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Books set in Italy: Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

The setting is Porto Vergogna, a small Italian coastal town in April 1962. A young hotelier, Pasquale, is daydreaming about his future when a boat appears on the horizon and docks by the cove. A beautiful American actress, Dee Moray, alights.

Dee has just finished filming Cleopatra in Rome, and is supposedly dying from stomach cancer. She rooms in Pasquale’s hotel, waiting for her lover. Pasquale then plays a ‘walk-on role’ in Dee’s story until she disappears.

Jess Walter

Jess Walter

Fast forward 50 years to when an elderly Italian man wearing a fedora goes to Hollywood looking for a long-forgotten actress.

Although not one of the most well-known books set in Italy, this intricate novel shows everyone as being a character in everyone else’s ‘script’. Life imitates art, and reality becomes skewed when there are ‘appearances’ from Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, the stars of Cleopatra.

This book took Walter 15 years to create, but the end result was definitely worth the wait.

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How many kisses in Italy?

Many people around the World greet each other with kisses on the cheek, although the number of kisses changes across countries: one in some European countries, two in Spain, and up to three or even four in other European countries. So, before your trip to Italy, you might be wondering: how many kisses in Italy?

Bouguereau_first_kiss

Italians are known the world over for being romantic and very family orientated, but what is acceptable behaviour between friends?  In general, Italians follow the traditional European custom of kissing someone they know, or have been introduced to, on both cheeks. However, in Italy, the number of kisses which are acceptable can vary from region to region.

In Rimini, in Emilia-Romagna, for example, it is considered good manners to have three kisses on the cheek. Friendly people there insist that this is their tradition, and, after all, who could possibly object to receiving three kisses from a handsome Italian stallion?!

So next time you are sitting in a sunny piazza and watching the world go by, take note (discreetly!) of how many kisses Italians greet each other with. Will it be two or three? If it’s more, then it’s probably fair to say that they are slightly more than just friends!

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Visit Umbria: Stay at Villa Etruria

Villa Etruria in Umbertide, Umbria, is truly a gem, set as it is amongst olive, cypress and fruit trees; you will feel as though you have arrived at your very own country estate! Umbertide is around 40km from the historic city of Perugia, which is home to two major universities and is famous for being the place where Renaissance artists Perugino and Raphael created some renowned masterpieces. Try to fit in a visit to the Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria, where you can see such paintings as the Madonna with Child, and six Angels which represent the Renaissance Marian art of Duccio.

Villa Etruria 1

The Villa itself is set over three floors and has a capacity of up to ten, so why not enjoy an extended holiday with friends and family in a truly magnificent setting? The 18th century farmhouse has been re-designed with the utmost comfort of the guests in mind at all times. Some of the original features have been carefully renovated, including the exposed stone walls, high vaulted ceilings, delicate iron handrails and open fireplaces. And yet you can still enjoy some of the most sleek and contemporary bathroom suites and terracotta tiled floors. Any food you have here has been carefully sourced either from the land itself or from local farmers and so you need never worry about freshness, quality or flavour.

Villa Etruria 2

Outside, you can enjoy stunning panoramic views, as Villa Etruria is around 450m above sea level; just sit out in the garden and enjoy the tranquillity and smells of the herbs wafting over you from the organic gardens. But along with the peace that you will feel when you visit Umbria, you also have access to satellite TV, internet access, a barbecue and private swimming pool. With everything you need to hand, there is no reason to leave if you don’t want to; indeed, once there, you will find it difficult to walk away when the time comes!

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Films Set in Italy: Swept Away, a 1974 film by Lina Wertmuller

In our series of articles about films set in Italy, today we bring you Swept Away, a 1974 film by Lina Wertmuller.

In this filme, a vain businesswoman named Raffaella (Mariangela Melato) is on a yacht in the Mediterranean with friends. Her incessant rants include the virtues of her upper class and the worthlessness of the political left. She greatly angers one of the deckhands on her yacht, the married Gennarino (played by Giancarlo Giannini), who is a dedicated Communist. He manages to keep his opinions to himself to avoid losing his job, agreeing to take her on a dinghy that evening to see her friends. En route, the engine dies, leaving them stranded in the middle of the sea.

*Image: Wikipedia

*Image: Wikipedia, Giancarlo Giannini

The next morning, Gennarino gets the motor running, but neither knows where they are. They finally see an island and head for it, destroying the dinghy. Managing to land, they discover that they are shipwrecked and alone on the island. Raffaella orders Gennarino around but he snaps and they split up, exploring the island alone.

Gennarino quickly catches lobsters and cooks them. Because Raffaella has to rely on him for food, Gennarino decides that she should be his slave, which leads to anger and fights.

They get rescued, both knowing that something unsettling has happened in their lives, but she doesn’t want to let go of the society life she is used to. Gennarino decides to return to his loveless marriage back home.

The film was shot in Tortoli, Sardinia, and it’s worth watching for the blue of the water alone!

 

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The Cinque Terre

The coastline of the Cinque Terre

The stunning coastline of the Cinque Terre

Having worked for Cottages to Castles for many years I had heard a lot about the Cinque Terre but had never actually visited it.  In September 2013 the chance finally came when my partner and I decided to visit the area for a few days whilst en route to Tuscany.

We stayed at the gorgeous Casa dei Limoni one of Cottages to Castles many cottages in Italy.  It  is conveniently located just above the coastal resort of Bonassola and because we were travelling by motorbike we like to be able to walk to shops and restaurants so it was ideal.  The walk down into the town from the property takes just 15 minutes (and only slightly longer on the way back up).  Bonassola is a delightful town and has everything you could need for a relaxing holiday.  But one of the ideal facilities is the train line which takes you to the first down of the Cinque Terre (Monterosso) in just two stops!

We actually decided to go to the furthest town (Riomaggiore) and work our way back from there with a combination of walking and taking the train.  So we set off at around 9.30am and arrived in Riomaggiore approximately 30 minutes later.  Whilst it was busy with other visitors it was not unbearable and after a stroll around the village we found a great bar for morning coffee and a second breakfast!  We were already enthralled by the steep, narrow ravine this village has been built in yet the surrounding slopes are covered with vines. How on earth is that possible? We kept asking ourselves. We strolled down to the tiny yet lovely and much photographed harbour of Riomaggiore where we discovered that there is a boat service which serves each of the towns except for Corniglia, the highest one.  As it was a lovely, sunny day we decided to use the boats rather than trains. As it turned out the path that we wanted to walk was closed anyway so this was a great alternative. It also proved a great way of getting some great photos of the villages as they are tricky to photograph close up.

Riomaggiore

Riomaggiore

 

The boat services which links the villages

The boat services which links the villages

We bought our tickets to the next village of the group (Manarola) and only waited a few minutes for the boat to arrive.  A short boat ride later and we were in Manarola.  This is a bit smaller than Riomaggiore but still absolutely stunning – beautiful pastel coloured buildings simply clinging to the cliffs.  Lunchtime had arrived and we found a great restaurant on the main street. Of course, we had to go for seafood and opted for the deepfried mixed dish.  What a fantastic choice!  It proved to be one of the best meals of our entire trip.  It was cooked to perfection and washed down with a glass of the local white wine – ottimo!!

Delicious lunch!

Delicious lunch!

Speaking of wine, it was really interesting to learn how important the area’s vineyards have been in its history.  From as early as the 11th century there have been vines planted on the cultivated terraces.  Today it is still very much regarded as ‘heroic winemaking’ because of the enormous effort that has to into producing the grapes.  There is very little mechanical help so all the work must be done by hand. If you come here you will see for yourself how truly incredible this is.

After lunch we took the boat along the coast passing Corniglia on the way to Vernazza.  Yet another great village awaited us.  Unfortunately, this one was severely affected by landslides back in 2011 and the effects are still apparent on some of the buildings.  It made us realise how fragile this entire area is.

Vernazza's lovely harbour

Vernazza’s lovely harbour

The last town we saw was Monterosso al Mare, perhaps not in such a stunning location as the others but still good to visit.  With lots of bars, restaurants and shops to explore as well as the lovely beach there is certainly lots to do here.

After a look around Monterosso we headed back to Bonassola on the train and enjoyed an aperitivo on the beach watching the sunset before heading back to Casa dei Limoni.  What an absolutely fantastic day it had been!  It was just about the amazing scenery and great villages but also the food, the boat experience and indeed the people we had met and chatted with, locals and fellow visitors alike.  I would love to do it again sometime and highly recommend it to anyone visiting the area.

 

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Visit Naples: The Capodimonte Royal Palace

This palace was built during the XVIII century by Carlo di Borbone. Its impressive construction manages to dominate the landscape on the Gulf of Naples. During its history, it has been used both as a residence for royals and as a museum.

Capodimonte Royal Palace

*Image: Wikipedia

In the woods of the Palace and game reserve can be found more than 4,000 varieties of age-old trees, and some of the buildings were set aside for court life (The Casina della Regina, and The Palazzina dei Principi). Various religious celebrations take place in the Church of San Gennaro, and the Capuchins Retreat, and agricultural and animal husbandry activities go on in the pheasants’ aviary, the ‘Cellaio’ barn and the cowshed. Also at this stunning location is the Parco Della Statuaria, consisting of fountains, boulevards and small villas.

During the rich history of the palace, many European intellectuals have stayed there; Winckelmann, Angelika Kauffmann, Canova, Fragonard, Goethe and Hackert, to name but a few.

Well worth a visit next time you visit Naples or its surrounding area!

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Visit Tuscany: stay in the Florence region

The Antica Torre apartments are set a short stroll from the historic village of Lamole in the stunning area of Tuscany. Lamole is positioned between Florence, (40km) and Siena (48km), so it makes the perfect base for you to be able to enjoy a few day trips when you next visit Tuscany.

Antica Torre 1

This superbly restored Tuscan farmhous,e which houses the Antica Torre apartments, makes for the cosiest accomodation in great surroundings. There is a charming piazza only 600m away and there you will find the chiesa (local church). Churches in Italy are always worth taking a walk around; they are generally very beautiful and complete with stunning frescoes. We recommend that you read our post regarding local customs and make sure that your arms and legs are covered.

The owners of Antica Torre have lovingly restored this delightful farmhouse to create two equally stunning apartments, each boasting 3 double bedrooms, an open plan living/dining room, complete with large open fireplace, and a lovely private seating area which is perfect for a spot of quiet reading when everyone else is enjoying a siesta! The 18th century vaulted ceilings and exposed brick walls will leave you feeling as if you have stepped back into a different era, and the original bread oven will allow you to cook as they did in days gone by, too.Antica Torre 2

Marina, the owner, has gone out of her way to ensure that you have a charming time at Antica Torre; she owns a shop in the village which sells deliciously scented soaps and products made from the local olive oil. As she brings the products home, you will simply adore the smells wafting around the interior. Marina is also related to Dario Cecchini, the world-famous butcher we have already talked about in this blog, who owns three restaurants in the village whose aim is to provide quality food at affordable prices. As a guest at the Antica Torre, you can be sure of a warm welcome at any of them! Both apartments have a private garden, internet access and outdoor barbecue; in fact, everything you could need to ensure a wonderful holiday in this little corner of paradise.

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Films set in Italy: Summertime

In our category of films set in Italy, today we bring you the 1955 American-British film, Summertime. In it, Katharine Hepburn stars as Jane Hudson, a single school secretary from Ohio. She has a lifelong dream of spending a summer in Venice and finally manages to get there after saving from her meagre earnings for a number of years.

Hepburn_Summertime

The evening of her arrival, Jane decides to take a stroll to the Piazza San Marco, and becomes slightly depressed and ‘down’ witnessing so many couples walking through one of the most romantic cities in the world.

She realises that she is alone with her thoughts until she notices a handsome Italian man gazing at her. As soon as she catches his eye, he walks away and she is again alone. When she goes shopping the following day, she notices a red glass goblet in a shop window and, going in to take a closer look, realises that the owner, Renato De Rossi, is the very same man who was staring at her the evening before. Hoping to see her again, Renato offers to try to find her a matching goblet.

She goes back to his store the following day and is disappointed when he is not there. However, he comes to see her that evening, and she agrees to have dinner with him.

Following the usual ups and downs and misunderstandings, Jane discovers that Renato is actually married with several children. Renato ends up admitting to being married but states that they are separated and the marriage is unhappy. Jane sadly feels that the relationship has nowhere to go, and so decides to return home and leaves for the station, hoping that Renato will nonetheless turn up before she leaves. The film ends as he tries to hand her a package through the train window, but because it is moving too quickly, he does not get the opportunity. Was that the goblet he promised?

If you like old films and are a Katharine Hepburn fan, we are sure you will enjoy Summertime. Moreover, the film really shows Venice in the true natural beauty of the time.

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Visit Verona: a little treasure for Romeo and Juliet’s fans

We are probably all aware of how much Shakespeare adored Italy and know that he was very fond of writing plays set in this beautiful country. But have you thought of visiting Verona, where three of his plays take place?

*Source: Wikipedia

*Source: Wikipedia

In Verona, you can visit what claims to be Juliet’s house. Thousands of people visit this attraction every day to admire the famous balcony and to take pictures with a bronze statue of Juliet that claims to bring good fortune if you rub its right breast. In the last few years, people have also started to leave locks on the inside gates, as well as to write their lover’s name on the walls that lead to the house in the hope that this will make their love everlasting.

*Source: Wikipedia

*Source: Wikipedia

If you are a Shakespeare fan, another place you might not have thought of visiting is Juliet’s grave, which is in Via del Pontiere. The grave is to be found within the religious compound of San Francesco al Corso, although to be exact, it is actually placed in a crypt which is accessible from the cloister.

This was formerly a monastery with a vegetable garden in which there was an ancient red marble sarcophagus.  The sarcophagus was empty and had no cover, and it was at the beginning of the 19th century that it became identified as the final resting place of the beautiful Juliet.

In present times, many civil weddings are held here, with couples from far-flung countries celebrating this unique experience. There is also a tradition of addressing love letters to “Juliet in Verona” which a team of secretaries collect and post answers to.

Visiting Verona might not be somewhere you may have thought of before, but is definitely one for the ‘bucket list’!

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Visit Amalfi: Stay at the Neapolitan Riviera

Today we would like to take a look at the Mare Infinito one-bedroom apartment in Amalfi. Aah, the Amalfi Coast!  It almost encourages you to take a sigh. This is such a beautiful part of Italy that even Kim Kardashian and her husband Kris Humphries recently spent their honeymoon there. Amalfi boasts one of the most charming stretches of coastline in Southern Italy, and the residents are rightly proud of their pristine beaches and clear blue waters. The Mare Infinito is around 3 km from the town of Amalfi with its beautiful beaches and a wealth of amenities, including shops, bars, restaurants and essentials such as a Post Office and Pharmacy. Alternatively, the nearest beach to the apartment is the Bay of Duoglio.Mare Infinito 2

The Mare Infinito comfortably sleeps four adults and is located on the first floor of a residential building. Accessible from two of the rooms is a superb terrace, where you can enjoy wonderful views down to the cliffs of the Amalfi coastline and the sea beyond. Amenities at the Mare Infinito include an entrance into a super sitting/dining room which has a double sofa bed and doors leading out onto the terrace; a further double bedroom which also has access to the terrace; a bathroom with the usual shower, WC, etc. and a kitchen well-equipped with fridge-freezer, oven and hob.

Mare Infinito 1

As well as the stunning views from the terrace, this location is perfect for travelling to other parts of Italy when you visit Amalfi. You can catch a ferry or hydrofoil from the docks, and visit Positano, Capri, Salerno, Sorrento and Naples. There is also the option to enjoy a mini-cruise around the impressive coastline. Should you prefer a little history with your fun in the sun, and enjoy ancient buildings and archaeology, then the towns of Pompeii, Herculaneum and Paestum are within a short distance. Naples and Salerno are also nearby.

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