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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Travel to Italy Up This Summer for Americans

With fuel prices going up, up, up and the value of the dollar going down, down, down, you might think that travel to Italy would suffer this summer. Not so, says AAA, which quotes a Global Insight report stating that Italy can expect a 4.7 percent increase in the number of American travelers this summer (1.6 million American travelers).

Italy can also expect big dollars from those American travelers, with an estimated $2.6 billion in American spending expected to make it to la bella Italia. That puts Italy third on the list of destinations with the highest expected American spending this summer (behind Mexico at $5.6 billion and Canada at $4 billion). If you’re thinking about including some of your dollars in that 2.6 billion, make sure that you get the most out of them -- don’t forget to peruse Dream of Italy’s new free article on tips and tricks for saving money this summer in Italy! – Justine Gregory

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

What You Don't Know About Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel

To understand Rome is to recognize that it is a city swarming with secrets - more than three millennia of mysteries. And nowhere in Rome are there more secrets than in the Vatican.

That's a quote from the new, non-fiction book The Sistine Secrets, a work sure to change the way many look at the Sistine Chapel and the great artist Michelangelo. And what secrets does this book reveal? That not only was Michelangelo well-versed in Judaism but that he included numerous Judaic symbols and messages of religious reconciliation in his Sistine Chapel frescoes. While the artist's proclivity for hidden messages has been documented before, these new revelations are absolutely fascinating!

How did Michelangelo know so much about Judaism? What was his motivation to weave these messages into his paintings? How can you discover these designs and messages for yourself when you visit the Vatican? The answers to these questions and many more in our May issue where we have an extensive interview with Roy Doliner, who co-authored the book with Rabbi Benjamin Blech. Here are some fascinating facts from their book:
  • The structure of the Sistine Chapel (built before Michelangelo arrived on the scene) is an exact copy of the Holy of Holies in Solomon's ancient Temple in Jerusalem. This could be viewed as an affront to Judaism as the Talmud prohibits a functioning copy of the temple to be built anywhere but in Jerusalem.

  • Michelangelo, a sculptor by trade and passion, had never frescoed before being charged with creating the largest fresco in the world, some 12,000 square feet. The artist had to pay for his supplies out of his own earnings. A fact worth noting when Pope Julius II requested more royal blue and gold, the most expensive colors, be added to the frescoes.

  • Pope Julius II asked Michelangelo to place Jesus over the door where the Pope enters the Sistine Chapel. Instead, that's where the artist painted the Jewish prophet Zechariah. While the authors of The Sistine Secrets attribute Michelangelo's decision may have had multiple reasons, they point out that it may have been a commentary on church corruption. They write, "Zechariah warned the corrupt priesthood of the Second Holy Temple: 'Open your doors, O Lebanon, that the fire may devour your cedars' (Zechariah II:I)."

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

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Monday, May 26, 2008

May 2008: Vatican Secrets, Rome's Ghetto

The May 2008 issue of Dream of Italy is posted online for paid newsletter subscribers. Postal subscribers will receive their copies next week. Here's what they will be reading about:

The Dream Interview: The Secrets of the Sistine Chapel
The authors of an explosive new book claim Michelangelo inserted Jewish symbols and messages of religious reconciliation in the Sistine Chapel.

Touring Rome's Jewish Ghetto
The founders of the cultural association Rome for Jews share the history of the city's Jewish population through a tour of the Ghetto.

News, Deals, Tips and Events
The Price is Right at Rome's Villa Laetitia; Need a Ride? Your Men in Tuscany; New Flights Between Chicago, Boston and Milan; Cheat Sheet: Italy's Summer Music Festivals

Not a subscriber to the award-winning travel newsletter Dream of Italy?

Subscribe now and receive immediate access to this issue, over other back issues and receive 10 more issues over the coming year and a BONUS Venice e-book!

Or buy an individual copy of the May 2008 issue, either an immediate download or a hard copy by mail.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Pre-Christmas Florence Tour with Cook Euro

l'Amore di Cucina Italiana -- "Love of Italian Cooking"-- is offering a pre-Christmas week of cooking, touring and shopping in Florence and Tuscany.

Guests stay at the boutique Arti & Hotel Florence. There are five hands-on cooking classes, taught in English, by Cristina Blasi and Gabriella Mari, owners of Scuola di Arte Culinaria 'Cordon Bleu.'
Included: visits to wine, olive oil and cheese producers, museum tours, trattoria dining, exquisite shopping experiences.

Similar one-week programs are available in Emilia Romagna and Umbria this October. For more information, visit www.cookeuro.com or call (212) 794-1400.

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Saturday, May 24, 2008

Found: Peanut Butter Gelato in Rome

I was in Rome for just one night a few weeks back. As I'm superstitious, I still pop by the Trevi Fountain to throw a coin in the fountain to ensure my return to the Eternal City. While walking away from the fountain, I had a craving for gelato so headed into the nearest gelateria. It happened to be Gelateria Valentino where of all things I discovered...peanut butter gelato!

Many of you already know that peanut butter is virtually unfound anywhere in Europe. I asked the owner what prompted him to carry such a flavor. "Americans like peanut butter. It is not so easy to find. I make it right here in the back," he said. He's been serving it up for the last three years. I LOVE peanut butter, so I tried it. It was good, but not quite the rich peanutbutter-y flavor I love. Still, worth a try if you're a peanut butter lover like me!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

AirOne to Start Flights to Italy from Chicago, Boston

The independently owned Italian airline AirOne is moving into the American market, introducing the only non-stop flights between Milan and Boston and Chicago. The Milan-Boston flights commence June 14, with service daily except Tuesday and Thursday. The Milan-Chicago flights start June 21 and will fly every day except Wednesday. AirOne offers connections from Milan to Milan to Athens, Bari, Brussels, Lamezia Terme, Naples, Palermo, Rome and Thessaloniki.

Air One is offering a special airfare of $491 on its new transatlantic flights to Milan with taxes and fees of $308. These non-refundable fares must be booked by June 13 and require a 14-day advance purchase with a Saturday overnight. They're non-changeable and are good for travel through 2008 except for August. To book, visit the Web site or call (888) 935-9247.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Rumble, Rumble: Etna Bursts Back to Life in Sicily

Europe's highest and most active volcano - Sicily's Mount Etna - is at it again. This past weekend, minor eruptions shook the cone of the volcano. Tuesday there was a more significant seismic event followed by a rain of ash on the southeast crater. There doesn't appear to be any danger to nearby residents. According to the AFP , "The last eruption of Mount Etna was in November 2007, two months after another eruption forced a temporary closure of nearby Catania airport due to flowing lava and clouds of ash. The last major eruption was in 2001."

The seismic activity may put a temporary halt to visits to the famous volcano. Tourists to nearby resort town Taormina often take organized day trips to get up close and personal with Etna. Dream of Italy contributor Karina Halvorsen wrote about her experience in the article, "Waking The Giant." Here's how her journey began:

We disembarked in Piano Provenzana, a tiny, souvenir-laden skiing outpost where jeeps were gathered to take curious tourists up the volcano. Waiting for the next jeep departure, a shop owner explained that the temperature would drop with each foot of elevation. I rented a bright orange parka from him for the surprisingly reasonable price of 2 euros.

After a wild 20-minute ride over undulating terrain, the jeep let us out at the highest point we could legally go-- 9,300 feet elevation. (It is not safe to go to Etna's summit at 11,000 feet; as of December 2002, it is also forbidden.) The fog was thick and the air a chilly 33 degrees Fahrenheit. Visibility was so poor that the jeep vanished from sight just as I made my way up an incline. Freezing rain had started to fall during our 4-wheel trek. I pulled my rented parka tightly around me, grateful for its warmth and fluorescence.

Paid newsletter subscribers can read the rest of the article here

Receive a free download of "Dream of Italy's Special Report: Sicily" when you sign up for our twice monthly free e-mail updates!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Introducing Pamela Sheldon Johns + Poggio Etrusco

Cookbook author Pamela Sheldon Johns invites you to learn about artisanal Italian cuisine in her regional workshops.
US office (805) 963-7289

In Tuscany, stay at Poggio Etrusco, Pamela's organic olive-producing farm. Bed & Breakfast and one-day workshops.
Tel/Fax (+39) 0578 798 370

Read about Pamela and Poggio Etrusco:
Food & Wine magazine Sept. 2007 named Italian Food Artisans in Top Cooking Schools in Italy
Canadian Geographic magazine March 2008 article about Poggio Etrusco's organic olive harvest/culinary program

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Monday, May 12, 2008

What I Was Doing in Sardinia...

I'm still fighting jet lag and the dreaded re-entry but have terrific memories of my most recent visit to Italy. Along with a small group of other journalists, I was invited by the Italian Travel Promotion Council, an association the leading American tour operators in Italy, to explore the island of Sardinia. We were hosted by Riccardo Strano, director of the Italian Government Tourist Board (pictured with me at a dinner) and Luisa Anna Depau, the assessore of Regione Sardegna.

I was the only writer who had been to Sardinia before. Ten years ago, while I was living in London, my mom met me in Italy and we took a hydrofoil from Rome's port of Civitavecchia (this time, we took a short flight) to Olbia on the northern coast of the island. We rented a Mercedes, the only automatic car we could get, and my (dramatic) mother was firmly convinced this would attract the attention of banditos. (Many, many years ago, there were brigands in the interior of the island.) Needless to say, the only danger we faced might have been some sharp turns on coastal roads!

I wanted to return to Sardinia, in part, because of the colors. The ocean is a mesmerizing turquoise that I haven't seen anywhere else in the world. The earthy tones of the giant rocks lining the shore contrast with the water in a stunning way. While you'll see cactus here and there, many parts of the interior feature lush green hills. And then there was the food, I couldn't wait to munch on some carta di musica (carasau in dialect), a thin, crunchy shepherd's bread that's often served with THE most delicious fresh soft, unsalted ricotta you will ever taste (with a dab of honey on top).

Join me for a journey through some of the highlights... Andiamo!

Why Do Sardinians Live So Long?

On my visit to Sardinia, I had the opportunity to visit a wonderful vineyard - Argiolas, a few miles outside of the capital of Cagliari. The wines were spectacular and I was happy to find out that there are exported to the U.S. and available from the distributor Winebow. But the highlight of the visit was meeting 101-year-old Antonio Argiolas, the patriarch of the family, whose father started the vineyard from scratch in 1918. While Argiolas looked frail, his mind was sharp and he was clearly charmed to have so many American visitors. His advanced age reminded us that Sardinia is one of a handful of noteworthy places in the world where a disproportionate number of residents live to be 100.

Later in the day, we went further into the interior of Sardinia to visit an historic farm museum. The owner told us that 35 of the area's 2,700 residents are over 100 years old and the man who lived next door to him died two years ago at the age of 113!

So what is it about Sardinia? Well Mr. Argiolas drinks a glass of red wine each day. Certainly, the health effects of such a habit have been proven. We heard other theories: lack of pollution, continued physical activitiy, fresh food, lack of stress. The last one - stress- made me want to read up on my history a bit. How badly did the interior of Sardinia suffer, if at all, during the World Wars? The capital city of Cagliari was severely bombed.

This BBC article sheds some light on a strong possibility - genetics and intermarriage. Since these Sardinian families lived for hundreds of years in relative isolation, they intermarried. Professor Luca Deiana tells the BBC, "Marriage among relatives is not the rule but there are some cases of this taking place. From a genetic point of view when this happens there's a higher probability of having genetic diseases, but also of having positive results like centenarians."

You may have first read about the longevity of Sardinians in a National Geographic article a few years back. The author of that article has a new book and Web site called Blue Zones devoted to how research on these special communities can help all of us live longer. You can take a free quiz at the Web site that will calculate how long you will live...my results: 91.2 years old.

Related Articles:
Sardinia: A World Apart (paid subscribers only)
Sardinia's Ancient Oak Forests Enchant (paid subscribers only)
Purchase an immediate download of the back issue containing these two Sardinia articles

The Glamorous Side of Sardinia

If you've already been to Sardinia or have read much about it, you've certainly heard of the Costa Smeralda. This part of Sardinian's rocky northeastern coast is where where the world's jet setters flock. It was put on the map in the 1960s by the Aga Khan who developed the coast as a playground for he and his friends. The jewel of the hotels he developed (all with an eye to blending into the coast's natural beauty) is the Cala di Volpe, one of the world's most luxurious hotels. When we stopped in for an afternoon drink, we saw how the sweeping ocean views alone were worth top dollar. A bit of trivia for movie buffs, scenes from the 1977 James Bond film "The Spy Who Loved Me" were filmed here.

The Starwood hotel chain now owns Cala di Volpe (rumored to be opening its own cooking school) and a handful of surrounding hotels. Starwood also runs neighboring Pevero Golf Club, boasting some of the best ocean views from any golf course in Europe. The golf course is open to the public and considering the location, charges very affordable greens fees.

Many of the world's richest who congregate here each summer choose to stay on their yachts anchored in the charming port town (complete with Bulgari and other luxury outposts) of Porto Cervo. We were told the mega-yachts we spotted belonged to a few Russian billionaires. Russian President Putin has a villa down the road and his friend Italian President Berlusconi reportedly owns a half dozen villas nearby and in other part of Sardinia.

Related Articles:
Sardinia: A World Apart (paid subscribers only)
Sardinia's Ancient Oak Forests Enchant (paid subscribers only)
Purchase an immediate download of the back issue containing these two Sardinia articles

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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Tuscan Landscape Painting in Bagno Vignoni

I took a stroll in Bagno Vignoni today. Holy cow, can I even explain how breathtaking the views are here? I was just mesmerized and every view minutes the light would seem to change and I'd take another photo and it would come out just a bit differently. No wonder I ran into a group from Charlotte, NC taking painting lessons and practicing their art from a stupendous lookout at the edge of the main square.

I Got My Butt Kicked, Under the Tuscan Sun

Yesterday, the famed Tuscan sun was shining and I was determined to make it an active day. I'm stay at the Hotel Adler Thermae, a spa in Tuscany's Val d'Orcia. I was very excited to take part in "Nordic Walking" at 9 a.m. - this is basically a group walk through the hills of Toscana, you use ski poles to balance yourself while climbing, walking. But then, er, I overslept! I was bummed I missed the class, but did I miss breakfast and my espresso too? NO! I love this place, they serve breakfast until 11 a.m. Perfect for non-morning people like me.

I regrouped and decided to go for "Hydrobike" at 11 a.m. By the way, one of the reasons I love Italian spas is that opportunities for exercise are offered but in no way are you made to feel guilty if you do not partake. Hydrobike is using an exercise bike underwater - there are small weights on the pedals. I loved it and wish I could find such a class at home.

At 3 p.m., I had "Personal Coaching". This is part of my "Adler Detox" package. "Forza, Kathy, Forza," my trainer Raffaelo kept saying as well as "cinque, ancora." That famous, "five more!" Why did I think working out "under the Tuscan sun" was going to be any less painful than usual. There were crunches, weight lifting and a warm-up and cool-down on the elliptical machine. Look at the view though from the workout area:

This Is Why We Love Tuscany

The view (with a little zoom from my camera, yes, I took this photo on my crappy camera!) from my room at the Hotel Adler Thermae:

Monday, May 05, 2008

Another Day in Paradise: Tuscan Olive Oil Massage

Before you all start throwing tomatoes at me, please understand that I work very, very hard at running Dream of Italy. A standard week is 12 hours per day, 5 days per week and usually at least a half-day each weekend. And when I come to Italy, something I feel very blessed to be able to do, it is hardly a vacation. Friends who have traveled with me have likened the pace to the television show "The Amazing Race." Why am I prefacing this post with all of this? Because you are going to hate me...

I decided to stop and smell the proverbial roses, or in this case would it be Rosemary bushes, and spend a few days at a Tuscan spa. I just spend too much time working and not enough taking care of myself. Anyone who has been following DOI, knows that I think Italian spas, in particular, those in Tuscany are among the most amazing places you can visit in this beautiful country. I'm spending some time at Hotel Adler Thermae in the exquisite Val d'Orcia.

I've just returned to my gorgeous room (see the view from my patio) after a massage. A massage using Tuscan olive oil. Mama mia. My skin smell like Rosemary and I could just practically float in the air. I'm on a schedule of a different kind this week - a treatment schedule. The "Balance Massage" was the first in three days of treatments as part of Adler's "Balance Start" Mini-Program. In a half-hour, I have my first "Aqua Detox", which purifies the body by removing toxins through the feet. I've read up on this treatment and can't wait to try it. And then, I'm doing a series of saunas...

Oh and there's really no reason to hate me, I can't have it all today - it is raining in Paradise :(

Related Articles:
The Magic of Tuscany's Terme di Saturnia (paid subscribers only)
Salt, Sand, Serenity: A Tuscan Seaside Spa (paid subscribers only)

The Sheep and Sheepdogs of Sardinia

I spent the last week on the island of Sardinia on a trip sponsored by The Italian Travel Promotion Council - an association of the largest and most reputable Italy tour operators in the United States. We traveled from one corner of the island to the other and I'll be be posting tidbits from the trip (look for a full newsletter issue on Sardinia later this year) on the blog this week - I'm now in Tuscany. Feels a little bit if it is Monday, it must be Val d'Orcia (more on this stop to come); somehow, no one feels sorry for me, I know.

Some of my favorite moments in Sardinia were our encounters with nature and the animals of the island. The number of sheep on the island (their milk is used for the delicious Pecorino Sarda cheese) clearly outnumber the number of people. Here are my favorite photos from the trip. A sheepdog and his charges - one of whom clearly loves him and just might think he's a fellow sheep:

Related Articles:
Sardinia: A World Apart (paid subscribers only)
Sardinia's Ancient Oak Forests Enchant (paid subscribers only)
Purchase an immediate download of the back issue containing these two Sardinia articles

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Free Airfare to Italy with Select Perillo Tours

Many of our regular readers have been to Italy at least once or twice and enjoy planning their own trips and the possibility of the unexpected along the way. But not all travelers like to do so much work and aren't so adventurous, especially many Italy first-timers. For them, I sometimes recommend a fully inclusive, escorted tour by Perillo Tours. They've been in the business for generations, have all the contacts necessary for a seamless trip and take you by the hand from the beginning, even providing nearly every meal. It is a nice trip especially for grandparents taking their grandchildren to Italy for the first time.

To help get you to Italy this summer, Perillo Tours is offering free airfare to Italy on Eurofly on select tours this summer. The free airfare is available for the following tour dates:
  • Vesuvius Tour: July 27, 2008 departure date: 10 days to Rome, Florence and Naples.
  • South & Sicily Tour: July 30, 2008 departure date: 14 Days to Palermo, Taormina, Naples and Rome.
  • Aristocrat Tour: August 19, 2008 departure date: 11 days to Venice, Florence and Rome.
(A nominal fuel surcharge and departure taxes are not included.)

And if you'd like to do some armchair traveling to Italy, Perillo-style, check out the music of third generation owner Steve Perillo, whom many don't know is an accomplished composer. I know Steve but didn't know of his immense talent until this week. Surf to www.steve.com, click on Perillo Radio and choose "Napoli." This composition evokes the chaos and vitality you will recognize as Naples. Whimsy and fantasy balance nostalgia and the darker moments of Neapolitan life in this song that truly captures the essence of a complex place.

Tips for Playing Golf in Italy

In the April 2008 issue of Dream of Italy, Ann Cochran introduces us to where to play golf in Italy and where to stay while playing. "If you are paired with an Italian, he or she may point out Leonardo da Vinci's birthplace through a grove of olive trees (Montecatini Golf Club) or ancient aqueducts (Rome Golf Course), and you might your 19th hole Prosecco in a clubhouse built inside a fortification from the Austro-Hungarian Empire (Circolo Golf Venezia)," she writes. Here are some of her tips for golfing in Italia:

· The Italian golf season starts in spring, generally in April, and ends in October. Some courses are open year round but not all.

· Many courses are closed Monday, except when a holiday falls on a Monday.

· Italian clubs are crazy for tournaments. From February through November, many have two to three tournaments a week. This is how they make money and Italian golfers love to play in tournaments because of the prizes that the sponsors give. Tournament sponsors vary from BMW and Sony to local Rotary and Lion's Clubs.

· In Italy, a country that disdains rules, most courses are the standard 18 holes and some have 27, but you might find others that are 11 or even just three holes.

· Some private courses ask for verification of an official handicap from a U.S. golf club.

· Book a tee-off in advance, even the day before, just like at home.

· At resort courses and some of the more upscale private clubs, a round can be 100 euros, but for the most part you can expect to pay 50 to 80 euros per 18-hole round, and 30 euros for the cart rental; cart use is much less prevalent there. Club rental runs from 30 euros.

Click here to read the rest of Ann's article including course reviews and hotel and villa suggestions for where to stay while you play golf in Italy

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Italian Language and Culture Courses

For the past 20 years Lingua Service Worldwide has been offering full immersion Italian Language and Culture courses across Italy for adults of all ages: Italian language courses in Rome, Italian and painting in Florence, Italian and cooking in Siena and many more. All programs also offer host family stay options for a complete immersion experience. Join us for the Italian cultural experience of a lifetime! Please visit our Web site or call us at 1-800-394-5327 for details.

Mention Dream of Italy when you register and receive $50.00 off any of our programs!

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