana”. In addition to the beautiful villas and farmhouses scattered along the banks as the itinerary takes you to the outskirts of the city, there are several bridges to be noted, as well. They have been built over the years, some newer, some very old. Especially interesting is the “Richard Ginori’s bridge” which served the Richard Ginori ceramic factories, whose entrance can still be seen with its historic sign. Built at the beginning of the 20th century with the same techniques used for the Eiffel Tower, the bridge has now been completely restored.

Did we manage to tickle your curiosity? Plan some additional time in Milan on your next visit!

(*) Henry Miller

“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller” (*)

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The first thing to do when visiting “Maremma” (in the southwest corner of Tuscany) is to “forget.” Yes, that’s right, to forget all the clichés and legends about this territory; throw to the winds the story about the local “butteri” (Italian for cow-boys) competing with Buffalo Bill’s men you may have read about as a child – this famous challenge actually took place in 1890, at a time when the name “Maremma” signified a beautiful and wild region, though marked by poverty and malaria (although, for the sake of narrative, it is worth noting that the Italian cow-boys did win the challenge!).

Visiting Maremma today is an experience that rewards all your senses, starting with the pleasure of sight, how the scenery transforms itself from the rolling Senese hills into a land that becomes more and more intact and more enchantingly rough.

To not talk about the thousands of local destinations, the wonder of small towns such as Sovana, and the amazing tuff work, inclugiardino-dei-tarocchiding that authentic jewel of Pitigliano – or on the other hand, places where the food is wonderful and the wines even better; let us disregard the obvious tourist guide mentions – the hot springs, the Etruscan ruins, the wineries producing Morellino, one of the most interesting red wines of the area; let us also avoid talking about the sea and the sandy beaches bordered with fragrant Mediterranean maquis, a triumph of oleanders and cypress trees, wild rosemary and tamarisk. Instead, let us talk about the mad genius, the unexpected creation that awaits you beyond that next hill, among olive trees and olive groves.

The creative force of Niki de Saint Phalle, the French-American artist, who after seventeen years of intricate effort has managed to transform a “normal” hill in Maremma into an unexpected masterpiece, a gigantic work of art, not only to be admired, but to also be touched, and one that you can even physically enter: the “Giardino dei Tarocchi” (The Tarot Garden).

It is an artistic park – an appropriate technical definition – located in Garavicchio, not far from Pescia Fiorentina, a municipal sector of the more famous town of Capalbio. Conceived, designed and inspired by the late sixteenth-century Parco di Bomarzo near Viterbo, the “Giardino dei Tarocchi” is a large area populated by statues inspired by the illustrations of the Major Arcana of Tarots. Twenty two majestic figures, constructed in steel and concrete and covered with pieces of glass, mirrors and colored ceramics, representing the dreams and spiritual path of the artist’s own tormented and complicated life. Contemporary art lovers, and anyone else who may desire to understand these pieces more in depth, is able to literally “enter” among the works created by Niki, constructed in collaboration with other famous artists, including her husband – Jean Tinguely – author of the metal structures of these enormous sculptures, some of which are integrated with his self-propelled assemblies called mécaniques.

Just one note: if, as we hope, you may indeed visit the “Garden” during one of your Italian itineraries, please do share with us your comments in this blog. We are quite sure that you will be inspired by the same emotions as any visitor to this unique place, yet have your very own personal thoughts and reactions. The Miracles of Niki.

(*) Ibn Battuta – Maroccan Explorer and Traveler

“Our happiest moments as tourists always seem to come when we stumble upon one thing while in pursuit of something else” (**)

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Too often Lucca is considered and planned within an Italian itinerary, as a possible daytrip from a different base. But invariably, once in the city, visitors regret their decision and wish they had planned to dedicate more time to this fascinating small city. For example, just its medieval walls will prove to be an unexpected, extraordinary discovery.

First-time visitors to Lucca need to know that Lucca is a circular city, protected and surrounded by impressive walls. A simple web search will reveal that the city walls are 4 kilometers and 223 meters long (about 2.5 miles), and they are the result of the most recent restoration dating from May 7, 1504, and completed one and a half centuries later. But this is not the most significant thing to know about Lucca’s walls. What really matters for both expert and novice travelers is that Lucca’s walls are a lively and buzzing place of gatherings, exchanges and connections. These walls are alive!

One of the very first things we suggest to do upon arriving in the city is to go to one of the several gateways in the walls and rent a bicycle – the most autenthic Italian way to move around Lucca. You will start with a short climb to the top of the walls – no more than a few meters – and then very easily continue pedaling protected by majestic trees. From up on the wall, the city will flow to either your left or to your right. Regardless of the direction you may decide to ride, the view will be exquisite and magnificent. You will encounter younger and older people, women, men, children and friendly dogs, too.. A smiling and welcoming humanity which makes this city such a magical and enchanting place to stop, for a brief break from the usual succession of busy sightseeing days. You will never regret it!

(**) Lawrence Block – American writer

“Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by” (**)

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We love this quote by Robert Frost since it conveys the very nature of Hidden Treasures of… Italy, or any other country we may visit in our travels.

There is no doubt that every time we take a trip – especially a first-time visit to a country, city or region – we want to see as much as possible of its famous highlights and main sites. And this is absolutely reasonable. But we believe that opening our minds to new discoveries, being willing to consider lesser-known destinations, going beyond guidebook recommendations or suggestions based on friends’ past experiences, will undoubtedly make our travels more personal, exciting and unique.

Let’s take a look at a couple of examples of what we are talking about:

Cinque Terre, Italy – Everybody who wants to visit this beautiful stretch of the Ligurian Coast has read or heard about the “Sentiero Azzurro”, the popular coastal path that connects all five villages – Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. But why add to the crowds along this trail when there are equally beautiful alternative routes, especially if you are a “serious” hiker? You can start a two and a half-hour hike from Corniglia and follow the red and white trail markers into the hills where you will be rewarded with striking panoramas. You will encounter some steep stone staircases, but then the path will level off and offer beautiful views of the sea and the town below. The trail will then split and pass through groves and vineyards, before eventually descending into the streets of Manarola. By the way, once in Manarola you can reward yourself with a drink on the terrace of “Nessun Dorma”, a recently opened bar from where you will enjoy more views of the village, fishing boats in the tiny harbor, and an incredible blue sea.

Paris – While planning your days with the impressive wealth of famous and certainly not-to-be-missed sites of this glorious city, be sure to find a way to squeeze in the Musée Jaquemart-André. This museum is owned by the Institut de France and is hosted in a stunning mansion built at the end of 19th century. Visitors can explore the State apartments as well as the private rooms, the magnificent winter garden, and the impressive collections of paintings, sculptures, furniture and antiques. This includes the section called “Italian Museum” where Nélie and Edouard André, following their joint love for Italian Renaissance, have gathered their treasures while visiting the country at least once a year. The museum’s café, hosted in the former dining rom, is considered the most beautiful tea room in Paris. All of this, at a stone’s throw from the Champs-Elysées.

Stay tuned for more “hidden treasures” to come!

(**) Robert Frost

“I met a lot of people in Europe. I even encountered myself”. (*)

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Hello everyone, this is the first post from the new Hidden Treasures of Italy Blog.

We have been in the travel consultancy business for more than twenty years now, but we have never – until now! – yielded to the temptation of adding yet one more voice to the already crowded world of tourism blogging.

So, why now? Good question: first of all, we have a newly “refreshed” website. Our old site has been very much appreciated by our many clients over the years who have appreciated its rather “old fashioned” look and feel, just as they imagined Italy to be in their minds. But while we definitely remain “old fashioned” in the style of service we offer, we have come to realize that some “updating” was definitely necessary. So, here we are, with our fresh new dress – which we hope you will find just as inspiring asour old one.

What makes our service “old fashioned”? Because of the personal relationships we have built over the years with our clients and partners, and because of our customised service for each personalised itinerary – yes, these have been keys to our success. This is why you will not find any “click here and make your own reservation” buttons on our website. Instead, we actually talk with each of our clients, so that we understand their needs and expectations… and we take care of everything for them. Step-by–step, providing options to choose from, suggesting ideas and activities, making recommendations, providing our opinion on every aspect of their trips, and sharing our knowledge and passion with them . This is how we like to work, and this is what our clients appreciate about us.

So, we now envision our blog as an ongoing conversation with our clients, as well as a possible way of stimulating the interest and curiosity of people who think like we do about how to plan and organize their international travels.

It will be mainly about Italy, but also about France, Spain and other popular European countries that our clients have come to appreciate with our help.

And we will start each of our posts with an inspiring quote about the joys of travel and exploration…

Please stay tuned.

(*) James Baldwin – American writer – Born in New York, died in Saint Paul de Vence, France.