The astonishing Orvieto cathedral and the incredible St Patricks’ well

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Explore Orvieto Corpus Domini astonishing cathedral and descend the impressive staircases of St patrick’s well.

 

Sitting atop a high volcanic cliff, the hill town of Orvieto makes an impressive sight.

Inhabited since Etruscan times, Orvieto’s monuments and museums cover millenniums of history and its stunning cathedral is one of the best medieval monuments in Italy.

One hour train from the Capital, Orvieto is a perfect destination for a day trip from Rome, and a convenient location to leave your rental car after a self driving Tuscany tour. A funicular connects the train station to the old city, up on the cliffs. I can’t think of anything easier!

Two are Orvieto absolute Must Sees: the Duomo and St Patrick Well. That said, Orvieto is a delightful town, with lots of things to do and see (what about exploring its 440 Etruscan caves?), and if you are not on a tight schedule you can spend one or two days in town, or use it as a hub to explore the southern part of Umbria and of Tuscany (click on the image below to access Google maps and get a feeling of the distances).

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Let’s start by the Duomo. Symbol of the city of Orvieto itself, the Duomo is one of the most beautiful cathedrals in Italy.

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Started in 1290, Orvieto’s duomo was originally planned in the Romanesque style, but as work proceeded and architects changed, it became more Gothic.

The black-and-white marble banding of the main body of the church is surpassed and complemented by the polychrome mosaics of the façade.

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But why such a marvelous cathedral in a rathe small town? Well, as usual in Italy, because of a miracle. The Miracle of teh Corpus Domini (“Body of the Lord”).

In the 1260s, a skeptical priest — who doubted that the bread used in communion was really the body of Christ — passed through Bolsena (a few miles from Orvieto) while on a pilgrimage to Rome. During Mass, the bread bled, staining a linen cloth. The cloth was brought to the pope, who was visiting Orvieto at the time. Such a miraculous relic required a magnificent church.

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Inside the Duomo, you can’t miss Luca Signorelli’s fresco cycle, Il Giudizio Universale, in the Cappella San Brizio, to the right of the altar.

Signorelli began work on the series in 1499, and Michelangelo is said to have taken inspiration from it for the Sistine Chapel. Indeed, to some, Michelangelo’s version runs a close second to Signorelli’s work…

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To the right of the altar, the Cappella del Corporale houses, of course, the Corporale (admirable work of the goldsmith Ugolino di Vieri) and the tabernacle containing the Holy Body of linen stained by the blood of Jesus at the Miracle of Bolsena (the “Corpus Domini”).

The frescoes by Ugolino di Prete Ilario admirably depict the miracle.

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St Patrick’s Well is an architect marvel, and a perfect integration of engineering audacity and architectural décor.
When in 1527, during the sack of Rome, Pope Clement VII had to take refuge at Orvieto, the town looked destined to become a place of regular papal refuge. Hence the need for a reliable water supply in case of siege: not easy for a town build on top a f a high tufa cliff!
Antonio da Sangallo the Younger was then commissioned the construction of a Well designed to tap the water veins underlying the cliff.

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Sangallo created an ingenious system of two spiral staircases that never meet. They create a way to get in and out of the Well (about 53 meters deep and 13 meters wide) without any traffic problems for the long donkey lines that transported water bags in and out the well. Actually the 248 steps are large enough to accommodate the donkeys.
Seventy windows cut into the wall light the stairs from the central shaft.

Going down the well is a really fascinating experience you shouldn’t miss.

Funny enough, spendthrifts in Italy are said to have pockets as bottomless as “il pozzo di San Patrizio” (this was what my grandma used to tell me when I kept asking for gifts!)

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When you are done with your visit, just loose yourself in the delightful medieval streets, for a Gelato or a dinner in one of the many delicious restaurants.

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Enjoy Orvieto!


Delightfullyitaly.com: Italy top destinations and travel itineraries, off the beaten path

Delightfullyitaly.com is the blog for all the ones in love with Italian culture, Italian sights, Italian monuments .. and with Italian food! If you wish to visit Italy for the first time, or if you already discovered Venice, Rome, Florence, the Amalfi coast, but still want more, delightfullyitaly.com is here to disclose to you Italian Must See as well as Italian hidden treasures.

And if you like what you read, why not follow delightfullyitaly.com and get free updates?

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Capri walking itinerary: breathtaking Faraglioni and Natural Arch

A great Capri walking itinerary to discover Capri’s stunning natural spots: the Giardini di Augusto, the Faraglioni and the natural arch, including a map

 

I designed this half day Capri walking itinerary to let you discover the arguably most famous and stunning Capri sights: the Giardini di Augusto, The Faraglioni and the arco naturale. You can complete it with a boat tour of the island, including a visit to famous Grotta Azzurra.

Capri, one of the highlights of any Amalfi Coast tour,  is synonymous with stars, style and impossible glamour. However, away from the central Piazzetta, it’s also a place of stunning natural beauty and calm.

I suggest to walk this path early in the morning, when Giardini di Augusto and Punta Tragara are less crowded. The tour takes no more than three or four hours, but you can extend it to the whole day if you decide to spend some time to sunbath and swim at the Faraglioni, where you can rent a sunbed at “da Luigi”.

Just a warning: the walk to Punta Tragara is flat and easy, but from there to Faraglioni and Arco Naturale you will  have to climb many stairs and deep rises! It’s actually easier to start the path from the Natural Arch, but the tour is less scenic (in my opinion). Said so, I walked up this path with my 10 years son, and he survived, quite happily, indeed!.

Here is what my Capri walking itinerary in half day looks like. Click on the map to access the Google Map: Continue reading “Capri walking itinerary: breathtaking Faraglioni and Natural Arch”

Verona in one day

Garda lake in 1 week - Verona in one day

Top things to do and see in Verona in one day. A walking tour to discover in a day trip the top sights and attractions of Romeo and Juliet lovely town. 

Few cities in Italy and in the world can be as romantic as Verona, arguably a perfect destination for lovers of all ages. You can easily visit Verona in one day and enjoy everything you may desire from an Italian top destination.

Glorious past, beautiful setting, amazing monuments, delicious food, the story (legend?) of Romeo and Juliet… you name it, you’ll get it! Oh, Verona is also listed among Italians UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

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Wine shop named after Romeo and Juliet in Verona city center

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Mystical Stations of the Cross in Assisi

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The Stations of the Cross in Assisi: a mystical Easter tradition

 

It’s Good Friday night.

You’re in Assisi, one of the most sacred and mystical places on earth. Street lights are turned off. Torches hung to the ancient stone walls provide a yellowish, feeble light.

A multitude of believers and pilgrims wait in the dark, in silence. In front of you, the majestic white columns of a roman temple, transformed in a catholic church centuries ago.

Suddenly, you here the sound of a drum, coming down from San Rufino Church. It’s a desperate drum, that resounds in the dark. A funeral drum.

Dum. Dum Dum.

No one says a word. The silence is unreal.

The sound of the drum gets closer.

Dum. Dum Dum.

Then you see it. The sad procession that commemorates the passion and death of Jesus Christ.

First comes the drum. Then the priests. And then the penitents, bare footed, a hood covering their head. They hold large, heavy wooden crosses on their shoulders. You can count tens of them. Behind them, the Virgin Mary effigy, her heart stabbed by seven daggers to commemorate her “seven pains”, carried on shoulders.

The procession moves forward slowly, stopping from time to time. They head to St Francis Basilica, where they will find the effigy of the dead Christ.

Behind them a multitude of believers walk slowly, in silence, and noiselessly disappears in the dark.

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The Via Crucis (the Stations of the Cross), depicting the final dramatic moments of the Passion of the Christ, is a medieval tradition that makes reference to the Gospels and is also known as Calvary, in reference to the mount of Jesus’s Crucifixion.

Assisi’s Via Crucis is less famous and well known than Rome’s, which is celebrated personally by the Pope. But for this reason, it is far more spiritual and the atmosphere is just unbelievable. Assisting to it, a few days ago, was a touching experience.

I would like to share some pictures of the procession. I shot them without flash, trying to capture the mysticism of the procession.

I hope you will like them.

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Delightfullyitaly.com: Italy top destinations and travel itineraries, off the beaten path

Delightfullyitaly.com is the blog for all the ones in love with Italian culture, Italian sights, Italian monuments .. and with Italian food! If you wish to visit Italy for the first time, or if you already discovered Venice, Rome, Florence, the Amalfi coast, but still want more, delightfullyitaly.com is here to disclose to you Italian Must See as well as Italian hidden treasures.

And if you like what you read, why not follow delightfullyitaly.com and get free updates?

 

Taormina in one day: what to do and see and where to stay

Taormina in one day: the Greek theater and mount Etna
The Greek theater and mount Etna

An easy itinerary to discover what to do in Taormina in one day, including the medieval hamlet, the Greek theater and the astonishing views on Etna Volcano

It’s pretty easy to explore Taormina in one day, even though once you discover this delightful Sicilian hamlet you will certainly be tempted to spend there much more time. Two or three days would be perfect, also to enjoy Taormina breathtaking beaches.

French writer Guy de Maupassant used to say: “Should you only have one day to spend in Sicily and you ask me ‘what is there to see?’ I would reply ‘Taormina’ without any hesitation. It is only a landscape but one in which you can find everything that seems to have been created to seduce the eyes, the mind and the imagination.” 

Indeed, Taormina is one of the most amazing  destinations in Sicily and, arguably, in the world. Where else would you be able to sit on a 23 centuries old Greek theater, built on a natural terrace overlooking the deep blue Ionian sea,  with the highest European volcano snowy peak on the horizon?

Taormina is not only a delightfully medieval village with astonishing views and sights, but it is also famous for its beaches, including the Isola Bella, a tiny island connected to the main land by a narrow stretch of land that can only be seen if the tide is low. Visiting Taormina in one day (or, ideally, two or three) will allow you to wonderfully combine seaside, culture and entertainment.

Continue reading “Taormina in one day: what to do and see and where to stay”

Corso Como and Porta Nuova walking tour: discover trendy Milan

Top places to eat, drink and shop in posh corso Como and Porta Nuova Milan neighborhoods. Live the Milan movida and discover new trends. 

Como and Porta Nuova Milan posh districts

In this walking tour I’d like to introduce you to corso Como, Milan and the brand new Porta Nuova neighborhood. This is my favorite area in Milan for shopping, food and Aperitivo.

Milan may not have Rome or Florence classical beauty, but it is indeed a fascinating city, full of contrasts and always balancing between its historical roots and its aspiration to the future.

Nowhere else in Italy you will feel the same energy, and nowhere else you will find the same refinements in terms of food, fashion and design.

This corso Como walking itinerary will allow you to discover some of the most trendy places in Milan, included the brand new Eataly store, where you will be able to find, purchase and eat the quintessence of Italian food.

Continue reading “Corso Como and Porta Nuova walking tour: discover trendy Milan”

Discovering the Spanish steps area

Discover by foot one of top Rome destinations, beyond the beaten path

 

The Spanish Steps, that Italians call Scalinata of Trinita dei Monti, are one of the main tourist attractions in Rome and, indeed, one of the most famous images in the world.

You will certainly visit them when in Rome and sit on the most famous Italian steps while savoring a gelato , before heading to the next destination on your “to be visited” list. The good new is that there’s much more to see than just the staircase, and if your planning allows you a couple of hours in the  neighborhood, you  will be greatly rewarded by discovering often neglected jewels such as Villa Medici and Santa Maria del Popolo, plus a couple of delightfully places where to stop for a coffee or for a cocktail.

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Top skiing in the Dolomites: the Sella Ronda tour

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A breathtaking, unique skiing itinerary, in Unesco classified Dolomites

 

What to say about Dolomites? They simply are enchanted mountains, extraordinarily beautiful! Grandiose peaks soar skywards, sometimes almost vertically, and their reddish-purple rock produces variety of shades of pink and flaming red, especially at first light and dusk.

Those of you who follow this blog (thanks!) already know that I’m a Ski Fanatic. But I’m also crazy about nature and beautiful landscapes. So in this post I’m going to merge these two passions and to talk about the Dolomites, arguably the most beautiful mountains of Europe, and the most amazing ski itinerary you can stumble upon: the Sella Ronda.

From a skiing point of view, well, Dolomites are simply the world’s biggest sky network, with over 1200 Km of slopes (the “Dolomiti Superski” area). Among this network, Sella Ronda is the most recognized and worldwide famous ski route.

Indeed, this ski itinerary is unique. The Sellaronda allows you to ski around the imposing Sella Group, in a loop covering four passes (Gardena, Sella, Pordoi, Campolongo): this means over 40 Km round trip, 26 km of slopes, 4 valleys and three provinces with one single skipass!

You can actually choose to make the itinerary either clockwise or counter clockwise: the SellaRonda is accessible in both directions!

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In this post I’ll share with you a quick “reportage” of the Green Route (Sella Ronda counter clockwise).

Let’s start from Selva di Val Gardena, where you will take the Ciampinoi Cable Car up to the Top of Plan de la Gralba. In front of you the Sasso Lungo, one of Dolomites land marks, so close to give the illusion you could touch it with your hand.

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The Sasso Lungo (“long boulder”)
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The most amazing ski area at your feet
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Going to the Sella Ronda “Green” (anti clockwise)

From Plan de la Gralba you will then pass through the well-known “boulder city” to get to Sella Pass, followed by a short decent to Col Rodella which offers a spectacular view of Val di Fassa.

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The group of the Sella, from the “boulder city”
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The “Col Rodella”
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Down the “Lupo Bianco” slope

From Lupo Bianco the gondola goes directly to the ski center of Canazei (here you leave Val Gardena and you enter the second Valley of the tour). A chair lift will bring you to the Pass Pordoi, from which you leave Val di Fassa and enter the Arabba/Marmolada domain. The Sass Pordoi peak is visible to the north.

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The Sassolungo (left) and the Sella Group from Pass Pordoi
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The cable car going up to the 3.000 m high Sass Pordoi station

A long and easy slope will bring you to Arabba. You reached 1/3 of the itinerary, and you can celebrate by tasting a delicious and invigorating Bombardino (typicall Dolomites drink: hot egg yolk liquor topped with fresh cream – so yummy!!)

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Skiing downhill to Arabba
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Bombardino!

If you have enough time, try Arabba slopes, among the most challeging slopes of the area (look for Porta Vescovo).

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Porta Vescovo Chairs

In order to continue the Sella Ronda loop take the lifts that go to Corvara and Colfosco located on the other side of the road. Look behind you to catch a stunning view of Arabba, Porta Vescovo and Marmolada.

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From here the tour continue to beautiful Corvara, overawed by the Sassongher peak.

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The Sassongher from Corvara

From Corvara a couple of lifts will take you to Colfosco (very beautifull slopes to explore) and to the Gardena Pass (the last pass of the tour). Here you will find the most enchanting landscapes of the area.

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The Sella group, viewed from Colfosco slopes

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Once arrived at Passo Gardena, you will find the Sasso Lungo just in front of you. You are getting to the end of the tour: from there, a long slope will bring you back to Selva di Val Gardena, after a long, rewarding and unforgettable skiing day.

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The Sasso Lungo from passo Gardena

Useful information about the Sella Ronda loop:

This itinerary can easily be accomplished in one day, even by kids (my son was six the first time he made it). Nevertheless, it is highly advisable to start out no later than 10:00 a.m. and to reach the last pass no later than 3:30 p.m. otherwise you will risk not being able to use the lifts to reach your final destination. Also consider that there may be queues during weekends, so keep some buffer.

Take your time to enjoy the slopes, and to discover side areas (Colfosco, Arabba, Piz la Villa, …): don’t get trapped in a competition spirit. Rushing to close the loop in the minimum possible time is not necessarily the wisest approach.

Some lifts may close without prior notice due to bad weather, strong winds and snow: pay attention to information and warnings

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Me, and the Sasso Lungo

Enjoy your skiing!

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Delightfullyitaly.com: Italy top destinations and travel itineraries, off the beaten path

Delightfullyitaly.com is the blog for all the ones in love with Italian culture, Italian sights, Italian monuments .. and with Italian food! If you wish to visit Italy for the first time, or if you already discovered Venice, Rome, Florence, the Amalfi coast, but still want more, delightfullyitaly.com is here to disclose to you Italian Must See as well as Italian hidden treasures. And if you like what you read, why not follow delightfullyitaly.com and get free updates?

Walking tour in Trastevere: perfect itinerary in Rome most typical district

Explore Trastevere, an unmissable neighborhood in Rome. All the info you need to enjoy this lovely area, including pictures and Google map.

Trastevere walking tour overview

Have you ever dreamed to discover what Rome looked like a couple of centuries ago? Narrow stone paved streets lined by medieval houses? Then take a Trastevere walking tour to enjoy this charming medieval neighborhood full of romance and history. My Trastevere walking tour Google map will help you find your way in the maze of this unique district.

Trastevere is named for its position ‘over the Tiber’. Separated from the heart of central Rome by the river, the area retained its narrow lanes and working-class population when the rest of Rome began its nineteenth-century expansion. Despite its being a major touristic destination, it has managed to preserve a strong local (and “Roman”!) identity. Therefore, it’s not too difficult to step off the main routes and escape the masses. To make sure you have Trastevere all for yourself, plan your visit in the morning and take some time to walk out of the beaten path.

Trastevere could also be an interesting district to spend your days in Rome: it’s a charming neighborhood, close to the city center and to St Peter. You should consider it as you top location when looking for a place to stay in Rome.

Click here to find the best places to stay in Trastevere

Here is the itinerary, click on the image to access google Maps for more details.

Continue reading “Walking tour in Trastevere: perfect itinerary in Rome most typical district”

Top five Christmas markets in the dolomites

Discover the magic of Dolomites Christmas markets: Bressanone, Merano, Vipiteno, Bolzano and Trento.

My last post about Nativity scenes was warmly appreciated (thanks guys!), so I’d like to celebrate Christmas with you by sharing my top five Christmas markets in the Dolomite area.

Dolomites are in my view the most beautiful mountains in Italy (and among the most beautiful in the world!), and they are one of the Italian Unesco Heritage sites. Before Christmas most cities and villages in Alto Adige and Trentino are filled with countless lights and wooden houses offering craft made products, typical food, gift ideas and much more, in a magical and touching atmosphere. Northern Europe Christmas traditions and beliefs, particularly strong in this area, magical mountains under the snow and medieval village settings combine together to create a unique experience not to miss if you travel in Northern Italy between end of November and the 6th of January.

Sure, you may not want plan a trip to Italy just to see its Christmas markets, but if you are passing by, or if you are lucky enough to have reserved your sky break in the Dolomites, they well deserve a stop.

So here is my Top Five Christmas Markets list.

Top 1: Christmas Market in Bressanone

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Bressanone is a delightful medieval town, thirty Km north of Bolzano. You will love its ancient vaulted streets, the hold houses with their nicely decorated façades and the Cathedral Square, which actually host two cathedrals: the old one (medieval) and the new one (baroque).

Unsurprisingly, this is where the Xmas market is organized, among the cathedral, the parish church of S. Michele and the town hall.

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Wonderful decorations and handicrafts are exhibited in many stands: wooden statues, candles, glass balls and angels… In a city pervaded by a sweet scent of mulled wine, cinnamon and cakes, you can taste many typical dishes of Valle Isarco, such as gulasch soup, barley soup and the famous Tirtln, or cakes such as doughnuts, apple or blueberry pancakes and Buchteln with vanilla cream.

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The Nativity scene is also worth seeing: in Bressanone, this tradition is 800 years old! In the Diocesan museum you can admire one of the biggest and most famous collections of nativity scenes.

Reportedly, the Christmas Market of Bressanone rated 9 place on CNN’s list of the world’s most beautiful Christmas Markets.

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Top 2: Christmas Market in Merano

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Merano is a wonderful town, which has been a renowned SPA destination for the last 2 centuries. Merano is rich in beautiful “fin de siècle” buildings and streets and keeps a very classy charm.

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The main area where you will find Xmas stands is the promenade along the Passino River, but all the town transforms itself into a gigantic Christmas market offering Christmas decorations, boiled wool slippers, pottery, traditional fabrics, wooden statues and toys, traditional objects such as nutcrackers, Christmas pyramids, musical boxes, …

In many stands you can also admire the craftsmen while they are creating their works.

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But there’s another reason to come to Merano: the most amazing public Spa of all the region, offering endless indoor and outdoor pools and saunas. Treat yourself with the most amazing public Italian SPA!

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Top 3: Christmas Market in Vipiteno

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The Christmas Market in the old mining city of Vipiteno is really something else. From November 29 to January 6, the streets of the old town – one of the most beautiful in Italy, with many artistic and cultural treasures from the Middle Ages – are filled with lights and colors, creating a fairy-tale Christmas atmosphere.

The imposing tower Torre delle Dodici, overlooking the main square, is the stunning background to this unique market and to the Nativity scene, whose figures are entirely handmade. The smallest trees were taken from the surroundings of Vipiteno and at the end of the Market they will be used for district heating.

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The stands offer the classical selection of handmade creations and local food, such as bread, speck, mulled wine or warm apple juice.

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Top 4: Christmas Market in Trento

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Trento is a beautiful medieval town, and its Christmas market is the most important od Trentino Alto Adige. Here you will experience a more “Italian” flavor, compared to South Tyrol markets.

Trento hosts its Christmas Market in the charming Piazza Fiera. The exhibitors of the Christmas Market in Trento come from Trentino, Alto Adige and different regions in the North of Italy. Here you will find Christmas handicrafts, such as Christmas decorations, candles, nativity scenes, pictures with pressed flowers, but also the Flavors Market, a real gourmet paradise where you can taste sweet and salty specialties from Trentino and Alto Adige, such asTortel de patate, Cevap from Valle dei Mocheni, Knödeln (dumplings) and pastries, and enjoy with some hot chocolate, mulled wine or Parampampoli.

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Top 5: Christmas Market in Bolzano

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Bolzano is the main town of Alto Adige Region, and its market is one of the most important of the region.It takes place in the heart of the city, Piazza Walther, which is lit up in bright and gaudy colors. Many events are organized to entertain adults and children.You will enjoy strolling among Bolzano romantic arcades and streets listening to the bands playing Christmas music and admiring the wonderful Advent decorations.

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By the way: there’s a snow storm expected in Italy just during Xmas days: it could be a great opportunity of visiting these markets in a snowy, magical atmosphere (and maybe to have a couple of days skying)!

Buon Natale a tutti (Happy Christmas to everybody)!

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Delightfullyitaly.com: Italy top destinations and travel itineraries, off the beaten path

Delightfullyitaly.com is the blog for all the ones in love with Italian culture, Italian sights, Italian monuments .. and with Italian food! If you wish to visit Italy for the first time, or if you already discovered Venice, Rome, Florence, the Amalfi coast, but still want more, delightfullyitaly.com is here to disclose to you Italian Must See as well as Italian hidden treasures. And if you like what you read, why not follow delightfullyitaly.com and get free updates?

Noto Sicily, baroque perfection

Discover Noto, a delightful small town that hosts some of the best baroque monuments of the entire Sicily

 

A UNESCO Heritage site, Noto is a destination not to be missed in your Sicily tour.

The original town (“Noto Antica”) was completely destroyed by the terrible 1693 earthquake (you can still visit its fascinating ruins, a few Kilometers away from the “modern” Noto).

Noto was then rebuilt from scratch, in the sublime elegance, originality and fantasy of the Sicilian Baroque style.

Noto Sicily is very easy to visit. Simply wander the length of the Corso Vittorio Emanuele, along which many of Noto’s most representative buildings stand. And if you feel lazy in a hot Sicilian summer day, have a tourist ride in a delightful APE (typical Italian motorized tricycle).

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Continue reading “Noto Sicily, baroque perfection”

Mystical ecstasy in Rome: Santa Maria della Vittoria

 

An absolute baroque masterpiece by Gianlorenzo Bernini, hidden in small church close to Termini station in Rome.

Santa Maria della Vittoria (Our Lady of Victory) hosts one or the most amazing Baroque masterpieces: the ecstasy of St Teresa, by Gianlorenzo Bernini. However, this tiny church is not included in the “standard tourist itinerary” and this makes it a rewarding “off the beaten path” destination.

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Siracusa: Sicily at its best

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Discover Siracusa, a top destination in Sicily, with over 24 centuries of history, art and culture

 

Siracusa is an ancient town on the sea, which was of immense importance as Greek Syracuse. It has a superb archaeological zone and a lovely historic center on the island of Ortigia. It’s one of the 41 UNESCO heritage Italian sites and can be an excellent hub to visit south eastern Sicily: the Baroque towns of Ragusa and Noto, the protected beaches of Vendicari, the gorges of Cavagrande, the lively city of Catania and the Etna volcano.

The city’s finest sight is the superb Archaeological Park of Neapolis, (25 minutes walk from the center of the town).

Siracusa_teatro greco

Siracusa’s Greek theatre (Teatro Greco) is one of the finest and largest of its kind. Cut directly into the rock, it was enlarged and modified several times over the centuries, and is still in use today – Greek plays are performed here in May and June each year.

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The deep quarry to the east of the theater is called the Latomia del Paradiso (Paradise Quarry), and it’s a peaceful and green spot, filled with vegetation and lemon trees. The most famous sight here is the huge cave called the Ear of Dionysius (Orecchio di Dionisio).

Siracusa_orecchio di Dionisio

Apparently it was Caravaggio who coined the name; the connection with Dionysius is the story that this ruler of ancient Syracuse used to eavesdrop on his prisoners incarcerated here, thanks to the cave’s acoustics. A second cave nearby, the Grotta dei Cordari was used by the ropemakers who gave the place its name.

Outside the main park, but included in the ticket, is the Roman Amphitheater (Anfiteatro Romano).

Siracusa_Neapolis_anfiteatro romano

Once you’ve seen Siracusa’s fine mainland archaeological sights, the most pleasant place to spend the rest of your stay is the island of Ortigia, Siracusa’s heart for thousands of years.

Much of the island’s charm lies in wandering down narrow medieval lanes, past romantically-crumbling – or lovingly-restored – Baroque palaces and churches.

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To head straight to Ortigia’s most attractive piazza, turn right and head for Via Cavour (which continues as Via Landolina), a narrow thoroughfare lined with restaurants and souvenir shops. At its end lies Piazza Duomo, an elliptical open space lined with harmonious and impressive buildings.

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Sracusa_architectural detail

Siracusa’s Duomo is one of the town’s most celebrated sights. Once it was the Greek Temple of Athena, with a giant gold statue of the goddess on its roof. The massive Doric columns of the temple are still visible. The wall above the columns along Via Minerva, with battlements, is Norman in origin, while the fancy Baroque facade was a replacement after the 1693 earthquake.

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Inside, the Duomo, is even more fascinating, since you discover the original structure of the ancient Greek temple (this make Siracusa’s duomo a monument absolutely unique).

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Siracusa_cathedral insight2

Continuing your tour, head towards the thirteenth-century Castello Maniace, the fortress at the island’s tip. The route from here back to the Duomo, along the seafront to the Fonte Aretusa, is adorned with several bars and restaurants and is a nice place for a summer evening promenade and, close to the castle, for a swim and a sun bath.

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The Fonte Aretusa (on the western shore) is a fresh-water spring whose history goes back to the earliest Greek colonists. Surrounded by high stone walls, planted with papyrus and inhabited by white ducks, the spring is an important spot on the Ortigia promenade.

Fonte Aretusa

In summertime, the island of Ortigia is a very lively place, with both locals and tourists strolling around to benefit from the freshness of the evening and to the many shows that take place in the squares.

Siracusa_night street artist

If you have a car and are looking for a place to combine seaside relaxing and cultural visit, you may consider staying at the Villa Fisher Bed & Breakfast, build right on a cliff, 15′ driving from Ortigia (Tip: use a navigator to reach it, especially if you arrive after sunset!).

Siracusa_villa Fisher

Siracusa_sea from villa Fisher

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Climbing up St Peter’s Basilica’s dome: best way to do it

St Peters dome from the basilica

Climbing to the top of St Peter’s dome is one of the highlights of a trip to Rome. Here is how to climb the dome and how to skip the queue.

Not that many visitors know that it is possible to climb up to the top of St Peter’s dome (the “cupola”). Actually getting on top of St Peter’s dome is one of Rome must do, and a great opportunity to enjoy a fantastic and dizzying city panorama all around Rome and to admire a top down view of St Peter’s basilica nave.

When to visit St Peter’s dome

Best thing for you would be to visit the dome first thing in the morning, when it opens, at 8:00 AM. Not much queue  at that time, you may have the dome almost for yourself.

In that case, you may first climb up the dome and then visit St Peter’s basilica (when you get down from the dome you will end up in the nave).

A good alternative is to climb on top of St Peter’s dome before it closes: you will then admire Rome in its unique sunset golden light. In Wintertime, you will see Rome’s lights and, at Christmas, the huge Christmas tree in St Peter’s square.

Similarly, first go up to the dome, then visit the Basilica, which closes later than the dome.

In summertime, better to avoid climbing on top of St Peters dome in the hottest hours of the day: the stairs and the viewpoint can get very hot and uncomfortable at that time.

How to climb up St Peter’s dome

In order to climb up St Peter’s dome, you need to go throw St Peter cathedral security check.

At the entrance to the basilica, after the security check, look right. There is a sign that directs you to the far right of the portico (past the Holy Door) and to the kiosk for the elevator.

This is where you purchase the tickets to St Peter’s dome. Note that the Basilica entrance is on the right side of the colonnade.

In high season, queues could be very long and spoil part of your day.

I would recommend to purchase a St Peter Basilica skip the line ticket and save your valuable time (follow this link to check availabilty and prices).

You can take the elevator to the roof level (saving 320 steps). However, if you want to get to the top of the dome you must take the stairs for the last portion. This makes 551 steps in total.

The entrance cost is Cost 10 Euros for elevator, 8 Euros for stairs.

After the brief elevator ride (or the first 320 steps) stop before your climb to the dome. Here you can enjoy a great view from the gallery inside the dome looking down into the basilica .

Take a few moments to absorb the astonishing beauty of the cupola from within – and looking down – the main altar.

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Tuscany Castle hotels: how to spend the night in a true medieval castle

You may don’t know it, but it’s pretty easy to stay in a Tuscany castle hotel, and the good knew is that prices are very reasonable. Here is my selection of Tuscany castles where you can sleep and treat yourself like a king!

 

Have you ever dreamed to spend a night or two in a real castle? High rise crenelated walls, majestic dungeons, the echos of ferocious battles that took place centuries ago…

Well, let the dream come true! Tuscany offers an incredible variety of castles, and many of them have been turned into country houses and luxury resorts.

In this post I’d like to share with you my favorite Castle accommodations in Tuscany. Treat yourself as a knight, for a night!

Living in a Castle Map

 Tuscany castle hotel #1: Castello di Spedaletto

Castello La Grancia 1

The beautiful Castello di Spedaletto was built in the XII century along the old Via Francigena (the path pilgrims followed to walk their way down to Rome). It is a perfect example of a middle age castle  in a beautiful setting in the Val D’Orcia, close to Pienza, Bagno Vignoni and San Quirico D’Orcia (read my post Pienza, Sant’Antimo, Bagno Vignoni: delightful Val d’Orcia to know what to do, eat and see)

It features a large yard, an “ecologic” swimming pool and a very relaxed atmosphere. Relatively cheap (it is an “Agriturismo”), Castello di Spedaletto is perfect for visiting the Val D’Orcia, especially if you are traveling with kids.

Tip: when reserving, ask for the rooms inside the castle, more scenic compared to the ones built in the old fortified wall.

Check current rates and availability here.

Castello la Grancia 2

Tuscany castle hotel #2: Castel Pietraio

Castel Pietraio dall'alto

Here we move to Siena Countryside. Castel Pietraio is a gorgeous castle from the XI° century. It is located in Strove, a very small hamlet close to Monteriggioni, and to the beautiful church of Badia Isola. Lovely vineyards and sunflowers fields surrounds it. It’s a 4 star small hotel, still belonging to the original noble family (Barone Neri del Nero).

Castel Pietraio is also a farm with an excellent vocation to quality wine-growing: you will be able to taste Chianti Superiore (of course!), Chardonnay, Merlot and Vin Santo.

A personal anecdote: this is the hotel I choose for me and my wife when we got married!

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 Check current rates and availability here.

Tuscany castle hotel #3: Castello di Meleto

Castello di Meleto

Massive, awe-inspiring, castello di Meleto stands in the beautifull Chiantishire valley, close to Gaiole in Chianti. Its striking location and its vaulted halls are often used to host weddings parties, but you don’t necessarily need to get married to sleep in one of the beautifully decorated rooms!

For longer stays, you can also choose to rent a self catering apartment in the nearby dependence.

Castello di Meleto produces an excellent Chianti, that you can taste in the modern wine shop after visiting the old cellars.

HAve a look at my post Fascinating Chianti wine tasting tour to learn what to visit (and drink!) in the Chianti area.

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Check current rates and availability here.

Tuscany castle hotel #4: Badia a Coltibuono

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This is a fortified abbey, built in 1049 and transformed in a countryside villa in the XIXth century. It features a Romanesque church, beautiful cloisters, a gorgeous walled garden and huge cellars, as old as the abbey itself!

Regarding your stay, you can choose between the 8 rooms and the 5 apartments. Badia a Coltibuono offers also wine tasting, cooking courses and local delicacies tastings.

Hint: the abbey is 650 meters above sea level, which makes it a perfect place during summer. Winters and springs, on the other hand, can be really chilly.

Badia di Coltibuoni 2

 Check current rates and availability here.

Tuscany castle hotel #5: Monteriggioni

Monteriggioni

Strictly speaking, Monteriggioni is not exactly a castle, but a medieval walled hamlet located on a natural hill. Sienese built it in  1214-1219 as a front line in their wars against Florence. Said so, Monteriggioni is one of the most evocative medieval villages in Italy.

Located 14 km from Siena. Monteriggioni has became famous for its fourteen towers’ walls which are among the best preserved all over Italy. Believe me, it’s one of the most scenic places in Tuscany, not to miss even if you decide to sleep elsewhere (which would be a pity, indeed!).

Two possibility of lodging here: the Romantic Hotel Monteriggioni or the value for money Bed & Breakfast In piazza

Monteriggioni - borgo

Enjoy your night at the castle!


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Garda lake’s natural SPA

Relax in natural hot water pools, surrounded by centenary trees and beautiful lawns, less than 20 minutes drive from Peschiera and Sirmione, and for a very reasonable price? Yes you can, in the Parco termale del Garda (“Garda Thermal Park”)!

Terme del Garda

The Garda Thermal Park is not a traditional health spa at all (if this is what you are looking for, you have many options in the Garda Lake area:  http://www.lakegarda.com/wellness-spa-beauty-farm.php).

On the contrary, it’s much closer to a mountain lake surrounded by lush woods, but with hot water!

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One day in Ravenna, Italy

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This Ravenna in one day walking itinerary will let you discover one of the most amazing towns in Italy.  Ravenna has been the last capital of the Roman empire, and displays the most amazing mosaics you could see in Europe. It’s an easy day trip from Bologna. 

The greatest mystery about Ravenna, Italy, is why it is so far from mainstream touristic itineraries. This tiny town one hour away from Bologna has eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites  and a glorious past. Its 1,500-year-old churches are decorated with best-in-the-West Byzantine mosaics.  By the way, Ravenna hosts the human spoils of Dante Alighieri (they are in here and not in Florence as most people think…). Like most ancient tiny towns in Italy,  Ravenna will seduce you with its laid back atmosphere, and its delightful Italian provincial town sensations.

If you have a spare day in your  rushy tour of Italy, you will find the peaceful charm of this untouristy and classy town and its extraordinary churches and mosaics definitely worth the effort.

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