Fabulous Venice Carnival

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What to see, do and enjoy during Venice carnival, an unmissable Italian event.

Venice Carnival is much more than costumed chaos: parades, processions, masquerade balls, entertainment, music, and parties… well Venice Carnival will offer you everything you need to live a really unique and rewarding experience (especially if you manage to avoid week ends, when the town gets really crowded).

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Weird Italian food you’re going to love

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Nowhere else in Europe you will find the same variety  of regional recipes you can find in Italy. With a bit of curiosity and, sometimes, courage, you’ll discover much more than just pasta!

Italian incredibly high number of recipes derives from its being separated for centuries into many independent “states”, each one with its peculiar traditions, and from the variety of its territory (and what it could offer to be cooked). There’s also another aspect to consider: Italy was a rather poor country. The need to feed an increasing population with the available resources, united to the unbeatable Italian creativity, has given birth to some real weird, hence delicious, dishes.

In this post I’m presenting a selection of my favorite “weird Italian dishes you are going to love”. Buon appetito!

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Most romantic places in Italy, off the beaten path

Most romantic places in Italy_Ravello
Courtesy of Wikipedia

Top romantic places in Italy, arguably the most romantic destination you could think of. Discover Italy most romantic cities and places, with a particular emphasis on off the beaten path destinations, and locate them on the interactive map. Get insider’s suggestions about Italy most romantic hotels.

Saint Valentine day is getting closer, and you still don’t know were to go with your beloved one? Then here is my personal selection of the most romantic destinations in Italy!

Are you thinking of Venice, the Amalfi Cost, Bellagio, Capri, the Cinque Terre? Much too easy! Of course, these are fantastic places, full of romance, atmosphere, history, candle light dinners… and tourists! Yes, because since they are so famous, they easily get crowded (and expensive!). Don’t you think your love deserves destinations off the beaten path, getaways to be discovered in (nearly) solitude, hands in hands, pretending you are there all alone?

If the answer is “Yes!”, then this is the right post for you. And, by the way, you don’t need to wait for Saint Valentine day to visit these destinations, they are fantastic all year round!

Italy most romantic places - Map

 Italy most romantic place #1: Verona, the city of Romeo and Juliet

Well, Verona is not exactly “Off the beaten path”, but it is surely underrated compared to nearby Venice. In fact, ever since Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet drama, Verona has been the portrait of the Italian romantic city (and it surely is!). That’s why I picked it up to start our tour.

Unsurprisingly, in Verona you will find Juliet’s house, complete with her balcony and statue, as well as thousands of love letters tucked into the wall around Valentine’s Day (you can even write one yourself!)

But Verona is much more than that, and its air of romance doesn’t come by association alone. You’ll have plenty of romantic options: enjoying an old fashioned carriage ride, strolling along the river and in the narrow old streets, or relaxing in an outdoor cafe on a renaissance square.

My personal top choices for a romantic walk are Piazza delle Erbe (where you can sit and have an Aperitivo while enjoying the beautiful setting), the old bridge, the Roman theater and, of course, the fantastic views from the belvedere at Giardino Giusti (one of the most notable renaissance gardens in Northern Italy).

By far the most romantic (and, in general, best) accommodation in Verona is the Palazzo Victoria hotel. Palazzo Victoria is located in the very heart of Verona, a few steps away from Juliet Balcony. Everything here is luxury and elegant.

Italy most romantic place #2: Villa d’Este gardens and fountains in Tivoli

Villa d’Este, with its fabulous palace, garden and fountains, is one of the most remarkable Italian Renaissance accomplishments, and, in my view, an incredibly romantic place, especially when visited after sunset. It is located in the small town of Tivoli, 30 km from Rome.

Villa d’Este displays an incredible concentration of fountains, nymphs, grottoes, plays of water, and music (water powered!) and is a unique example of an Italian 16th-century garden. It is rather far from traditional touristic itineraries, and it’s about one/one and a half hours from Rome. For these reasons, it never gets very crowded, and if you go thee during week days, chances are that you will be nearly alone.

During summer time, Villa d’Este is opened also after sunset, and that’s pure magic!

If you spend the night in Tivoli, you should also dedicate some time to visit the fascinating and hyper romantic villa Gregoriana and Villa Adriana.

For a romantic night in Tivoli, book a room at the B&B Al Palazzetto, a beautifully renovated 15th-century building, in the historic centre and easy walking distance form Villa D’Este.

Italy most romantic place #3: Pienza, and the views from the via dell’Amore

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

It’s old walls and buildings are full of atmosphere and are a fantastic romantic destination.

The wonderful walk along the ancient walks has been named “Via dell’Amore” (no need to translate…), and offers fantastic views over the Val d’Orcia.

For your Romantic stay, the relais  Il Chiostro di Pienza is arguably the most atmospheric choice.  It is an ancient Franciscan convent, just in the center of Pienza. It has a  wonderful panoramic terrace with view on the romantic Senese’s hills. You can actually sit on the terrace while sipping a café or a drink  (cheaper than spending the night there, indeed!).

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Pienza could be an excellent hub to visit the worldwide renewed Val D’Orcia.

Italy most romantic place #4: the island of Ponza, a hidden jewel in the Mediterranean sea

For sure you know Capri, you may have heard of the islands of Ischia and Elba, but hardly anyone other than Italians goes to Ponza: lukily enough, this tiny group of islands has managed to stay away from mainstream touristic itineraries.

So here it is, your private paradise ready for you to discover, explore and enjoy!

Stuck in time atmosphere, laid back life style, gorgeous natural landscapes, gelati-colored houses, fisherman in bright boats, turquoise water and white limestone cliffs, secret grottos for snorkelling, fantastic uninhabited beaches, incredible sunsets over Palmarola island: everything contributes to make Ponza one of the most amazingly romantic places I stumbled upon in Italy (and elsewhere)!

For your stay, consider the posh Grand Hotel Chiaia di Luna, and its fantastic terrace overlooking Chiaia di Luna cliffs. Even if you don’t sleep there, it’s a perfect place for an Aperitivo or a drink after dinner (god music provided!). Unmissable at nigh, when the full moon lights up the cliffs.

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Italy most romantic place #5: Ravello, window in the sky of the Amalfi cost

Ravello is a tranquil and tiny medieval town which sits high up on the Amalfi mountains, offering stunning views of the Mediterranean sea.

Richard Wagner was inspired by Ravello….and described it as the closest place from earth to heaven!

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Courtesy of Wikipedia

Ravello is cosy, sunny, and loaded with notable buildings (such as its 1086 cathedral). Despite its choice position on the Amalfi coast, Ravello manages to retain the aura of an old-fashioned village, and the typical southern Italy laid back atmosphere.

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In Ravello, the most romantic place of all is the fantastic Villa Cimbrone, a luxury hotel with a beautiful park that can be visited. But the true highlight  are the terraces, and their unbelievable views over the Mediterranean see. Villa Cimbrone is actually used to celebrate wedding parties, and I had the chance to be invited to one of them, some years ago. Indeed, it was a Wow! experience!

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The iconic hotel Villa Cimbrone  is by any mean your top destination in Ravello… if you can afford the rates (you can and should visit its gardens, anyways)! A more reasonable suggestion for your stay ? The  Hotel Villa Fraulo ,  to enjoy breathtaking views over the cost from its terrace and a great design and service.

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 Italy most romantic place #6: Ninfa romantic gardens

The enchanting Ninfa English garden in the Roman countryside was once a small agricultural town founded under the Roman Empire, passed through the ages from Pope Pasquale II in the 12th century to the Colonna family in 1293 until the 14th century, when a devastating war with the neighboring cities brought about the fall of Ninfa and its definitive abandonment.

What you see today was started in 1921 by Gelasio Caetani and his mother Ada Wilbraham, who would bring diverse species back to this garden from her various travels and transform it into one the the most amazing, yet unknown, marvels of central Italy.

Among the various treasures to be found in the gardens are the ruins of a 10th-century church (Santa Maria Maggiore) complete with 12th-century fresco, a picturesque river complete with crystal-clear water and ancient bridges, and a plethora of plants from around the globe, such as red Japanese maples, yucca, yellow begonias, orchids, cherry trees, lavender pathways, Himalayan and Mexican pines and miniature pomegranates.

But what makes Ninfa truly unique and atmospheric is having real roman and medieval ruins dotting a lavish English garden, in an incredibly beautiful and peaceful setting. Not easy to find such a romantic place elsewhere!

Whether you are a botanist, bio-diversity expert or Roman/medieval history buff, these gardens will surely excite the inner dreamer (and lover) in you.

 Italy most romantic place #7: Moena enchanted mountains

Moena lies in the middle of the Dolomites, which are widely regarded as being among the most attractive mountain landscapes in the world.

Their intrinsic beauty derives from a variety of spectacular vertical forms such as pinnacles, spires and towers, with contrasting horizontal surfaces including ledges, crags and plateaux, all of which rise abruptly above extensive talus deposits and more gentle foothills. The bare pale-colored rock surfaces beautifully contrast with the forests and meadows below.

The beauty of the scenery and the majesty of Moena’s panoramas will surely capture Travelers in love with nature.  Some of the rock cliffs here rise more than 1,500 meters and are among the highest limestone walls found anywhere in the world.

Just lie in a meadow (or stand in the snow with a cup of Vin Brulé in your hand) and wait for sunset: the pale grey rocks suddenly turn into unbelievable pink and orange nuances while the sun sets down beyond the peaks. In minutes, the stars will appear in the dark sky, highlighting peaks shape. Believe me, few places look as romantic as the Dolomites at Sunset!

Apart from the gorgeous surrounding, the beautiful village of Moena definitely deserves a visit. It’s a delightful hamlet, known as “la fata delle Dolomiti” (the Dolomite’s fairy).

In the lovely traditional mountain huts, with a hot Stube (local brick stove) to warm the room, you will enjoy delicious local Ladin dishes.

Your romantic choice for Moena  is the lovely Hotel Garden. Everything is great: the views, the traditional tyrolean style rooms, the food and the SPA.

Italy most romantic place #8: Sardinia at its best: Capo Testa hidden coves

Capo Testa is a windy, wild area, located in the north of Sardinia, in the Gallura region. It offers unique, lunar landscapes, and incredible beaches.

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Lapped by translucent blue waters, backed by macchia (scrub land perfumed by wild herbs such as thyme, rosemary and oregano) and framed by Mistral-warped granite outcrops, northern Sardinia beaches are among the finest in the Mediterranean.

 

Here you are far from the posh beach resorts of nearby Costa Smeralda, and you can savor the wild Sardinia nature at its best.

In particular the rock bluffs, carved by wind and water into natural pillars reminiscent of Roman columns, are an impressive and unbelievable sight

A really inspiring accommodation close to capo Testa is the Saltara country house (agriturismo), which provides lovely bungalows around a nice pool.

Enjoy your romantic holiday in one of these Italy most romantic places!


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Delightfullyitaly.com is the insider’s Italy travel guide for independent travelers. Here you will find city guides, travel itineraries, Italian experiences and much more.

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.

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Venice Carnival, and five other top Italian Carnival destinations

Discover Italian Top carnival events, beyond worldwide known Carnevale di Venezia.

February in Italy means that just about every city on the Peninsula is invaded with masks, confetti, colors and lights that make for a very exciting and unique atmosphere: it’s Carnival!

In 2015, carnival will take place between January 31st and February 17th (celebrations dates may vary depending on the location): what are you waiting for?

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Enchanting Taormina: what to do and see and where to stay

The Greek theater and mount Etna
The Greek theater and mount Etna

A one or two days itinerary to discover what to see and do in Taormina. Discover the medieval village, the Greek theater and the astonishing views on Etna Volcano. Sunbath in Taormina secluded creeks, explore Isola Bella and indulge in its lazy restaurants and cafés. Charming Taormina hotels.

One day in Taormina is enough to explore this delightful Sicilian hamlet and to enjoy its beautiful beaches. But surely enough, you will be tempted to spend there much more time. Two or three days would be perfect.

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. One day in Taormina (or, ideally, 2 or 3) will allow you to wonderfully combine seaside, culture and entertainment.

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Discovering the Spanish Steps

 

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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Noto, baroque perfection in Sicily

A delightful small town that hosts some of the best baroque monuments of 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. It was then rebuilt from scratch, in the sublime elegance, originality and fantasy of the Sicilian Baroque style.

Noto 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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First stop: Porta Reale (“Royal Gate”), the main entrance to Noto historical town.

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Second stop: Noto’s cathedral,  which rises impressively above Corso Vittorio Emmanuele and is approached by a wide and graceful flight of steps. Its dome collapsed in 1996 due to another earthquake, but has now been perfectly restored.

The monument is made of the same limestone which makes all monuments in Noto, and that over time gradually becomes golden-colored, especially at sunset.

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Opposite the cathedral is Palazzo Ducezio, the town hall. To the left of the cathedral you can admire the Landolina di Sant’Alfano palace.

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Just in front of the cathedral, in Piazza Municipio, don’t miss a delicious ice cream  (“Gelato”) at Caffé Amarcord.

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After visiting the cathedral, keep on diving down side streets here and there, while heading to Via Nicolaci, at the top of which is the beautiful elliptical façade of the Chiesa di Montevirgine.

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Visit Sicily Noto altare

Along one side of Via Nicolaci stands the Palazzo Villadorata, whose many playfully buttressed balconies – horses, griffons, nymphs, cherubs, fierce bald men – jut from a severely Classical façade.

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In via Nicolaci you will also find the delicious Cantina di Noto.

It’s a wine bar (they sell the wines of their own wine yards) and a fabulous place to for a lunch snack or a dinner.

Noto Restaurant

Near the end of the Corso is Piazza XVI Maggio with its magnificent Church of San Domenico and a magnificent Fountain of Hercules.

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Visit Italy_Noto_Corso Vittorio Emanuele  Visit Italy_Noto_Chiesa

At the end of May, Noto celebrates the marvels of Spring and the coming summer with a colourful “Festa” known as the “Infiorata”. The street of Corrado Nicolaci becomes home to flower artists who create the most beautiful mosaics using petals.

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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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What to eat in Venice

Fritto misto con Polenta

A short food guide to decipher a Venetian menu and to discover what to eat in Venice, beyond Pizza and lasagne

Venice cuisine is among the most fascinating you could taste in Italy, and not only for its delicious taste.

Over centuries, Venice has built contacts both with the inland and with diverse and faraway countries: therefore, its culinary tradition presents a variety of dishes linked to the different origins of ingredients. This is why you can see in Venice dishes baccalà (dried salted cod) from the Baltic routs, precious spices from the caravans of Asia but also fresh vegetables from islands of the estuary and fish from the lagoon and the Adriatic sea.

Antipasti (starters):

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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).

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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).

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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).

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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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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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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.

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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.

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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!).

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Siracusa_sea from villa Fisher

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Climbing up St Peter’s Basilica’s dome

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.

How to climb up St Peter’s dome

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.  Follow the queue… or click here to learn how to skip it.

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 look 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

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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.

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Tuscany castle hotel #2: Castel Pietraio

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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.

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 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

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Enjoy your night at the castle!


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What to eat in Florence

Menu

Short food guide to decipher a Florence menu and to discover what to eat in Florence, beyond Pizza and spaghetti.

 

Few countries can offer the same variety of regional recipes you can find in Italy. This post is a short guide to help you browse Italian menus, with the necessary confidence (and appetite!) to dare tasting something different from spaghetti and lasagne!

I’ll start with one of my best beloved regions: Tuscany.

Antipasti (starters):

Crostini con fegatini

Chianti_062

You will hardly find a Tuscan menu that doesn’t offer Crostinis with salumi and a flask of red wine! The word crostini literally refers to the bread, similar to a baguette where the patè is spread. You will be offered many different type of crostini in Tuscany’s restaurants, but the real stuff is made of chicken livers. Other popular options are Bruschetta, crostini with minced tomatoes and olive oil and crostini with truffle oil.

Finocchiona

Salumi toscani

The “typical” antipasto generally includes all sorts of salami, ham and cheese. While this may not differ that much from the salami you normally find in other Tuscany areas, there’s one which is typicall of Tuscany and that you shouldn’t miss: the Finocchiona.

Finocchiona is a variation on salami made of finely ground pork and fat, laced with fennel, and aged for a while. The unusual ingredient in finocchiona is fennel seeds, which give the salami an intriguing sweet, anise-like flavor. They are also behind the name, as finocchio means “fennel” in Italian. After the ground pork is stuffed into salami casings, the finocchiona is cured so that it becomes firm and dry.

Primi piatti (first courses)

Ribollita

Ribollita

The Ribollita is the most famous Tuscan soup. It is a typical “poor” dish from the Florence and Arezzo cooking traditions, meant to reuse the left over bread and the most commonly available vegetables. The name, which means “reboiled”, derives from the former habit of preparing  the soup in large quantities, usually on Friday. The soup was cooked a second time (and therefore “reboiled”) in the following days, before being served. Actually, the ribollita gets tastier each time it is reboiled.

While many different vegetable can be used, a true ribollita always includes black cabbage (“cavolo nero”), Borlotti beans and dry bread. Once it is served, you should add one or two spoons of “exravergine” olive oil and freshly ground pepper.

Pappa al pomodoro

Pappa al pomodoro

Half-soup and half-sauce, pappa al pomodoro is little more than ripe tomatoes, olive oil, and day-old bread. It’s a delicious summer dish, served in the majority of Tuscany restaurants.

Pici

Pici 2_01

Pici is are thick, hand-rolled kind of pasta, like a fat spaghetti. The dough is typically made from flour and water only. It originates in the province of Siena in Tuscany; in the Montalcino area it is also referred to as pinci.

Pici are served with a variety of toppings, such as ragù (often from game, such as duck, hare or wild boar – “pici al ragù di anatra-lepre-cinghiale”), spicy garlic tomato sauce (“Pici all’aglione”) or porcini mushrooms (“Pici alla boscaiola”).

Pappardelle ala lepre

Pappardelle alla lepre

Pappardelle are large, very broad flat pasta, similar to wide fettuccine. The name derives from the verb “pappare”, to gobble up. The fresh types are two to three centimetres (1 inch) wide. Like Pici they can be served with a variety of toppings, even though most popular Pappardelle dishes are “Pappardelle alla lepre” (hare minced meat sauce) or “Pappardelle al cinghiale” (Pappardelle with wild boar topping).

Secondi piatti (second courses: fish / meat dishes)

Bistecca alla Fiorentina

Bistecca alla fiorentina

The most famous tuscan meat dish is actually… a T-Bone steak!

The true bistecca alla fiorentina (“Florentine-Style Steak”, normally called just “Fiorentina”, is huge (hardly less than one Kg, cooked on charcoal fire and traditionally served on a wooden cutting board. Though Fiorentina, is featured on the menus of almost all the restaurants in Florence, finding a good one isn’t at all easy. But when you do it’s heaven on earth, delightfully rich, flavorful rare meat so tender it can be cut with a spoon. Much of the secret is the breed of cattle, Chianina beef…

Cinghiale in umido

Cinghiale in umido

This winter dish requires marinating the wild boar meat in red wine, vinegar, chopped vegetables, garlic, bay leaves, juniper berries and chili flakes for at least one night, and then cook it in a clay pot for at leat 2-3 hours. The result is a melt-in-your-mouth tender, deliciously tasty meat dish, often served with Polenta (cornmeal boiled into a porridge and eaten directly or baked, fried or grilled)

Lampredotto

Chianti-osteria Nerbone 2

Lampredotto is a very famous dish from Florence, that you may find in restaurants or as street food (“panino col lampredotto”). Lampredotto is the fourth stomach of a cow, boiled in water with tomatoes, onion, celery and parsley. A typical Florentine peasant dish, the most popular way to serve it is in a bread roll, with parsley sauce and optional chili oil. ‘Snap up’ a hot cow stomach sandwich at one of the many street and market stalls in Florence that serve it. The most famous one is just in front of the famous “porcellino” statue.

Caciucco alla livornese

Caciucco alla livornese

Cacciucco (also called Caciucco alla Livornese – Livorno-style cacciuco) is a popular traditional Livorno seafood dish, fairly common also in Pisa, Lucca and in all the Tuscan coast.

It’s a delicious soup of assorted sea fish, shellfish and molluscs, poured over the toasted bread, which history stretches back at least five hundred years. The origin of dish name also proclaims the fact that cacciucco is rooted in a mixture of culinary cultures of many nations. It bears resemblance to the Turkish word ‘küçük’, which means ‘tiny pieces’ – small fish and molluscs were used to prepare the dish.

Dolci (Desserts)

Cantucci col vin santo

Cantucci_01

Originating in the city of Prato (close to Florence), Cantucci are presently the most famous cookies in Tuscany. You will probably be offered Cantucci col vin santo after all your meals!

Cantucci are oblong-shaped almond biscuits, made dry and crunchy through cutting the loaf of dough while still hot and fresh from baking in the oven. Traditionally, you are supposed to dip them into a glass of vin santo (Tuscany sweet dessert wine) before savor them.

Panforte

Panforte

Panforte means “strong bread” which refers to the spicy flavor. It’s the traditional Siena cakes, and its origins may date back to 13th century.

The process of making panforte is fairly simple. Sugar is dissolved in honey and various nuts, fruits and spices are mixed together with flour. The entire mixture is baked in a shallow pan. The finished cake is dusted with icing sugar. The result is heavenly delicious! You may taste Panforte as a dessert in restaurants or purchase a slice in a “pasticcieria”. A tasty and spicy variety of Panforte is “Panpepato”.

Buon appetito!

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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!

Continue reading “Garda lake’s natural SPA”

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.

Continue reading “Secret treasures of Milan renaissance”

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”

Fascinating Chianti wine tasting tour

Chianti_004

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.

The “Chianti” wine was created in 1837 by Barone Ricasoli, who defined a new recipe, a blend of  Sangiovese,  Canaiolo and Malvasia. The new wine was such a success that in 1932 the producers of the original Chianti Wine joint together to create the consortium of the “Chianti Classico”, with the black roaster (“Gallo Nero”) as its symbol.

Chianti Gallo Nero

Today’s recipe is a little different from Barone Ricasoli’s, and requires at least a 80% Sangiovese, with the rest being a different wine, often Canaiolo, but not necessary. Also the ageing in small Oak barrels (barrique) is optional. Add the difference in tastes and texture deriving from different sub-zones, and you’ll easily realize that you will hardly find two Chianti tasting exactly the same.

In this post I’d like to drive you in a one/two days itinerary to discover the beautiful Chianti country side, its history, its food and, of course, its wine.

Our trip begins by taking the “strada del vino” (222 ss route), just south of Florence.

Chiantishire Map

Soon, the view of the silver of the olive trees, the green geometry of the vineyards, the roads lined with tall green cypresses and the borders of the woods lined with yellow broom combine in a palette of colors that seem to create a unique painting.

The first notable stop in your Chiant Wine Tasting tour is the Castello di Verrazzano. The Castle of Verrazzano is located on a hilltop in the Chianti Classico area, overlooking a beautiful countryside.

Chianti Castello di Verazzano

The castle is known for being the birthplace of the family Verrazzano to which the Navigator Giovanni, the one who discovered the bay of New York, belonged. Today, Castello di Verazzano is a highly reputed winery. You can stop there for a guided tour and a wine tasting, often followed by a lunch in the beautiful lunch room overlooking the valley. I suggest to take the tour and the wine tasting, but skip the lunch, there are better options outside.

Wine - Castello di Verazzano

The next stop is Greve in Chianti, which  is considered by many as the gate into Chianti and is famous for its particularly shaped piazza or square that has been market place for the castles and walled villages in the surroundings since the Middle Ages. The square has a triangular shape and large porticos, dotted with nice shops and delightful restaurants. In the center stands the bronze staue of Giovanni da Verrazzano, explorer that discovered the Bay of New York.

Greve in Chianti - piazza

In Greve in Chianti you will also find the Cantine di Greve in chianti, probably the biggest wine shop in the Chianti area, and the best way of tasting up to 140 wines from different cellars in a vaulted, renovated ancient underground. Just purchase a card, choose the wines you want to taste, insert your carte in the tasting isle, put your glass under the nozzle, press the button and Voilà!

Chianti_044 Cantine di Greve in Chianti

You can also order local appetizers (cheese, ham and “bruschette” (grilled bread topped with many different sauces). If you prefer to stay outside, you will find a subsidiary of cantine di Greve on the main square.

If it’s lunch time, you will find many nice restaurants on the main square. I recommend Osteria Nerbone in Chianti, were I had a tasteful Lampredotto (traditional Florence dish, based on boiled cow stomach: it may sound weird, but it’s delicious).

Chianti_Osteria Nerbone

Chianti-osteria Nerbone 2

Going back to route 222, I suggest a stop for a cave visit and a dedicated wine tasting at the Podere casanova. Here you will meet Rita and Silvano, the land lords, who not only produce high end biological Chianti and Super Tuscan wines, but will also delight your tastes with their production of truffle oil, true balsamic vinegar, and even honey wine, which recipe dates from the middle age. Cooking classes are available for the happy few that can dedicate a full day to them (note: the wine tasting is only by appointment, to preserve the intimacy of the experience).

Chianti Cantine Casanova

Chianti - Tenuta Casanova - Wine Tasting

Next stop is Castellina in Chianti.  Set along the Chiantigiana road that connects Florence to Siena, it is one of the most important destinations in Chianti. Once a fortified village, you will discover along the ancient walls an impressive underground tunnel used by the guards, Via delle Volte. You will also like the impressive fortress, which gives its name to the village (Castellina derives from the word “castello”, castle in Italian).

Castellina in chianti - fortezza

Castellina in Chianti may be a good place to rest for an evening. My suggestions to eat and sleep? Restaurant Sotto le Volte, in the underground passage under the ancient walls, and, a few kilometers from the Village, Hotel Villa Casalecchi, an ancient countryside villa, immersed in a park of century old trees and surrounded by Chianti vine-groves.

Via delle volte _ Castellina in Chianti

On a second day, you can explore the beautiful countryside, dotted by middle age villages, abbeys and castles (all this area used to be a battlefield between Florence and Siena). Definitely worth a visit is Radda in Chianti. Radda was the headquarters of the Chianti League and the seat of the Florentine governor housed in the beautiful 15th century Palazzo del Podestà, its facade decorated with several coats of arms. The town maintains its medieval look characterized by narrow streets meeting in the main square where you’ll find the Church of San Niccolò, a church of Romanesque origins which displays a venerated wooden Crucifix from the 15th century.

If you are around Radda at the beginning of June, don’t miss the “Radda nel bicchiere”, an open air wine tasting with over twenty producers presenting their Chianti wines.

Greve in Chianti - palazzo de

Close to Radda you can visit the tiny Volpaia village, often used as a movie set (you may stop at the excellent La bottega di Volpaia, and savour your Fiorentina steak under the trees, on a terrace overlooking the vine-groves) and then have a guided tour at the nearby imposing Badia di Coltibuoni, once a fortified abbey, now a lovely B&B, and visit their huge caves.

Badia di Coltibuoni 1

You may end up your day at the Castello di Meleto, by visiting the 18th century interiors, its caves (of course!) and a really amazing authentic 18th century “family” private theatre. The tour includes, guess what? Yes, you got it: wine tasting! …and a Chianti bottle to bring home. Good deal for 15 €.

Chianti - Castello di Meleto

Chianti - Castello di Meletto - Teatro

Not tired yet? Still a little hungry (and thirsty)? Well, a nice place to have your last aperitivo (Italian cocktail) could be the Castello di Spaltenna,  another perfectly preserved middle age castle, now transformed in an exclusive hotel. On its terrace you will indulge with a glass of Chianti wine in your hand and the  delightful Tuscany countryside at your feet.

Chianti_Castello di Meletto-Degustazione

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Pienza, Sant’Antimo, Bagno Vignoni: delightful Val d’Orcia

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

 

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

Toscana_201305_212

The Val D’Orcia is a fascinating place, where man’s endevour have interacted with nature through the centuries in a way that has well reached perfection. Coming out from Montalcino, only 10 km away, your first stop has to be St Antimo Abbey.

Tuscany, Val D'Orcia: Sant'Antimo abbey

Sant’antimo is an extraordinary Romanesque abbey, one of the most important in the whole Tuscany, 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 wineyards. 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 “Carloingian chapel”. The interior will strike you with with its alabaster walls and columns.

Navata e altare di San'AntimoI

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. Believe me, regardless to your beliefs, the atmospheare 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).

Toscana_201305_177

Getting back on track, you can continue your itinerary in Val dOrcia and head to Bagno Vignoni. It takes no more than half an hour by car, and the road twists and turns in the beautifull country side, letting you discover new breathtaking sights after each turn.

Tuscany - 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 place. It’s thermal waters were already apreciated in Roman times. In the middle ages, a village developped around the large basin that constitued the ancient thermal structure. Caterina da Siena stood here several times before becoming a nun.

Toscana_201305_255

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.

Toscana_201305_234

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 (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.

Toscana_201305_265

Otherwise, if you are still hungry of culture, you can head to the delightfull Pienza, one of the jewells of Tuscan renaissance, which waits for you just 9 km away.

Pienza, a Unesco world heritage site, overlooks the Val D’Orcia and is the first example of Renaissance “ideal city”i.e. a town bult according to architectural critria 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.

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 such as Porchetta and worldwide renowned Pecorino di Pienza (Pienza sheep cheese).

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.

Vista sulla valle

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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?