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Thursday, April 27, 2006

So You Want to Buy a House in Italy?

Buying real estate in Italy has become one of my favorite topics as of late. For our March issue, I wrote about the areas of Tuscany that still make good prospects for foreign buyers.

I personally have always said that if I had the money, I would buy a piece of oceanfront land or a home in Puglia. Businessweek Online seems to agree with me:

Known as Apulia in English, it's famous for its wine, olive oil, and traditional conical-shaped stone houses called trulli. Do-it-yourselfers can buy a totally unrenovated trullo (see photo) for as little as $65,000. It is also possible to get a new three-bedroom villa with sea views and a pool for under $300,000. (Reminder to self, start saving pronto before all of the good deals are gone.)

Businessweek also tells the tale of an American who found his piece of Italian paradise in Sardinia:

After several vacations in Italy over the years, Randall Briggs of Baltimore was determined to spend his retirement living la dolce vita. Initially, the 41-year-old entrepreneur had his heart set on the Italian Riviera, but sky-high property prices put him off. While researching locales on the Internet, he came across myvillainsardinia.com, which found him a property and walked him through the buying process. "It seemed like we could get everything we liked about Italy -- the culture, the scenery, and great weather -- at a fraction of the price," says Briggs. A few months later he and his wife became the owners of a $500,000, three-bedroom seafront villa in Torre delle Stelle on the southeastern tip of the island.

Vespa Turns 60

The de facto symbol of Italian life - the Vespa - celebrated its 60th birthday today. The manufacturer unveiled three new models and plans for a Vespa museum - a brilliant idea! According to ANSA, "the Vespa's actual birthday was April 23, the day in 1946 when the patent for the innovative two-wheeler was registered in Florence by Piaggio & Co ." More than 16 million Vespa scooters have been sold over the past six decades. If you're anything like me, once I return from a trip to Italy - Rome, especially - I miss the hum of the everpresnt hum of Vespas zooming to and fro.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

April Issue - Florence/Rome

Our April issue is out and doubles as a special report on Tuscan hideaways. If you're not a subscriber , you can buy an immediate download or a hard copy mailed to your home. Here are the features that paid subscribers will be reading:
  • Florence Solo: The Ups and Downs of Going Alone
  • Florence Finds
  • Sleeping Where Keats Died and Other Historic Italian Homes To Rent
  • Review: Rome's Rose Garden Palace Hotel
  • Florence: Watch Fresco Restoration; Ride a Segway Through the Sites
  • and more...

Monday, April 24, 2006

New York Times on Affordable Italy

The New York Times Sunday travel section featured a spread on affordable travel in Europe. The Times covered Milan, Venice and Rome in Italy:

Best Advice
Venice: Instead of paying a minimum of 80 euros for a 45-minute gondola ride, pay 50 cents to take one of Venice's public gondolas across the Grand Canal. The traghetto is a far less romantic experience — you're usually crammed in and you're unlikely to be serenaded — but at least you can say you've done the gondola thing.

I'm tired of the sky-high prices and sometimes rude behavior put forth by Venice's gondaliers. Sure a gondalier ride is one of those must-have experiences but if you don't have the bucks, a traghetto ride will give you a feel for the gondola.

Worst Advice
Rome: If you have any energy left, cap it off with a trip to St. Peter's Basilica, about a 25-minute walk. Admission lines are generally long, but the reward once you're inside is astounding. The Vatican Museums, which include the Sistine Chapel, are closed Sundays, except for the last Sunday of the month, when they are open free from 8:45 a.m. to 1:45 p.m. (but you must enter before 12:20 p.m.).

The Times didn't outright advise travelers to visit the Vatican Museums on the last Sunday of the month, but didn't warn against it either (after all this piece is all about traveling cheap.) I'll provide the caveat this paragraph should should have included:

"You really want to see long lines? Go to the Vatican on the last Sunday of the month. I guarantee a mob scene and nightmare. If you can afford a ticket, I recommend AVOIDING the Vatican on the last Sunday of the month. Trust me."

April Sponsors

The following companies have made this issue of Dream of Italy possible:

Casale Sonnino - 18th century villa just outside Rome

Chiantionline - olive oil from the heart of Tuscany

DaVinci Capers - learn to think like Leonardo while visiting Tuscany

Italian Vacation Villas - renting quality villas, farmhouses, and apartments in Italy

Kublai - this Italy-based travel agency can handle all aspects of your trip

See You in Italy - buy a house or apartment in Tuscany or Umbria

Villa Romano - beautiful Italian decor and gifts; trips to Tuscany

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Four Hot List Hotels in Italy

Conde Nast Traveller (British edition, thus the spelling) is out with their 2006 "Hot List" of where to stay worldwide. Four Italian hotels made the cut:
  • Byblos Art Hotel Villa Amista (Verona) - The hotel is likened to "a museum of modern furniture."
  • Hotel Caruso Ravello (Amalfi Coast) - It reopened last June after a major refurbishment by its new owners, Orient-Express Hotels.
  • Sextantio Albergo Diffuso (Abruzzo) - This intact mountain village, a warren of cobbled lanes and steps, has been turned into guest houses.Affordable at 140 euros per night. (photo above)
  • Villa Bordoni (Chianti) - This is the first four-star hotel in the Greve area.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

So You Want to be a Travel Writer?

It is definitely not as glamorous as it sounds, but it is the most satisying job I can imagine. Italy inspired me to become a travel journalist and to start a travel newsletter. Seeking similar inspiration? What better place to learn about travel writing than in Italy.

If you're in Rome on May 18th, stop by American novelist Linda Lappin's free travel writing workshop at La Libreria Feltrinelli International ( Via V. E. Orlando) at 6 p.m. Lappin promises to help you, " Tap into the "spirit of place" and turn your travel notes and diaries into polished essays." The workshop will last for one hour. Be sure to bring a pen and paper.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Preview: April Issue

We are hard at work on the April issue of Dream of Italy and here are some of the articles paid subscribers can look forward to reading:
  • Going Alone: Visiting Florence Solo
  • Sleeping Where Keats Died and Other Historic Places to Spend the Night
  • Get an Up-Close View of Fresco Renovations
  • Plan Ahead for Italy's Most Enticing Food Event
  • and More..

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Get Your Dose of Italian Television

Come on, we know you are secretly fascinated with Italy's trashy television shows. You say you're not...but as soon as you get back to the U.S. you feel like American television is just so, uhm, prim and proper in comparison! Well then does my friend Joe have a Web site for you.

He took a break from intensely monitoring the contentious Italian elections to tell me about

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Italian Election Drama

The Italians love a good drama and they have one on their hands today. Officials say Romano Prodi has unseated Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in Italy's closest election ever.

According to Bloomberg News, "Prodi, 66, and his allies won 158 seats in the Senate to 156 for Berlusconi's coalition after gaining four of the six seats set aside for Italians living abroad, results from the Interior Ministry showed. Prodi's alliance won the Chamber of Deputies by a margin of just 25,224 out of more than 38 million votes cast."

Berlusconi is challenging the results and Italy's Interior Ministry is reviewing more than 43,000 disputed ballots. Things only get more complicated with Italy's parliamentary system. The new -- very divided --parliament has to agree on a new president to replace President Ciampi whose term is expiring. It could take some time to agree on a new president and only them does the new president appoint a new prime minister.

Stay tuned...

Monday, April 10, 2006

Is Vanity Fair Being Fair?

A travel article in the May 2006 issue of Vanity Fair really has me a bit annoyed today. But am I overreacting? Would love reader feedback on this one.

Victoria Mather's "The V.I.P Tour" promises to reveal incredible private guides in cities around the world. I couldn't wait to read who she chose in Italy. Just because I didn't know any of the guides she chose didn't mean anything, but what raised questions in my mind was why her selections in Rome, Venice and Naples all work for the same company - Bellini Travel?

Maybe it just so happens that most of the guides I know work for themselves or one could argue that perhaps Bellini has gone out and found the best of the best...but for the only Italy recommendations to be linked to Bellini? As a travel writer and editor, I would want to provide more of a choice than that -- especially in a country where there are so many gems to be found in private guides. Perhaps Mather should have dug further?

Mather brags that her choice of a Rome guide -- who again, might be incredible, I do not know -- can reserve the Sisitine Chapel and Vatican Museum for private evening visits. I just want my readers to know that anyone can arrange this through the Vatican -- for a steep fee. Of course, if you do that you probably do want to have a fantastic guide with you.

And I want to know if the author has actually toured around with any of her Italian guide choices. What makes me think not? Her writing comes dangerously close to the marketing copy on Bellini's Web site.

Mather in Vanity Fair: "Maria Luisa Gagliardi is a wonder with children, bringing the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum to life for them."

Bellini Travel Web site: "She is fabulous with children, bringing the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum to life before their eyes..."

Berlusconi Takes Mama to the Polls

It's election time in Italia. Sunday marked day one of a two-day election that could oust plastic surgery afficianado/uber-businessman/Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi from the highest office in the land. When so much is at stake, it is time to bring out the big guns. And as any Italian man will tell you -- the biggest gun of them all is MAMA! Even Italy's richest man needs his mama -- who looks great at the age of 95! (Photo: Ansa.it)

New Product: Special Reports Collection

Dream of Italy's special reports (regular issues of the newsletter, devoted to single topics) are almost our most popular sellers. Here's an opportunity to add all of them to your travel library. From Palermo to Siena, our collection offers over 70 pages of insider information on Italy's must-see destinations. They will arrive at your door, neatly packaged in an elegant Dream of Italy binder.

Each report gives very specific information on how to achieve a dream vacation in Italy -- how to experience the authentic Italy and avoid tourist traps. Sure, you can pay less for a mass-produced guidebook, but you will be stuck eating with Americans, touring with Americans and never experiencing the REAL and fantastic country we love so much.

This collection (which would cost $110 if purchased separately) includes the following special reports:

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Save $ with Alitalia E-Coupon!

In celebration of its first million tickets sold online, Alitalia is offering a $15 e-coupon for tickets purchased online between April 7 and April 18, 2006 for travel between May 2 and May 28, 2006.

The following instructions are from Alitaliausa.com:

To obtain your discount, simply insert code 1000000us in the "promo code" field of the "Ticket Details" page and click on the “Reprice” button.

In addition, throughout the duration of the “A Million Thanks” promotion, you can also take advantage of a discount voucher of $25 on all hotel reservations made via Alitaliausa.com (the discount applies to a $200 minimum purchase).

To obtain your hotel discount, please click here, book your hotel, click on “I have a voucher”, insert code 1000000us and click “Apply and Reprice.”

Friday, April 07, 2006

Tuscan Hideaway: La Pietra, near Cortona

In honor of our March issue, a special report on Tuscan hideaways, we asked friends of Dream of Italy to tell us about their favorite spots in Tuscany. Alice and Martin of Italian Vacation Villas recommend:

La Pietra is a spectacular estate in the hills above Cortona. A stone farmhouse from the 1600’s, it is nestled among acres of well-tended gardens and tall trees, with wonderful views and a fabulous swimming pool. The farmhouse sleeps six in three bedroom suites with three bathrooms. Beautifully restored and modernized, guests will enjoy lovely artwork, interesting artifacts, comfortable furniture and antiques, all of which blend in with the original farmhouse structure to give a warm and cozy feeling. The secluded and private setting and unbounded natural beauty are very evident, as La Pietra was adapted to bring the outdoors inside, so the rooms are filled with light and views. We rented La Pietra ourselves, and did not want to leave. (Weekly rental rates start at $2840 during low season.)

Continental and Alitalia Announce Codeshare

This may be of most interest to travel agents, but anyone who is planning to travel to Italy using Continental and/or Alitalia airlines should know about their new codeshare agreement.

Codesharing improves airline service by simplifying the booking process with electronic ticketing and communication of itinerary information between airlines. Customers traveling on connecting Continental/Alitalia itineraries are able to have single check-in for all flights, including the issuance of boarding passes and checked baggage to their final destination.

Effective immediately, Continental will place its code (CO*) on the following Alitalia flights: between Rome/Milan and Bari, Brindisi, Catania, Florence, Lamezia Terme, Naples, Palermo, Pisa, Trieste and Venice, Italy; between Rome and Bologna, Genoa, Reggio di Calabria, Turin and Verona, Italy; and between Rome/Milan and Tirana, Albania. These flights will connect with Continental's daily non-stop services between New York/Newark and both Rome and Milan.

At the same time, Alitalia will place its code (AZ*) on Continental flights between New York/Newark and 11 U.S. destinations -- Cleveland, Dallas/Fort Worth, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Portland (Oregon), San Francisco and Seattle -- plus Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. These flights will connect with Alitalia's daily non-stop services between both Rome and Milan and New York/Newark.