Emperor Nero never actually saw the Coliseum in Rome..

The Flavium Amphitheatre - Coliseum

Symbol of Rome

The Flavium Amphitheatre

The Coliseum is the most visited site in Italy with millions of visitors annually, but few visitors are aware of is real name and origins.

Emperor Nero never actually saw the Coliseum in Rome; both Cecil De Mille’s and Mervyn Le Roy’s movies, “The Sign of The Cross” and “Quo Vadis?” were historically inaccurate. Nero had actually died well before the construction of the “colossus” began. In those times no building of its magnitude had been seen anywhere in the world, even in the powerful Roman Empire.

Attributing the construction of that “recreational” place to the Emperor Nero remains
Among the many legends created over the past two thousand years. More recently, film versions, imagination and distortions have created further myths about the origins of this famous symbol of Rome.

The original name of what we now call the Coliseum was “Anfiteatro Flavio” Flavium Amphitheatre from the name of the “Flavi,” a powerful Roman family that seized power in Rome after Nero died.

Vespasianum, the first of the family to seize power, decided to build the monument that was unveiled and opened for business by his son Titus around 80 CE. Nero died in 68 CE.

It was renamed the Coliseum in Medieval times referring to its colossal size. The name has remained the Coliseum ignoring the name of its creator.

Its elliptic form has a perimeter of 1,750 feet; the height is 170 feet with a seating capacity of about 50,000, a real colossus for its time. Originally it was furnished with a clever system of sails that protected the spectators from the scorching summer sun in Rome and from rain.

The notion that it was a place of Christian martyrdom is without any historical proof; it was rather a place for public celebrations, for the commemoration of battles, dramas based on classic mythology and gladiator battles.

It is, certainly the most well known image of Rome and one of the most visited historical sites in the world. It was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1980 and is one of the new Seven Wonders of the World.

The unforgettable 1953 movie “A Roman Holiday,” co-starring Gregory Peck with the young and beautiful Audrey Hepburn, revived Rome as a popular romantic destination.
Reservation is mandatory for a visit.

or email: info@travelingtoitaly.com

Italy’s “Borghi a perdere” – Disposable Villages

(Image courtesy of Non Solo Tigullio) View of the Round Borough

Borghi a Perdere
Villages to be discovered

Un-knwon Italy

It was back in August 2011 when the embattled Berlusconi government presented a legislative proposal to eliminate the administrative autonomy of small Italian towns with fewer than 1,000 inhabitants. Those with fewer than 10,000 were told they had to incorporate with other towns in order to reduce costs to ease the national financial crisis.

It was a mortal blow for the thousands of quaint villages and picturesque small towns that are representative of Italy’s best “postcard” images. These are the quiet hamlets among gentle hills, with palettes of bright colors, excellent cuisine and generous wines, small “trattorias” and warm “agriturismi” or “B&Bs,” the places that offer affordable and friendly hospitality. These villages are replete with small “botteghe” full of local artisanal products, “piccole cose” small things and “gustosi” tasty local products made locally, not in China.

Each of these boroughs, under the menace of extinction, reacted fiercely against this edict and some have retained their independent administrations due to their creativity. Each and every one started working as hard as possible to reverse this mortal fate. Many locals had the idea of increasing the value of these places by highlighting unique features of each of the sites. Some villages have a heritage of classic architecture; others have precious artwork. These places were previously unknown, but have become bounty for tourists always in search of new places and thirsty to experience new emotions.

There has been a dramatic turnaround for some of the villages. Nowadays these places represent the new frontier of tourism in Italy. The country is full of these places, often clustered on hills and cliffs, where local folks have begun to appreciate the new people coming into their small cities to vacation for a few days and to relinquish a stream of much-needed Euro.

I strongly recommend these villages to seasoned visitors of Italy and to travellers who would like to combine a visit of traditional sights with smaller and more typical places.

Take Varese Ligure, with about 800 inhabitants, perched on the Apennine range, about an hour’s drive from the more popular and overcrowded Cinque Terre. Varese Ligure is thefirst European GREEN borough; its electric power comes from windmills installed on Mount Gottero a nearby mountain. The city hall and schools are powered with solar panels installed on the roof of the public buildings. This renewable energy freedom helped to solve some of its financial problems since part of the energy produced is sold back to the national electric company.

In Varese Ligure , local butchers sell and restaurants serve organic meat produced by the Cooperativa San Pietro. Cheese and other dairy products come from the Cooperativa
Casearia Val di Vara.

The old part of the borough preserves the typical medieval layout of ancient fortified castles with its stucco houses nicely painted in bright pastel colors. A handful of churches house impressive art work, with good examples of Baroque architecture and paintings from the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries.

These places offer a wonderful mid-week break or a peaceful weekend to discover what it is still intact in Italy. I will highlight other villages in my next dispatch.

There are a few lodging facilities and several small typical restaurants that can satisfy all budgets and taste buds.

Book your Hotel here
• Albergo Ristorante Amici – Tel. 0187 842 139
• Albergo della Posta Tel. 0187 842 115

or email: info@travelingtoitaly.com

Life is Theatre! Everybody get a mask! VENICE CARNEVALE

Beautiful Venetian mask

VENICE 4-21 February/2012

As for the past 30 years Venice is gearing up to celebrate another unforgettable Carneval, the happening calendar is ready, tickets for the various celebrations are getting really scarce, rooms in town are rapidly disappearing the wait is get spasmodic and “Veneziani” very excited about this historical tradition.

Every night the Grand Theatre of St. Mark Square will be the location for parties, dances, parades, live music and entertainment. The famous piazza will become the central stage of this International kermes.

The clue of this giant celebration will be the: “The Angel Flight” a tradition that goes by to the Hay days of La Serenissima Republic, it consist of an unknown guest of Venice, normally a famous sport person, or singer of a movie star. Thi person, attached to a rope will be flying from the bell tower top to the middle of the famous square. Here is a list of the celebrities that in the last seven years participated in this event:
– 2005: Carolina Marconi, model and actress;
– 2006: Manuela Levorato, sprinter;
– 2007: Federica Pellegrini, Olympic Gold swimmer;
– 2008: Coolio, rap singer, with a costume by Moschino;
– 2009: Margherita Maccapani Missoni, actress, with a costume by Missoni;
– 2010: Bianca Brandolini d’Adda, model, with a costume by Giambattista Valli;
– 2011: Silvia Bianchini, winner of the beauty contest of the Festa delle Marie 2010, with a costume by Emanuela Finardi and Stefano Nicolao.

This theme for this year edition will be “Life is a Theatre! Everybody gets a mask! Beginning is set for February 4th.

Here is the program.

Hotel Booking

or email: info@travelingtoitaly.com


Departing from Agrigento


Two bikes, a Ducati and a BMW, 700 miles, 7 days, made for an unforgettable tour of Sicily on motorcycle with my son David, from September 23-30/2011. This tour had been on my “bucket list” since David was in high school, but for one reason or another, we were never able to realize the project.

Last spring David urged me to get going, “Dad stop talking, let’s do it NOW or otherwise we’ll never do it, just find a couple of motorcycles, book them and let’s go.” That’s exactly what we did. I called a company in Palermo, negotiated the price and set the dates.

It was a one-of-a-kind adventure; we had a mix of wet days and gorgeous sunny days – Sicily proved to be one of the best destinations for this kind of adventure. Sicily’s country roads were perfect for a motorcycle rider, a bit bumpy, but with an ideal mix of turns, ups and downs and not enough traffic to worry about. It was the right combination to allow you to relax and enjoy both the ride and the panorama of breathtaking sea and mountain views.

The route planning, as David would say, “was perfect,” just the right number of miles to keep us fresh for the next day. We covered all the major highlights that this beautiful island has to offer and took in many small villages that rarely see tourists.

We started from Palermo, riding clockwise, we visited Catania, Siracusa, Noto, Modica, Agrigento, Enna, and Pietraperzia. Back in Palermo we had a full-day to visit the major historical and artistic points the city has to offer, including the Norman Palace with its Palatine Chapel covered wall-to-wall with precious mosaics. The Cathedral is an impressive architectural mix of styles, early Byzantine, then Arab in the 9th century and several signs of multiple additions between the 14-16th centuries.

We viewed the “4 Canti, ” the famed intersection dividing the city during Roman times, the Opera House, and the Capo outdoor market. These are the highlights that every tourist must see when visiting Palermo.

We stopped in Piazza Armerina to visit the famous “Villa Romana del Casale,” the Roman Patrician country villa whose many rooms are covered with spectacular mosaics that are in remarkably good condition.

We had good meals everywhere we went and drank some exceptional wines.

I’m happy to offer assistance to motorcycle riders who would like to duplicate this tour. Our experience was priceless.

or email: info@travelingtoitaly.com

Unknown Italy – Lomellina Land of Rice

View of the Cascina Bovile


Typical Itinerary


If you are interested in undiscovered places, this area will appeal to you!!!

Lomellina is a small area southwest of Milan, bordered by three rivers: the Po, the Sesia, and the Ticino. Italians refer to the area as “Oltrepo Pavese” meaning on the other side of the Po River in the area of Pavia! The area is full of small villages, comprising more than 60 communes. Three of the most well known of these are: Vigevano, famous for its beautiful shoe manufacturing, along with Mortara, Pavia and Vercelli.

The name “Lomellina” comes from “Lomello (Laumellum), one of the largest and most famous areas during Roman times. Remains of its city center or “Castrum” are still evident today. You can also appreciate an excellent example of Romanico-Longobardo architecture in its Santa Maria Maggiore church. Next to the church, that has undergone various modifications over the centuries, is the baptistery of San Giovanni built in the 7th Century. Its baptismal font alone, created between the 7th and 8th centuries, is worth the visit.

Those of you who like to deepen your knowledge of Italy and want to see places where Italians go in their free time, this area is the perfect place to spend a few days. Not only is it full of history and charm, it also provides wonderful value, great food and a good selection of quality accommodations.
The land of Lomellina is famous for its rice production, a tradition that began there in the 1500s. Take a look at this Dino De Laurentiis 1949 film with Vittorio Gassmann and Silvana Mangano, available in its entirety on YouTube to get a vision of rural life here.

The economy of the entire area is still dependent upon rice production. Historically, the cultivation of rice took place in water, but it is now rapidly changing into a “dry” cultivation, which the experts claim reduces costs while still creating a product that is comparable in both quality and taste.

To learn the secrets of risotto and other rice dishes, cooking classes can be arranged in this area taught by both home cooks and professionals. The gastronomy of the Lomellina is also famous for its goose breeding and various goose preparations. It’s here that you can taste fresh goose and naturally cured goose meat prepared with local spices and herbs. The most sought-after product is its NATURAL foie-gras – which exceeds expectations in every possible way.

I would encourage you to visit the “Cascine” that once housed the agricultural workers who worked in the rice fields. These “Cascine” or farms were like miniature villages complete with a school, a church, a cemetery, a few small stores, and the small apartments and rooms where the workers lived alone or with their families. Many of the largest “cascine”, where 300-500 people once lived, are still visible as villages on current maps. These “cascine” were abandoned during Italy’s boom years of the 1960s and were later rediscovered and restored as restaurants and rural lodging facilities known as “Agriturismi”. In addition to having all of amenities of larger facilities such as air conditioning, TV, WI-FI, they often make wonderful use of products that come directly from their property and frequently offer these products for sale. It cannot get more local than that! The appealing link between the history and tradition of the past with the needs of the present is a strong attraction to selecting this type of accommodation.

Two nights are ideal to get an idea of what the area has to offer. The area is rich with history due to its location situated between Milan and Pavia and close to Piedmont where the French, under the House of Savoy, reigned. It is only 90 minutes from Milan’s Malpensa airport. It would be a good place to unwind after an international flight for a couple of days or a destination to consider before coming back to the US. It’s an easy area to navigate with excellent roads and signage

Here we recommend that you focus on food rather than art – we suggest an excellent restaurant called Tenuta Molino Taverna. The Banfi family that owns it treated us with professionalism and warmth. The mother “Mamma Margherita”, after raising her own family, is now enjoying a new career cooking for guests at their restaurant. With passion and skill, her children Pietro, Costanza and Giuditta an accomplished baker, take care of the dining room. If you would like to know how to duplicate some of her risotto recipes, Mamma Margherita is the perfect teacher. With ample notice, she offers cooking instruction. I recommend Risotto con le Creste di Gallina – or Cock’s Comb Risotto. Don’t forget this tip.

Olevano Lomellina
The Cascina Tenuta San Giovanni has been in business since the 1500s and, for the most part, is in excellent condition. It is currently undergoing additional restoration. It was one of the largest of the “cascine” in the area of rice production. Today, Cristiana Sartori, the great granddaughter of the founder is taking the business to another level. In fact, as mentioned above, Cristiana is tastefully restoring the structure transforming it into a kind of University highlighting the cuisine of Lombardy. What impressed me was the size and quality of the professional kitchen she has installed to accommodate weddings and other large events large events. The Cascina’s dining room can seat more than 250 guests and there are additional rooms for smaller gatherings.

Sant’Angelo Lomelliana
There is an ancient church in Lomellina that houses important frescoes from the 15th-16th C. The church itself was built on Roman remains, which are visible along the walls of the church.

Due to the production of rice, this was a flourishing commercial center prior to Italy’s economic boom in the 1960s. The remains of its castle built around the year 1000 are still visible. For art lovers, there is a painting of the crucifixion attributed to the school of Tomassino da Mortara in the sacristy of the church of San Valentino.

Ceretto Lomellina
A must stop is at the Cascina Bovile where Chef Pierluigi and his wife, Roberta offer exquisite traditional dishes all prepared with ingredients from their land. Their specialty is goose prepared in many different ways including cured goose and their NATURAL Foie Gras…our lunch there was an unforgettable taste experience.

Valle Lomellina
Several recently restored frescoes from the 9th-10th C. are worth seeing in the museum of Santa Maria di Castello.

Sartirana Lomellina
Here the remains of its tower and castle can be seen. Stop at the Cascina Corte Grande where Silvia e Marco offer genuine and personal hospitality in their large Cascina that is equipped for medium meetings and congresses. The cuisine at Corte Grande is delicious prepared with all local products including the wines.


• Cascina Corte Grande – Via Roma, 25 Semiana (PV) TEL. +39 0384 82 02 72 e:info@cascinacortegrande.it


• Cascina Bovile – Ceretto Lomellina. Tel. +39 033456123
• Molino Taverna – Strada Vicinale della Gallina. Cilavegna (PV) Tel. 0381 969 155 e:info@molinotaverna.it – www.molinotaverna.ir

or email: info@travelingtoitaly.com

A Message from “Down-Under”

Summer Concert in Piazza di Spagna

Very Gratifying Message

This’s what makes me proud

Dear Gabriele,

We arrived back in Australia on Friday after 5 wonderful weeks in Europe. I have not been near a computer (I wanted to have a real holiday!) to let you know how things went until now.

So…it all worked out perfectly!!

We arrived in Rome and as you suggested caught the train to Fiumicino and then straight to Orvieto. The Hotel Aquila Bianca was just lovely and the staff very accommodating. We loved Orvieto – beautiful duomo – and really had wished that we could stay another day but as planned we collected the car next morning and drove to Malvarina, stopping as you suggested at Todi on the way where we had lunch.

We were pleased that we had a GPS with the car as Malvarina was quite difficult to find. However, we arrived safely and met the crew there my site. Claudio told us that sadly Maria was in hospital but Patrizia his wife would do our cooking lesson. We enjoyed Malvarina very much. We had a lovely cottage there. The food was wonderful – so much too!! We enjoyed the cooking class – lots of fun. We were lucky to watch Georgio make pecorino and ricotta, especially interesting for us as we had fairly recently done a cheese making course here in Orange.

We visited Spello, Bevagna and Montefalco where we indulged in the sagrantino wine. We went to Assisi but we were somewhat disappointed with so many rather tacky souvenir shops. Also the square had seating scaffolding erected, maybe for Easter or the beatification – not sure – but it obscured a lot of the beautiful buildings. We went to Gubbio which we loved – the trip there very scenic and the city wonderful – also the rabbit and white truffle pasta we had for lunch!!! Sadly we did not have time to see Perugia – we shall have to go again. On reflection it would have been better to spend time in Perugia rather than Asissi.

We took the car back to Orvieto and caught the train to Rome again. Goodness, how we loved Rome!!! What an amazing city. Neither of us had been there before and we were flabbergasted!! Our unit in the centro storico was wonderful as was the one in Venice – we had chosen them on the internet from Sleep in Italy – so pleased they worked out so well. We shall definitely go back one day – and to Umbria again and then further south.

Our night at the ballet was beautiful – thank you for organising such good seats for us!

Our cooking class with Fabio was very special. Peter and I were joined by a very nice New Zealand girl – so there was just the three of us. We were very lucky to be just three. Fabio taught us some really nice dishes and his house in Calcata, Mazzano is a real eye-opener!! Just beautiful. So that day worked out really well too.

So after our 7 days in Rome caught the train to Venice – just as beautiful as I remember but very crowded – much more than in 1965!!! After that we went to Vienna to our friend’s 70th birthday, to amazingly beautiful Prague for 2 days then to Switzerland to Peter’s sisters for a week. A wonderful holiday!!!

So thank you so much Gabriele for organising the Rome and Umbria part of our holiday – it was all wonderful and worked out so well. I must admit I was a little concerned at organising everything over the internet but luckily, things could not have been better. I shall definitely mention you to anyone I know who may be wanting to visit Italy.

Best regards and thank you from Peter and me

or email: info@travelingtoitaly.com

Beautiful Masterpiece Comes Home

Morgantina Venus (Aphrodite)

welcome home Venus

Looted artwork find home

For those of you who are not intimately familiar with Sicily – the Morgantina – Aidone area is known as the Pompeii of Sicily – the excavation site of a Greek settlement in Sicily that is more than 2000 years old. The famous statue that was found in this site, known as the Morgantina “Venus,” had been at the Getty Museum in Malibu since the 1980s after it was purchased for $18 million from a London auction house. Italians recently won a long-fought court battle for its return claiming that it was looted and then sold illegally to the Getty. As part of the agreement in 2007, more than 40 other items will also be returned to Italy. To add to the celebration, the timing of the return of the “Venus” corresponds to Italy’s 150th anniversary of its unification.

The Morgantina “Venus” (5th century BC) marble statue is not really a Venus, but the statue of a Greek Goddess; experts think it could be Persephone or her mother, Demetre. Morgantina is small village and an archeological site in the heart of Sicily, near Enna. This site has risen to fame in the world of archeology since 1988 when the Getty Museum incautiously purchased the rare piece from a British antique dealer.

I’m a strong supporter of returning artwork, particularly rare pieces like the Goddess of Morgantina, to their original place of discovery, even if this thinking would mean that the Mona Lisa should be returned to Florence. Fortunately, the history of the Morgantina statue is much simpler, though full of legal intrigue on both sides of the Atlantic.

The two-meter tall statue is finally back in its native land Sicily, near the other fabulous archeological site of Villa Romana del Casale. For her, the local government has prepared a special place, a small unused church that has became a museum. The small city of Aidone is struggling to create a place that will match the beauty of the statue, but the limited resources of the small city cannot afford a grandiose building made of glass and steel. The city is working feverishly to ready a place for the grand opening scheduled for June 17, 2011. Road connections to the village are very poor, but the beauty of this unique archeological piece will repay tourists, and art lovers who have endured the road to reach Aidone.

The good news is that the statue will be exposed there for long time to come. In Italy almost everyone agrees to keep archeological findings, or any antique pieces of art of value in the places where they were found. A wise decision if they really keep their promise.

Where to sleep: Agriturismo Bannata exquisite hospitality at affordable price and delicious local cuisine. $$

or email: info@travelingtoitaly.com

Fountains of Rome – Fontane di Roma

Fontana di Trevi

Fontane di Roma

Passeggiate Romane – Walking around Rome

“Fontane di Roma” (Fountains of Rome) is not only a beautiful piece of music composed by Ottorino Respighi in 1916, but it’s also a theme of a “passeggiata,” a walk around Rome to admire some of the best fountains built during the pinnacle of the Imperial and Papal times.

Rome has dozens of fountains, many very famous that were designed by well-known artists. The most well known were built during the Imperial era. Water for the fountains is supplied by eleven aqueducts. This abundance of water encouraged the construction of these magnificent fountains and hundreds of smaller ones. The smaller fountains are called “nasoni.” They offer refreshment to tourists and locals alike during the hot Roman summers. The nickname “nasone,” or big nose, derives from the shape of the spout of these fountains that in many cases resemble a big nose.

During the Sack of Rome in 401 by Alaric, King of the Visigoths, many of those aqueducts were destroyed. For many centuries Rome had serious problems given the lack of water available in the city, not only for its beautiful fountains that were now dry, but also for drinking water and for the most elementary human needs. But, things changed at the end of the 16th century when several popes intervened to solve this serious problem, restoring some of the aqueducts that still feed the city fountains such as the Trevi Fountain that each year is admired by millions of tourists.

The itinerary takes between three and four hours, depending on the length of each stop. It starts with Fountain of the Naiads in Piazza della Repubblica or Piazza Esedra, as it used to be called, a large square created around 1900. Next is the Fountain of Moses, in Piazza San Bernardo.

The Triton Fountain, one of Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s masterpieces, was built about 1624. It is located in Via del Tritone. Nearby, between Piazza Barberini and Via Veneto, you must see the Fountain of Bees, another creation of Bernini to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the papacy of Pope Urban VIII, who actually died just a few days before the celebration.

Next stop will be the world-famous Fontanadi Trevi, nothing to add to describe its beauty, but it might help to know that this fountain is famous because the aqueduct that feeds it was built by the Roman General Agrippa in 19 B.C.bringing the water in from a source 20 kilometers from Rome. You may remember it in Federico Fellini’s movie “La Dolce Vita” especially the scene where Swedish star Anita Ekberg bathes in the fountain.

Near the fountain there is a beautiful church, “Chiesa Santi Vincenzo ed Anastasio,” that deserves a visit.

Continuing our walk we arrive in Piazzadi Spagna where we can admire the very popular Fontana della Barcaccia (bad boat), the well known work of Pietro Bernini who designed this fountain about 1629, probably aided by his more famous son, Gian Lorenzo. Legend tells that Pope Urban VIII of the Barberini family ordered this fountain to commemorate a boat that ended up stranded there during the 1589 flood. In reality, it seems that Bernini was forced to set the fountain below ground level for engineering purposes. The water pressure from the aqueduct that feeds the larger Trevi Fountain was inadequate to feed both fountains. Bernini solved the problem by lowering the level of “La Barcaccia.”

Piazza Navona and the surrounding streets, are a shopper’s paradise, and the nearby Via Margutta, is known as the artists’ quarter in Rome. This gathering place for artists from all over the world will be our final stop. By the house number #53 on Via Margutta, there is the Fountain of Artists, a pretty project created in 1927 by Pietro Lombardi with the intent of honoring the world of art. The fountain depicts paintbrushes, chisels and palettes.

This fountain is one of the series called “Fontanelle Rionali” created by artist Pietro Lombardi to represent each quarter of Rome by depicting a certain theme that is characteristic of that neighborhood.

This blog is the first of series that will talk about walking itineraries to discover the hidden beauty of Rome, in Italian a leisurely walk is called “passeggiata” And I’ll call these blogs “passeggiate Romane.”

or email: info@travelingtoitaly.com

Cremona a Beautiful City

Prof. De Lorenzi playing the 1727 Stradivari

A Legendary “Luthier” Lives On

Famous for its violin makers

CREMONA is a beautiful medieval city located on the plain called: “Pianura Padana,” that flat area flanking the Po River from the Piedmont region on the west to its delta in the region of Veneto on the east. The city is famous for its “Torrazzo,” an imposing medieval tower that is the city’s landmark. Cremona is also known for the production of “Torrone” (nougat), one of the best in Italy.

The city is especially famous for its musical traditions, including its most renowned “luthiers” Antonio Guarneri and Antonio Stradivari. The city of Cremona has an impressive string collection and all the instruments in this collection were built in Cremona by one of its famous “luthiers.” Below is a list of the instruments on display in the Museo Stradivari:

Violin: “Carlo IX di Francia”, Andrea Amati, 1566

Viola: “La Stauffer”, Antonio and Gerolamo Amati, 1615

Violin: “L’Hammerle”, Nicolò Amati, 1658

Violin: “Il Clisbee”, Antonio Stradivari, 1669

Violin: Francesco Ruggeri, 1675

Violin: “Il Quarestani”, Giuseppe Guarneri (figlio di Andrea), 1689

Cello: “ex Cristiani”, Antonio Stradivari, 1700

Violin: “Il Cremonese 1715”, Antonio Stradivari, 1715

Violin: “Il Vesuvius”, Antonio Stradivari, 1727

Violin: “Lo Stauffer”, Giuseppe Guarneri (detto del Gesù), 1734

Violin: “Lo Stauffer”, Enrico Ceruti, 1868

Violin: Simone Fernando Sacconi, 1841

About a week ago at the International travel fair BIT in Milan, the city of Cremona offered a concert for the travel buyers. Foreign buyers were invited for an evening at Milan’s Palazzo Cusani for dinner and a concert by the Orchestra of Brescia. We were not prepared for such an exquisite surprise; a quartet executed three lovely pieces of classical music before a scrumptious dinner of products from the region of Lombardy.During dinner a speaker announced that to culminate the feast, there would be a presentation of a violin crafted in 1727 by Antonio Stradivari. Prof. Antonio De Lorenzi executed three famous sonatas including Mendelssohn’s “Meditation”. I cannot forget the experience – how lucky I feel to have had this opportunity to listen to this sonata skillfully played on an instrument so superbly crafted by one of the world’s most famous “luthier.”

If interested, the Istituto di Istruzione Superiore Antonio Stradivari, based in Cremona offers two very important schools: Liceo Musicale was born to nurture young people who love music and would like a career in the field. The school is housed in the Palazzo Pallavicino-Ariguzzi a splendid Renaissance building. For additional information visit the school website or contact info@ipiali.it, Tel. 011 39 0372 800 233.

The other school, the Design di Moda prepares young students for several different careers in the fashion field. It’s designed for future tailors, fashion designers, costume designers and more. Additional information can be found at school website, or calling 011 39 0372 800 233.

or email: info@travelingtoitaly.com

Agrigento – Its History and Traditions

Agrigento Juno's Temple

2,500 years of history

Agrigento is much more than the city you find on travel brochures or postcards. Its exquisite Greek temples are an integral part of a modern bustling city that has grown up next to the ancient ruins of the Greek colony founded more than 2,500 years ago by the first Greek sailors who became its settlers while searching to expand their already millenary civilization.

It was founded in 580 B.C., as Akragas, a Greek name. In Roman times it became Agrigentum, which during the Arab invasion became Kirkent, and finally, in 1927 became Agrigento.

The most notable area of the city is the Valley of Temples that is located on the seaside of the actual modern city, which is situated on a hill that gently slopes down to the beaches. Imagine the Greek navigators who first landed on its shores more than 2000 years ago!

The area is rich with remains of the ancient civilizations that ruled the city over the centuries. Naturally, some buildings have been built over the temples and other temples were buried or dismantled to build the modern city, but there is still plenty to see, especially its well-preserved temples.

The best-preserved Greek temple is the Concordia, other temples in good condition are the Hercules and Juno; the entire area around the Valley of Temples is full of remains dating back to the Hellenistic period.

What catches the attention of the careful traveler is the vitality that moves the city. Long gone are the stereotypes that made Sicily famous through movies and questionable literature; today Agrigento is a modern city in every way. Women no longer wear black or cover their heads with scarves. An excellent lodging industry welcomes visitors from all-over the world, where young chefs capitalize on the richness of a cuisine that spans from the Greeks to the Romans, from the Arabs to the Bourbons that dominated Southern Italy for more than 300 years.

Wines deserve a special chapter to be competently described given the variety produced and the high quality they have reached. Local grapes like Inzolia, Catarratto, Grillo, Nero d’Avola, Nerello, Cappuccio and Fiano are stand out among the international varieties like Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. During my last visit, I was impressed by a bubbly Catarratto that, I think may soon compete with the overrated and internationally famous Prosecco. The Nero d’Avola is the Sicilian Red that we know well and now find on many wine lists all-over the world, but we need to give credit to Sicilian winemakers for the fantasy and the capacity they show in making this extraordinary wine. In 2-3 days we tasted Nero d’Avola produced in a dozen different variations, often the same winemaker produces up to 4 different types of Nero d’Avola and believe me, the results are extremely interesting.

Last, but not least, the gastronomy. Pasta is the king of the table, it might be Pasta alla Norma, or Pasta con le Sarde but it is always present on all tables. Vegetables, often roasted, are ubiquitous as well. Meat, both pork and lamb are oven served, but I had the pleasure to taste tripe as well, Panelle, Arancini and countless varieties of finger foods or appetizers are popular.

When in Sicily, do not forget its cheeses. Ricotta, when served fresh and still a bit warm is an aphrodisiac. Primo sale and Stagionato are the best two cheeses you can have in Sicily; match these cheeses with some of the local wines and you will never forget the complexity and the aromas that will be created in your mouth.

There is more to discover about Agrigento and its surroundings. I strongly recommend a visit to everyone who asks me for a vacation destination where authenticity of the traditions and the friendliness of the locals can still be found. They truly go the extra mile to please their guests. If you decide to go, forget the list of must-see places, be smart “go local” have a real fulfilling experience, one that you will always remember and that will make you richer and more appreciative of one of the oldest civilization of the world.

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