Secret treasures of Milan renaissance

A walking itinerary to discover Milan hidden renaissance jewels, beyond the Duomo and the Last Supper

 

Milan is universally recognized as the economic capital of Italy, but it is also a city of art. Historical buildings, villas, monuments, modern-architectural buildings, churches and abbeys all offer a variety of styles and striking details that are well worth getting to know.

Yes, there are the well known clichés: il Duomo, La Scala, La Galleria,  Santa Maria delle Grazie (feturing Leonardo’s last supper…), Sant’Ambrogio, the Castello Sforzesco. But the truth is that there’s much more than that. Milan can reveal fabulous treasures from its twenty centuries history,  if only you take your time to look for them carefully, since most of them are very well hidden. In this post I would like to walk you through fantastic renaissance churches, some of which date back from the end of the Roman empire: after all, Milan was the town where Constantine issued the edict legalizing Christian worship in 313.

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Garda lake: biking tour on the Mincio river

This is a fantastic off the beaten path itinerary in the Garda lake area, that will make you discover by bike delightful hamlets, ancient water mills and peaceful river banks. It’s a perfect family tour, my 9 years old boy was delighted to have accomplished such an “adventure” and spent hours staring at (and playing with..) the many water mills in Borghetto sul Mincio. Continue reading “Garda lake: biking tour on the Mincio river”

Day trip to Como and Bellagio from Milan

Como lake is an easy one day trip from Milan. Travel directions and tips to discover Bellagio and Como Lake Villas, an unmissable Italian destination.

Few places are as romantic as Como lake, and even fewer have the elegant beauty of  Bellagio. Called the “Pearl of the Lake”, Bellagio is one of the most famous travel icons in Italy, and is characterized by century-old buildings, stone lanes, picturesque cobbled stairways and gorgeous villas, on top of its fabulous views on the Como lake, the “Lario”.

A trip to Como lake and to Bellagio can be easily organized in one day from Milan. you can also find many organized tours, in case you are short of time. Here is a good one.

 

Bellagio_Hotel Villa serbelloni
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Great Chianti itinerary: wineyards, castles and wine tasting

Perfect one or two day Chianti itinerary, from Florence to Siena, to discover the best of this unique region, including a map.

For anyone but the true “wine aficionados”, Chianti is synonymous of Tuscany wine. There’s a reason for that: Chianti is by far the most produced and sold Tuscan Wine, and is produced in an area much wider than the so called “Chianti region”. It is also one of the first Italian Wines to be branded and marketed in a distinctive way.

Chianti itinerary - wine barrels

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Pienza, Sant’Antimo, Bagno Vignoni: Val d’Orcia one day itinerary

A one day itinerary in delightful Val D’Orcia starting from Montalcino: discover San’Antimo, Pienza and Bagno Vignoni and the Val d’Orcia amazing landscape

Well, you had a fair amount of Brunello – cheers! –  and you feel ready to discover the wondefull Val D’Orcia (the Orcia valley).

Val d'Orcia one day itinerary - cypress

The Val D’Orcia is a fascinating place, where man have interacted with nature through the centuries in a way that has well reached perfection.

Your Val d’Orcia One Day itinerary starts from Montalcino, which is covered in my One day in Montalcino post.

Coming out from Montalcino, only 10 km away, your first stop has to be St Antimo Abbey.

Val d'Orcia one day itinerary: Sant'Antimo abbey

Sant’antimo is an extraordinary Romanesque abbey, one of the most important in the whole Tuscany.

It’s famous not only for the elegance of its lines, but also for its setting in a beautifull valley, surrounded by wooded hills, olive groves and wine yards.

Founded by the Longobards around 770, the abbey received the seal of emperor Charlemagne on his return from Rome in 781.

The present church was build in 1118, to replace the original “Carolingian chapel”. The interior will strike you with with its alabaster walls and columns.

Val d'Orcia one day itinerary - San'Antimo nave

If you get there on Sunday morning, do spend some time to assist to the mass, and allow yourself the opportunity to hear the Gregorian Chant practised by the monks.

Regardless to your beliefs, the atmosphere is unique, and, especially if you sit in the first rows, you will really get the feeling of assisting to a 12th century ceremony. Simply magical! (Sunday mass: 9.00 AM and 11.00 PM; the church closes at 12.30).

Val d'Orcia one day itinerary - Mass in Sant'antimo

Getting back on track, you can continue your itinerary in Val d’Orcia and head to Bagno Vignoni.

It takes no more than half an hour by car, and the road twists and turns in the beautiful country side, letting you discover new breathtaking sights after each turn.

Val d'Orcia one day itinerary - Val d'Orcia scenery

On the road, consider making a stop in the charming San Quirico d’Orcia, an important stage-coach post along  the Via Francigena, the ancient road and pilgrims route running from France to Rome.

Just after passing San Quirico d’Orcia, you will see the white incrustations on the side of the hill, left over the centuries by the thermal springs of Bagno Vignoni.

Bagno Vignoni is quite a unique, off the beaten path place, and a highlight of your Val d’Orcia One Day itinerary.

It’s thermal waters were already appreciated in Roman times. In the middle ages, a village developed around the large basin that constituted the ancient thermal structure. Caterina da Siena stood here several times before becoming a nun.

Val d'Orcia one day itinerary - Bagno Vignoni

After all these emotions, you are probabli rather hungry.

Bagno Vignoni has several small restaurants, many of which give you the possibility of eating outside, and take advantage of the sun and the view.

I suggest the Osteria del Leone, on the main square just behind the Loggiato di Santa Caterina, where I hd a delicious Tartare with olives and goat cheese.

Val d'Orcia one day itinerary - delicious Tartare in Bagno Vignoni

You can also take advantage of the local thermal waters spa and spend the rest of the afternoon induging in the warm water, with in front of you the astounishing view of San Quirico d’Orcia. Look for Piscina val di sole, close to the entrance of the village.

If you get here at the end of the day, you may also consider to spend a romantic night at the Locanda del Loggiato, which has kept the fascinating atmosphere of a 1300 century house, with part of the original characteristic wooden beam ceiling and antique floor in terracotta.

Val d'Orcia one day itinerary - landscape

From Bagno Vignoni and San Quirico d’Orcia, take the country road to the lovely Montichiello hamlet, and admire one of the most iconic Tuscany views. You surely have seen it already on postcards, guides and coffee table books!

Val d'Orcia in one day Itinerary - Road to Montichiello

The last stop of your Val d’Orcia itinerary in one day is Pienza, one of the jewels of Tuscan renaissance.

Pienza, a Unesco world heritage site, overlooks the Val D’Orcia and is the first example of Renaissance “ideal city”. That is:  a town built according to architectural criteria of antique classics that would impact directly on the human soul, stimulating spiritual well being.

The most famous Pienza building is the cathedral, dedicated to St. mary of the assumption. It combines a renaissance façade with a gothic interior.

Val d'Orcia one day itinerary - Pienza - Santa Maria

Also notable are the palazzo Piccolomini, the town hall, the Borgia palace and st. Francis.

But, most of all, you will enjoy walking down the corso Il Rossellino (the main street), loosing yourself in the lovely shops selling local delicacies. You must try Porchetta and worldwide renowned Pecorino di Pienza (Pienza sheep cheese).

Val d'Orcia one day itinerary - delicious Porchetta

Before getting back to your car, don’t miss the walk along the old walls, for a last glance at the Val d’Orcia.

Val d'Orcia one day itinerary - view on the valley from Pienza

After reading this post, you may want to spend more than a day in this lovely area. If you’d like to do so, here are two great options to spend the night.

Castello di Spedaletto: it’s an authentic XII century castle, with great rooms and an charm you won’t find anywhere else. It’s located in the valley underneath Pienza, a 10′ drive from the city. Click here to check prices and availability.

Relais il chiostro di Pienza: located close to St Mary church, in the heart of Pienza, it used to be a monastery before being transformed into one of the most romantic hotels you may think of. Its terrace and some of the rooms overlook the valley and offer astonishing views. Click here to check prices and availability.

Enjoy your Val d’Orcia One Day itinerary!


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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?

One day in Montalcino, Tuscany: the home of Brunello wine

What to do, see…and drink when spending one day in Montalcino, a delightful medieval hamlet home of the renowned Brunello di Montalcino wine

Spending one day in Montalcino (or at least some hours) is a must if you are planning to explore Val d’Orcia.

I am sure you have seen in thousands of pictures the worldwide famous Tuscany round and gentle hills, topped by a handful of cypress, bathing in the soft, golden Tuscany sunset light.

One day in Montalcino - Sunset in Val D'Orcia

Well, if you are looking for such a magical place, you have to head to Val D’Orcia.

Continue reading “One day in Montalcino, Tuscany: the home of Brunello wine”

The most charming fountain of Rome

Delighted tourist

One of the most charming fountain of Rome is also one of the best hidden, and seeking it out will help you discover the Roman ghetto neighborhood and, why not, taste some dishes of the Roman Jewish cuisine. 

The “pièce de résistance” of this tour is the fontana delle tartarughe (The Turtles Fountain), located in the out-of-the-way Piazza Mattei, in the Roman Juish Ghetto .

This lovely little fountain features four male figures propped up on dolphins and assisting tiny turtles into the small pool above them. It was built between 1580 and 1588 by the architect Giacomo della Porta (one of the most famous 16th century roman architects) and the sculptor Taddeo Landini. The bronzes turtles around the upper basin, usually attributed either to Gian Lorenzo Bernini or Andrea Sacchi, were added in either 1658 and 1659.

Turtles fountain, Rome

You will love this fountain not only for its beautiful late Italian Renaissance style, but also for the lovely and relaxed neighborhood, so different from the busy and chaotic largo di Torre Argentina square, which could be the starting point of your visit.

From largo di Torre Argentina take via Paganica and venture into the old neighborhood. The Turtles Fountain is located in Piazza Mattei (from the name of the family who actually financed the fountain in the 16th century), at the end of via Paganica – you just can’t miss it.

You can take your time, sit on a bench or sip a cappuccino in one of the two bars in Mattei square (I suggest the fancy Bartaruga).

Old wall, Roman GhettoThen, lazily loose yourself in the old alleys or, if it’s lunch time, walk down the old via di S. Ambrogio, heading towards via del Portico di Ottavia, were most of the Kosher restaurants are located. While relaxing and enjoying your walk, look for the remains or a very old past, that pop up from time to time in the old streets.

My favorite is the tiny and lovely Tempietto del Carmelo, build around 1572 by Pope Gregorio XIII; it was used to  give local Jews “mandatory” sermons, with the aim of converting them to Catholicism!

Tempietto del Carmelo 2

Also notable are the remains of Roman ancient buildings and statues, “recycled” during the middle ages as cheap construction materials.

Resti romani- via portico di Ottavia

The most famous restaurant here is Gigetto al Portico di Ottavia, where you can eat on the side walk, with an amazing view on the Portico di Ottavia, the teatro Marcello and the Synagogue.

Portico di Ottavia and teatro di Marcello

Here you can savor a delicious Carciofo alla giudia (fried artichoke, Jewish style). You should also taste “Fiori di Zucca”, delicious zucchini flowers, filled with mozzarella and anchovies and deep fried.

Roma201304_085

Gigetto Al Portico di Ottavia

Unfortunately Giggetto has become a tourist spotlight, and food level  has suffered a little bit. For a higher quality you can also test Ba’ Ghetto or La Taverna del Ghetto, on the same street.

Buon Appetito!

From here you can either cross the Tiber and get to Isola Tiberina or Trastevere, or you can pass under the Portico di Ottavia and walk to the Campidoglio

Enjoy your walk!


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?

Best Milan aperitivo – top 2018 places to enjoy posh cocktails and buffet

Anguria assassina

Where to go to taste the iconic Milan aperitivo and the many appetizers and buffet included in the price. 

Milan has a long lasting rivalry with Rome, and has often been nominated (likely by Milanesi themselves)  the True  Capital: the business capital, the moral capital, and so on and so forth.

We may endlessly argue about which town of the two could aspire to the title, but one thing cannot be denied: Milan is the capital of Aperitivo.

In no other city of Italy, not even in Venice (read my post on Cicchetti – , or in Bologna, post to come), aperitivo is such a widespread social habit and nowhere else it reaches the same level of locations, glamour and food.

Yes, food. In most Italian cities, the typical aperitivo consists of a drink accompanied by modest snacks such as potato chips and olives (if you are lucky enough not to receive only the drink…). In Milan,  you can expect to be offered an endless variety of dishes such as pasta, risotto, salads, ham, cheeses, meat balls, sausages, bits of pizzas and even exotic food such as sushi or curry, often served as an “all you  can eat” buffet.

For this reason, for many busy Milanese, as well as for the smart travelers,  the aperitivo becomes a clever alternative to dinner at the price of a cocktail (from 5 to 15 Euro).

Top locations are usually poshy and trendy and, during the good season, they may give you the opportunity of discovering and enjoying carefully hidden gardens and courtyards.

There are literally hundreds of nice places to have aperitivo, and new ones pop up every day. I’m going to share with you my favorites, leaving to you the pleasure of working out your own selection.

Cheers!

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Amazing underground Rome tour: a deep dive in medieval Rome

A fascinating underground Rome walking tour to discover the Roman temples and early Christian churches buried under medieval basilicas. Visit middle ages jewels, totally off the beaten path.

 

Have you ever dreamed to feel the mysticism of archaic Christians in a 15 century old basilica? Can you imagine yourself descendig deep stairs and get to an untouched Mithraic temple, buried under two layers of middle age churches? Well, you can experience all this in Rome!

If you think about Rome, the first images that will come to your mind are the majestic Romans’ remains, the renaissance palaces or the baroque churches. Middle age is a rather ignored period, which is a pity, since the centuries of roman empire final decadence and the dark ages that followed gave birth to some of the most fascinating and romantic spots you could find in Rome. Today I’d like to walk you through a half day tour that will dive you in a mysterious, unspotted Rome.

Let’s start our tour from the Colosseo (just to have an easy landmark…). A few steps away, in via Labicana, look for San Clemente Church.

Underground Rome Tour and Medieval Rome Map

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Venice off the beaten path – discover Cannaregio

Venice Tourist cliché

districts of Venice - Cannaregio.
districts of Venice – Cannaregio. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ok, that’s the classical tourist cliché: crowds jostling on the Rialto bridge, expensive Gondola tours, bored “Gondolieri” singing O Sole Mio (which, by the way, is a Napolitan song, not a Venetian song…).

Yes, you will have it all! And, believe it or not, you will love it…

But there’s a Venice outside the classical Station-Rialto-San Marco itinearary, which is worthwhile to discover. And, by the way, you may discover that escaping from the crowd (and live for an hour or so like a true “Veneziano”) can save you quite a significant amount of money. Continue reading “Venice off the beaten path – discover Cannaregio”