“ O Romeo, Romeo… wherefore art thou Romeo? “*

The romantic city of Verona. Where there are more Roman monuments than anywhere else in northern Italy, from its vast Arena – the amphitheater which seated 25,000 and still hosts glorious opera each summer – to its ancient theater (Teatro Romano), its ponte Pietra (Ponte Romano), and its 1st century AD city gate (Arco dei Gavi).

The city where Dante sought refuge when he became “persona non grata” in his home town of Florence. Julius Caesar sought respite here before moving on to cross the Rubicon. And yes, it was Shakespeare who chose Verona as the ideal scene for his immortal love story about Romeo Montegue and Juliet Capulet.

But if these powerful testimonies to the mystical seduction of Verona are still not enough for you, how about Charles Dickens? “Pleasant Verona! With its beautiful old palaces, and charming country in the distance seen from terrace walks, and stately, balustrade galleries. With its Roman gates, still spanning the fair street, and casting, on the sunlight of today, the shade of fifteen hundred years ago. With its marble-fitted churches, lofty towers, rich architecture… Pleasant Verona!”°° To which, we would also like to add the city’s Piazza delle Erbe, the oldest thriving daily street market in all of Europe!

Yes, romantic Verona! A world class destination all on its own. But not only. A mere stone’s throw from Sirmione’s walled city on Lake Garda and from the finest single-vineyard wines of the region – Amarone, Recioto, Soave, Valpolicella. A slow drive from magical Vicenza (another World Heritage Site), and its countryside dotted with Andrea Palladio’s famous country villas – the original architectural influence for many internationally renowned “monuments,” such as Jefferson’s Monticello, Washington’s Capitol building, as well as any number of Loire Valley chateaux.

And less than a quarter-hour drive from the very heart of Verona, obscured among the city’s surrounding hills, is one of Hidden Treasures’ favorite accommodations in all of Italy – a family-owned, family-run country house, the Tenuta Delo. Large, comfortable, antique-filled rooms, and a ninth-century watch tower looming above the property’s surrounding vineyards. The estate’s very name itself was inspired by the Greek “delos,” meaning “luminous, an enchantment.” An unexpected, seemingly isolated jewel, yet so near to so many of Italy’s under-recognized hidden treasures. Oh, and did we mention that this is all less than a ninety-minute drive from Venice, as well?

Verona (and the Tenuta Delo) was one of our own family’s preferred weekend destinations from Milano, especially when we had friends visiting from America or elsewhere in Europe. And everyone we have accompanied there has vowed to go back again… because there is so much to see and so much to experience, mostly off the beaten path!

Next week? Yet another of Italy’s hidden treasures. See you then…

* William Shakespeare, “Romeo and Juliet”


“More from Puglia… the land of my birth!”*


My very first blog posting back in December, 2016, focused on Puglia (or Apulia, as it has been sometimes Anglicized!). But I have barely begun to scratch the surface of this southern region, my birthplace. This week I have decided to go back “home” once again to share with you two more of Puglia’s incredible hidden treasures!

The city-towns of OSTUNI and ALBEROBELLO… two truly magical cities, one near the sea and one further inland, less than thirty miles from one another. A leisurely scenic drive from one “world” to another!

Ostuni, is a gleaming white city-on-a-hill near the Adriatic coast, roughly midway between the more noted cities of Bari (where I was actually born!) and Lecce. Referred to in Italy as “La Città Bianca” (The White City”), Ostuni is actually built on three hills, with great sea views, narrow walkways, old city walls, a 15th century Cathedral (Duomo) and, of course, great eating. A complicated history, too. Its very name actually has Greek roots, from “astu neon” – “new city.”

Throughout the nearby countryside there are many old “masserie” – once large fortified estate-farms – many of which have been transformed into welcoming B&B’s or small family run hotels. One of our personal favorites not far from Ostuni is called Masseria Il Frantoio (“the olive oil press”). With its six utterly charming rooms, and surrounded by hundreds of its own olive trees, it is an ideal base for visiting both Ostuni and Alberobello. We would be delighted to introduce you to the friendly (and efficient) hosts!

Alberobello, another white city on a hill, is characterized by its hundreds of stone “trulli,” many dating from the 14th century – and today a UNESCO World Heritage site! A “trullo” is a white, round-shaped stone home with thick walls, built without mortar, with each of its rooms topped by a characteristic conical roof, and a stone “pinnacolo” at the very top. This small city might actually remind you of a “Smurf” village, with its more than 1,500 trulli… if it weren’t so fascinating and authentic on its own! Many of the cones are also decorated with “mysterious” painted symbols, inspired by obscure religious or astrological roots. An altogether worthwhile day trip from almost anywhere in Puglia!

And yes, there is much more to discover in this land of my parents, my grandparents and my great-grandparents, too. Places where I spent all my childhood summers from up north in Milano, and places to which I have returned to as often as possible over the years. I can’t wait to tell you more… but don’t worry, time is on our side.

In the meantime, next week? Another hidden treasure… but back up in the north this time!

“Just like the Caribbean… in the heart of Europe?”*


* Matthew Ray… on family holiday


This is an approximate, paraphrased exclamation uttered by the oldest of our four children many years ago, when he set foot for the very first time on the crystalline sandy beaches of Chia, in the south of the island of Sardinia. Two years earlier, they had shared a ten day family sailing vacation in the Caribbean (from Barbados to St. Lucia to Mustique)… and he had fallen in love with the blue skies, the clear waters and the pristine beaches. But he had no idea that these “same” skies, waters and beaches were actually available in Italy, less than an hour’s flight from our home in Milano.

This week we want to share an insight or two about an “unexpected” Italian destination for most American tourists – the fascinating Mediterranean island of Sardinia. An island characterized more by its shepherds than by its fishermen! So unexpected… but so, so captivating!

Seasoned travellers who are familiar with this special island are most likely to cite the Aga Khan’s Costa Smeralda on the northwest coastline – a “rich man’s” boating playground, with expensive villas and hotels, as well as a world class golf club (the Pevero near Porto Cervo)… along with great restaurants and beaches, to be sure. We can readily attest to the justifiable appeal of this traditional northern Sardinian holiday destination for well-to-do Italians from the “continent.”

But Hidden Treasures wants to focus today on what we believe is an even more magical corner of the island – on its southern coastline, starting with Cagliari (Sardinia’s incredibly mystifying capitol, with its medieval walls, winding walkways and Spanish fortification up in its old Castello district). Then, driving south from the city, one will encounter surprisingly large flocks of grazing pink flamingoes (!!!) on the road to the ruins of Nora, with its ancient mosaic tile floors and Roman theatre (which still hosts wonderful concerts all summer long).

Another half hour south from Nora and one arrives at the Baia Chia (Chia Bay), with its numerous magnificent beaches, some long and wide, and others small, crescent-shaped and protected, hidden behind the next hill. Small restaurants on the beach. Freshly caught seafood. Freshly chilled Sardinian wines. Fresh breezes and sunshine, sunshine, sunshine!

For many years our family owned a property near the town of Pula (where the Nora ruins are found), in a gated golf community (Is Molas), where our children would spend most of their summers while Mom and Dad had alternating commutes back to Milano for work! A magical period. Daily beach time. Punctuated by weekly day-trips – to visit sites like Tharros, an ancient Phoenician and Roman city, or to visit any number of Nuraghi, ancient stone towers dating from 1800 to 500 BC (!!!)… built by an early island civilization about which hardly anything is known today, except that many of them were still resisting the Romans several centuries later! There are actually more than 7,000 of these mysterious Nuraghi spread across the island hinterlands. So many mysteries. So many untold stories.

But let’s also be honest. There are most certainly many other historical and more culturally significant regions in Italy (including the island of Sicilly!) that merit a serious visit before considering Sardinia… unless you might be curious about experiencing this unexpected “slice of Caribbean” in the heart of Europe! And if so, Hidden Treasures is here to help you!

Next week, back to the “continent,” as the Sardinians refer to mainland Italy… for yet another hidden treasure of Italy!

Fast Cars…and Culture, too!

A different kind of blog post today. Not something typical for Hidden Treasures… but yes, we do sometimes help to organize special small group travel events. One such initiative is a specially tailored opportunity, organized this year for a small group of Formula 1 racing enthusiasts in Indianapolis.

First, a bit of background. Many years ago, when I was first involved with Hidden Treasures, I was a co-chair of the international Sister Cities committee in Chicago. Because Chicago and Milano are indeed official Sister Cities… and we were often organizing special interest cultural activities in the Windy City to promote closer ties with my home town of Milano.

Fast forward to today. After many years of HTI activity back in Milano, we now find ourselves back in America once again, in Indianapolis… for family reasons. And guess what? Indianapolis (home to the annual famous Indianapolis 500 racing event) is an official Sister City to the Italian city of Monza… the site of Formula 1’s annual Italian Grand Prix race in early September. What better “alibi” for organizing a special cultural adventure in Italy for a small group of Indianapolis fast car lovers?

For the fun of it, you can see here a copy of a flyer that is being circulated throughout the greater Indianapolis area these days… announcing / promoting this informal Sister Cities-inspired cultural travel initiative.

Net? If any of our readers might have any special small group travel interests (a fashion-related sales incentive trip to Milano; an extended regional cooking tour in Tuscany; a soccer-themed adventure during Italy’s Serie A season; etc.), please don’t be shy about asking. Perhaps we could be of help.

Which in no way will ever distract us from our primary passion and experience for organizing highly personalized itinerary needs and desires for “individual” travellers – for you, your family and close friends. Smile.

Next week? Another of our favorite hidden treasures to tempt you!

An Umbrian treasure on the road from Florence to Rome…

Yes, Florence and Rome are two of Italy’s classic tourist destinations, hardly “hidden treasures” themselves per se (as usual, “god is in the details!”)… but on the road between these two magical cities you will find one of Hidden Treasures’ favorite hidden treasures in all of Italy.

The hill-top city of Orvieto – high on an isolated volcanic plateau, just off the main highway, on the southern-most fringe of Umbria (one of the most fascinating of Italy’s twenty different regions) A small city worth a stayover, not just an hour’s visit. In fact, for years now, our own family has considered Orvieto as an ideal weekend get-away destination.

The unique façade of its Renaissance Duomo, gleaming in the late afternoon sun, is by itself worth a detour. And the unique “Pozzo di San Patrizio” (a deep medieval well – more than 200 feet – with two unconnected spiraling staircases for visitors, one descending and one ascending), its narrow streets and stone walkways, its medieval architecture… as well as its breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside. Good restaurants and welcoming small hotels, too. Of course, Hidden Treasures would be delighted to share its own personal favorites… both in the city itself, as well as in the surrounding territory.

For example, Orvieto is not only a logical stop-over destination on the road to (or from) Rome, situated near the invisible borderline where Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio meet, it is also only a short drive away from Todi, yet another fascinating Umbrian town. With its three sets of city walls, dating from Etruscan, Roman and Medieval periods. Renaissance palaces, squares… so many hidden treasures around every corner!

Or, just a virtual stone’s throw from Orvieto in another direction, in northern Lazio, is the small town of Bolsena (formerly an ancient Etruscan city called Volsinii), situated on the banks of Lake Bolsena, of volcanic origins. Off the beaten path to be sure, but fascinating and peaceful. A late afternoon aperitivo by the lakeside? Count us in!

There are also a goodly number of welcoming family-run B&B’s and evocative Villas available for rent in the area – some within sight of Orvieto’s panoramic skyline. Almost like a trip back into time!

Besides Orvieto, there is something unexpected hidden behind almost every hill on the main road between Florence and Rome. Hidden Treasures will be happy to point the way, depending on your own personal interests.

Next week? We’ll be flipping a coin to help decide on yet another off-the-beaten path Italian destination to highlight. And, oh, if any of you might have a suggestion for a future blog destination topic, please don’t hesitate to let us know… we’d be delighted to respond to your curiosity!

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you will go”(*)

(*) Dr. Seuss, “I Can Read With My Eyes Shut”

Matera: The “Sassi

The more that you read… the more places to go! So how about consulting the New York Times?

Sunday edition, January 14, 2018. Travel Section. There are 195 nations on the globe, representing literally thousands of potential holiday destinations… of which “only” 52 have been highlighted by the NYT for consideration by its readers in this new year – 2018. Hmm? Why does it not surprise us that three from this select short list of recommended destinations are to be found in Italy alone? And yet, they are but just three among Italy’s so many hidden treasures.

Three special regions in Italy, off most traditional tourist itineraries… yet each with much to offer for travellers from afar. Basilicata, Emilia Romagna and Alto Adige. To be found in the deep South, the Center and the far North of Italy’s Mediterranean peninsula.

Basilicata, home to Matera, designated by UNESCO as the European Capitol of Culture for the year of 2019… a city of caves (called the Sassi – our featured image). You can even stay in a B&B situated in one of Matera’s historical cave sites. Unforgettable. Just ask Hidden Treasures for a recommendation or two.

Emilia Romagna, home to Bologna, Parma and Modena… destinations of great eating and fast cars (home to Ferrari and Lamborghini). How about considering lunch or dinner in Rubiera (a small town mid-way between Parma and Bologna) at the Clinica Gastronomica – one of Hidden Treasures’ favorite restaurants in all of Italy. Worth even a side trip!

And Alto Adige – also called South Tyrol – home to Bolzano (Bozen), Bressanone (Brixen) and Merano (Meran)… charming Italian / Germanic mini-cities surrounded by Dolomite skylines. Where Italy meets Austria. Welcoming hotels, regional cooking… and long walks in the fresh mountain air!

By all means, do your own desk research on these off-the-beaten-path regions (following Dr. Seuss’ advice!)… and Hidden Treasures is here to help you choose the most appropriate accommodations, as well as to reaffirm or help you discover the best of their multiple hidden treasures. Thank you. Our pleasure.

Next week? Yet another suggestion from Dr. Seuss…

My hometown, Milano!

I call Milano my hometown… even though I was born in Puglia, in Bari (a fascinating city that I will talk more about in a future blog entry!). And I couldn’t be more proud of my city!

Milano… a classic arrival point in Italy – at Malpensa Airport, some fifty kilometers northwest of the city. “Get off your plane, pick up your rental car… and drive on to your first destination! To Venice? To Florence? To anywhere but Milano itself…”

This was the once classic travel advice that many travel agents in America would give to their clients heading off on their first trip to Italy… anywhere but Milano. Milano, a drab, grey city of Commerce. Busy people, bustling about town, moving on to their next business appointment. Etc…

Yes, old myths are slow to die… but my hometown is today a genuine world class tourist destination on its own! A magic blend of old and new. A city that is alive, proud of its past… and now also proud of its dynamic new neighborhoods and modern architecture. Great restaurants. Famous museums. Great parks. Great shopping. Great hotels, too. Home of fashion and design.

The Duomo, the Galleria, the Castello. La Scala… oh, and did I say shopping?

I am sure that in the coming months I’ll be coming back to Milano to share more about its traditional attractions, but today I want to introduce you to one of the city’s hottest new local destinations, in the Porta Nuova neighborhood (and as highlighted in a recent article in The New York Times) – “a futuristic-looking square with a fountain at its center” called Piazza Gae Aulenti. Named after one of Italy’s most prolific architects (and a woman, at that!), and situated “at the heart of this recently developed part of town, where shiny new high-rises are redefining the cityscape.” Not only worth a visit, but even worth a detour!

Piazza Gae Aulenti – a testimony to Milano’s vivacity and eye towards the future! Including great shops, bars and restaurants… and easy walking distance from Milano’s well-known Corso Como shopping street and the city’s own Eataly food emporium.

Yes, my hometown is in evolution… and I will quite probably try to convince you that your next trip to Italy should include more than a mere stop-over in Milano! I would be delighted to share with you our personal favorite restaurants, bars and shops, as well! I guarantee that you, too, will be as impressed by Milano as we are!

Next week? Another of HTI’s “hidden treasure” destinations!

“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.


* EDITH WHARTON, Itlalian Backgrounds

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



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.



Hotel Covo dei Saraceni


Terrace with a view


A room at Covo dei Saraceni


The flavors of Puglia



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

In the ’70s



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