“You’re off to great places! You’re off and away!”*

* Dr. Seuss, “Oh, the Faces You’ll See”

Yes, our name may be Hidden Treasures of Italy… and our specialty is indeed to help our friends and clients to maximize the quality of their holiday visits to all Italian destinations. This remains our primary mission in life, and our passion, too.

However, over recent years, more and more of our clients (many of whom we now consider as friends!) have begun asking us if HTI might be available to help them plan their trips to other European destinations, as well.

Our short answer? Yes, we would be delighted to help… because, as Dr. Seuss has implied in today’s blog headline, there are many “great places” to be off to! Italy may be our own preferred destination but,just think: France; Spain; Germany; Austria; the U.K. And Croatia, too.

These are but several of the other European destinations that we helped HTI’s return clients to enjoy to their fullest in just the last year. Places we’ve visited multiple times ourselves over the years, as well… and our own professional network of travel experts helps to keep us up to date on what’s hot still today, and what’s not.

Paris, Madrid, Berlin, London, Vienna? These may be considered as “easy” destinations to choose from afar. But, as always, “god is in the details!” Not only in Europe’s famous capitol cities themselves, but far off the usual beaten paths, as well. And we have verified that HTI’s personalized approach to tailored itinerary planning and accommodation choices in Italy works just as well literally everywhere across Europe.

Take for example the capitol city of Croatia, fascinating Zagreb. A “new” destination for many U.S. travellers today. An old East European city, but with an authentic Adriatic atmosphere. In fact, HTI often enjoys its own play-on-words, referring to Croatia as being “on the right side of the Adriatic” (not only as you look at the map, but also as you explore the unique Dalmatian coastline and its many evocative islands!).

For example, did you know that the Croatian island of Korcula is the birthplace of Marco Polo? No, Marco Polo is not a Croatian… but the island of Korcula belonged once-upon-a-time to the old Venetian empire! So many stories, so many hidden treasures… and HTI would be delighted to share them with you.

So… yes, the many hidden treasues of Italy are what we know best. But we know a lot about other European destinations, as well. Please don’t hesitate to ask!

Next week? Another of Italy’s special hidden treasures…

“Barolo, Barbaresco, Barbera and Dolcetto… just four of the many reasons why Piemonte (OK, Piedmont!) is such a special region in Italy!”*

*Rick Ray, Hidden Treasures of Italy

Yes, there are many great Italian wines… but these four Piemontese reds are especially appreciated by Hidden Treasures of Italy! Which only partially explains why we are so fond of this special region in Italy. So close to Torino (Ok, Turin!), but not that far from Milan, either. A day-trip driving tour could be easily rationalized… but a longer stay among the Nebbiolo grape vineyards makes so much more sense!

Snow-capped mountains towering on the horizon. Rolling green hills. Antiquated hilltop villages. Wonderful food. Great cheeses. And even greater wines. Welcoming small hotels and family-owned B&B’s, too. One of our personal favorites is the Cascina delle Rose in the small village of Barbaresco. Welcoming hosts. Charming rooms. Breathtaking countryside views. And, of course, its hosts are also quality winemakers with their own hand-tended vineyards! A great base for exploring one of the greatest wine districts in the world!

And then there is the annual Fair of the White Truffle in the venerable town of Alba each Fall! Have you ever tried fresh, hand-grated truffles on a freshly fried egg? Sounds so simple… but it’s heaven on earth! Many have heard of Siena’s famous Palio horse race in Tuscany… but not that many are aware that Alba also has its own annual medieval Palio, as well… but with donkeys! Held on the first Sunday of every October, with all the traditional pageantry. A truly evocative spectacle.

But this is barely scratching the surface of this highly varied region – bordering on Liguria to the south and France to the west, while stretching north all the way to the Val D’Aosta (great skiing!), Switzerland and the world famous, climatically-blessed Lake Maggiore (palm trees in sight of the Alps?). While right in center of the region is situated its crown jewel, the majestic city of Torino (the subject of a future blog all its own!). With so many other fascinating towns, villages, wine shops and castles to entice you, Hidden Treasures would be delighted to help you tailor your own personalized Piemontese driving itinerary.

For example, how about the small town of Bra, home to the international Slow Food movement, and host to an important biennial artisan cheese market? Or the noble medieval town of Asti, home to the highly appreciated sparkling Asti Spumante? Or the lakeside town of Stresa on the western shore of magical Lake Maggiore, facing the inspirational Borromeo Islands? Or the Alpine village of Sestriere, just an hour-and-a-half drive west of Turin, a main venue for the 2006 Winter Olympics? Each a genuine hidden treasure on its own.

And more to come…

Next week? Yet another of Hidden Treasures’ preferred hidden treasures of Italy!

“ 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