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Monday, June 30, 2008

Viterbo's Festa di Santa Rosa

The cover story in our June issue focuses on Viterbo - a charming city 60 miles north of Rome, famous for papal history and thermal baths and this festival:

If you happen to be in Rome on the third day of September, catch the train to Viterbo for the Festa di Santa Rosa, the festival of the city's patron saint. Thousands flock to see one hundred facchini, or strongmen, carry a 90-foot tall, four-ton macchina - obelisk-shaped statue - of the Santa Rosa through the winding streets of the city. The tradition began hundreds of years ago, with the statue becoming progressively larger and heavier until the 19th century, when the macchina toppled over, crushing facchini and spectators alike. Not to worry, however: a disaster has not happened since, although it is still said that the facchini must sign their wills before they can bear the weight of the macchina. The macchina is truly an incredible sight - a gigantic tower, swathed in light, seems to float over the apartment buildings as it glows against the night sky. Onlookers line up for the priming viewing spots in the early morning, sending friends to bring back sustenance from the piazzas, where dozens of stands are set up in a carnival-like atmosphere. The Festa of Santa Rosa is almost an other-worldly experience, so don't miss it. - Justine Gregory

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Sunday, June 29, 2008

June 2008 Issue: Viterbo, Gubbio, Milan

The June 2008 issue of Dream of Italy is posted online for paid newsletter subscribers. Print copies for postal subscribers are in the mail. Here's what is in the current issue:

Popes, Pizza & Thermal Baths in Viterbo

This Lazio city just 60 miles from Rome offers a welcome respite from the Eternal City's tourists. You'll be greeted by legends of popes, one of the best-preserved groups of medieval buildings in Europe and lovely thermal baths.

Gubbio: A City of More Than Just Silence
This Umbrian city has a reputation as a "city of silence," but there's more than meets the eye, or ear, here including incredible gastronomy and a chance to participate in a truffle hunt.

A Tale of 7 Stars and a Butler
What's it like to stay in a 7-star hotel with your own butler? What makes a property earn 7 stars? Our writer tests out Europe's only uber-luxury hotel in Milan.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Your Brunello di Montalcino Has Been Spared!

To all those friends of Brunello di Montalcino – you may not have known it, but while you innocently sipped at your favorite Tuscan red, the future of your wine was under attack. U.S. authorities had threatened for the last few weeks to ban imports of the red wine Brunello di Montalcino (Brunello being the Sangiovese varietal grape, and Montalcino the city of the wine’s origin) after Italian fraud police confiscated wine from several producers earlier this year, suspicious that other varieties of grape other than Brunello had been mixed in.

Recently departed Brunello president, Francesco Cinzano, said there were certainly some “bad apples in the basket” who were hoping to profit from the incredible success of the Tuscan wine, but Brunello drinkers can breathe easy, as authorities dropped the threat to ban earlier today after receiving assurances of the wine’s integrity. Brunello will continue to be allowed into the U.S. as long as the imported bottles are accompanied by a quality guarantee from the Italian government – great news for Brunello wineries, which export 25% of their 7 million bottles directly to the United States. With such good news, let’s pour a glass to celebrate -- I’ll toast to that! -- Justine Gregory

Italy's Top Free Attractions

FREE. In these tight economic times, free is a beautiful word, and if you are planning a trip to Italy, “free Italian attractions” might just be the most beautiful words you’ve ever heard. TripAdvisor, has compiled a list of the Top 10 Free European Attractions, and Italy can boast three spots on that top list: St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice (at #9), the Duomo in Florence (#6), and topping everything off, Rome’s Pantheon (pictured) at #1.

If you are looking for other ways to save money on your next trip to Italy, be sure to check out Dream of Italy’s article on money-saving tips for travel in Italy. And yes, the article is that most beautiful of beautiful words – FREE. -- Justine Gregory

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Last-Minute Auditor Specials for Tuscany Vocal Program

Enjoy an idyllic, affordable week in Tuscany July 30 to August 6, 2008 as an auditor of the 2008 Daniel Ferro Vocal Program. Auditors observe all Master Classes and participate in Italian language study.

Ideal for singers, voice teachers, coaches, conductors, choral singers and… lovers of music wishing to experience the development of young artists and enjoy Tuscany with all it has to offer.
Limited space available for the week of July 30th only.

The price to audit the program for one-week is $1,850, which includes the following:

  • 7 nights lodging (private room)
  • 8 continental breakfasts
  • 5 weekday lunches
  • observation of all Master Classes
  • participation in the Italian language studies
  • Participation in all social activities: concerts, receptions, etc.
For more information, visit www.ferrovocalprogram.org

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Vatican Bans Tom Hanks from Filming in Rome

How will Professor Langdon solve this problem?

The Vatican has banned the producers and actors of the movie Angels and Demons, now filming in Rome, from entering the Holy See and any churches in Rome. Ron Howard is directing the film version of Dan Brown's prequel to the popular book and film, The DaVinci Code. You may remember that actor Tom Hanks played Professor Langdon in The DaVinci Code and is reprising his role in this film. Howard and Hanks have already filmed other scenes in the Eternal City. (This photo shows Hanks and Howard filming in Rome last week.)

Angels and Demons producers requested permission to film scenes in the churches of Santa Maria del Popolo and Santa Maria della Vittoria, which house precious paintings by Caravaggio, sculptures by Bernini, and a chapel designed by Raphael, but were denied, explained Monsignor Marco Fibbi, a spokesman for the diocese.

“It’s a film that treats religious issues in a way that contrast with common religious sentiment” We would be helping them create a work that might well be beautiful but that does not conform to our views. This is a prequel to ‘The DaVinci Code’ and it’s clear that the theme is similar.”

The DaVinci Code stirred up anger and controversy within the Catholic religious community in with the assertion that Jesus was secretly married to Mary Magdalene and fathered a child with her. The book/film also portrayed the conservative Catholic movement of Opus Dei as a murderous cult.

In Angels and Demons, Tom Hanks as Professor Robert Langdon, who must save the Vatican from a canister of anti-matter that threatens to destroy the Vatican. The Vatican, however, appears to be unamused by Langdon’s kind gesture, forcing the film’s producers to shoot in the city of Caserta, near Naples, where the former Royal Palace (see photo) will stand in for the interior of the Vatican.

If you would like to get a sneak peek at this regal city in the Campania region before it hits the big screen, be sure to check out Dream of Italy’s detailed article on the palace and visiting Caserta (paid subscribers only.) Many have compared its beauty to that of the French palace Versailles. -- Justine Gregory

P.S. - If you want to take your own self-guided tour of Rome following the plot of Angels and Demons, see our article by the guides who developed the first tour around the book. (Paid subscribers only.)

Monday, June 16, 2008

You're Invited to Salento Food Week in NYC, DC

On behalf of the olive oil and wine producers of the Salento area of the Puglia region of Italy, I'd like to invite Dream of Italy readers in New York and Washington, DC to a series of FREE tastings during Italian Week, June 18 to 24, 2008. More than 30 companies from the Jonico-Salentino district will showcase their premium quality wines and extra-virgin olive oils, offering the opportunity to taste firsthand the spectacular quality of this area's offerings.

Puglia, the sun-drenched region on the Adriatic coast in the heel of Italy, has a rich tradition of wine and olive oil production. Italians themselves know that some of the country's best vintages and oils come from this area. In fact, Puglia produces 29% of the country's oil and 18% of Italy's wine. About half of Puglia's vineyards and olive trees are located in the Jonico-Salentino district, in the south-central part of the region surrounding the beautiful Baroque city of Lecce. A unique combination of factors including weather, soil, technique and traditional varietals have lead the Salentino wines and oils to international acclaim.

You don't need a plane ticket to enjoy the bounty of this unique land. Salentino comes to America for Italian Week, June 18 to 24.

BuonItalia at Chelsea Market
75 Ninth Avenue
New York, NY 10011
Thursday, June 19 - 5 to 7 p.m.
Friday, June 20 - noon to 7 p.m.
Saturday, June 21 - noon to 7 p.m.

Teatro Goldoni Restaurant
1909 K Street, NW
Washington, DC 20006
Monday, June 23 - 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Tuesday, June 24 - 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Which City is Cheaper: Philadelphia or Florence?

File this one under, "why didn't I think of that..." When I was at dinner with Kit Burns (Dream of Italy subscriber and president of Doorways Villa Rentals) in Sardinia last month, she told me about a comparison her staff put together showing that despite the weak dollar, visiting an Italian city isn't really any more expensive than visiting an American city.

To prove their point, they put together a chart directly comparing the cost of breakfast, dinner, a bus ticket, a hotel room in Philadelphia vs. Florence. The results might surprise you. Of the eleven comparison items, eight were more expensive in Philadelphia, one (the hotel room) was more expensive in Florence and two were about the same (cup of coffee and train ticket).

So for all of those who think Italy is so expensive, its not any more expensive than an American city. Sure the plane ticket is a significant added expense but once you get past that...

Tips and Tricks for Saving Money in Italy This Summer (Free Access Article)
Travel to Italy Up This Summer For Americans (Blog Post)
Dream of Italy's Collected Florence (e-book)

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Music and Markets Presents "The Art Cities of Northern Italy"

Music and Markets Tours is thrilled to present an exciting only-in-2008 tour, The Art Cities of Northern Italy.

We’ll have the awe-inspiring opportunity of hearing the renowned Fine Arts Quartet perform on priceless historic instruments at the Stradivari Foundation's annual festival. Surrounded by the brilliant colors of fall, we’ll delight in the marvelous towns of Cremona, Mantua, and Verona , savor mouthwatering cuisine and wander hilltop villages and lakeside castles.

Click here for details of this luscious September trip, and join us for a thrilling experience of
authentic Italy!

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Free GPS + 5% Off Rental with Auto Europe

If you're driving in Italy, you'll save many headaches and lots of time (that you would have spent getting lost) with GPS (Global Positioning System) in the car. Trust me! I will never rent another car in Italy with out it.

Fortunately, this summer and fall, Auto Europe is offering a free GPS rental with car rentals in Italy of at least eight days (intermediate class or higher). Book by June 30 for car pickups June 20 through November 30, 2008.

Dream of Italy readers can also save 5% on any Auto Europe rental by using the discount code 722002261.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Seven Tips for Saving Money on Your Italian Vacation

So the dollar is still weak, but Americans are going to Italy (a Global Insight report predicts a 4.7 percent increase in the number of American travelers visiting Italy this summer). Whether you are traveling on a budget or looking for luxury, I have seven quick money-saving travel tips adapted from a recent Dream of Italy article:

1. Use new low-cost airlines and get great introductory airfare deals. This month Italian airline Air One launches service from Chicago and Boston to Milan. Low-cost carrier Zoom Airlines recently started flights from Toronto and Montreal to Rome.

2. Use the Web to find and predict the best airfare deals, but don’t hesitate to buy. Farecompare.com and Farecast.com offer predictions on whether ticket prices for your particular route will stay steady, increase or decrease over the next week But if you find a deal, snap it up, seats are nearly filled for summer travel.

3. Buy a package and save two ways. First, by buying a combination of airfare, hotel, rental car, and/or train tickets you almost always save over what each component would cost individually. Second, pre-paying in dollars before you leave eliminates the risk of currency fluctuations if you were to pay euros in Italy.

4. Cruise the Italian coastline. Nearly every cruise line you can think of – Carnival to Princess– will be cruising the Mediterranean this summer, and by climbing aboard, you can cover your transportation, dining and accommodations costs with one price – in dollars.

5. Make a bid. LuxuryLink.com offers luxury hotel packages and villa rentals at discounted rates through online auctions, while Skyauction.com allows individuals to bid on air and hotel packages, coach and business class airline tickets, and hotel nights. The key – do your homework before bidding.

6. Skip the hotel. Hotel rates in Europe are up. Instead, rent a villa or apartment. You will pay way less per night and can save money by using your kitchen to cook for yourself.

7. Get a tourist card. Italian cities like Naples, Orvieto, Padova, Rome, Turin, Trieste, Verona and Venice offer tourist cards which can save you big bucks on public transportation, as well as often including admission to many of the cities’ museums, churches and monuments.

Click here for a detailed and free Dream of Italy article on more money-saving tips for travel to Italy.

Have your own tips? Share them with a comment on this blog post.

Pompeii on Display with Lights and Sounds

From June 7 through November 13, 2008, the ancient city of Pompeii is hosting Sognopompei (Pompeiian dream), with tours of the ruins enhanced with sound effects, light shows, actors in costume and a final re-enactment of the 79 AD volcanic eruption that engulfed the city in lava and ash. The hour-long tours run Friday through Sunday during the five-month period, and are offered in English, Italian and Japanese.

Regular hours apply (8:30 am until 7:30 pm [with the final entrance slot at 6 pm] from April 1st until October 31st, and until 5 pm [with final entrance at 3:30 pm] from November 1st until March 31st). Tickets are 11 euros each for Pompeii and Herculaneum, and 20 euros for the “Cumulative ticket,” offering access to Pompeii, Herculaneum, Oplontis, Stabia, and the Antiquarium of Bosoreale. Click here for more information at the official Web site. -- Justine Gregory

Where are Italy's Best Beaches?

If a trip to the beaches of Italy is in your future, be sure to check out La Guida Blu 2008’s listing of the country’s piú belle spiagge. Compiled by Legambiente and the Italian Touring Club, La Guida Blu considers much more than just gorgeous sand and surf – over 130 factors are considered, including the presence of a well-maintained historical center, the gastronomy of the surrounding area, and vicinity to other historical, artistic or natural beauties.

Rated on a scale of one to five “sails,” 12 beachside resorts were bestowed with the highly coveted cinque vele, with the Tuscan island of Giglio (photo above) receiving highest marks – the first time in the eight-year history of the guide in which an entire island took the number one slot – followed by Pollica in Salerno and Riomaggiore (a.k.a one of the five terre in Liguria’s Cinque Terre) rounding out the top three. Sicily fared particularly well, with nine of its beaches receiving five sail honors and its tiny Aeolian island of Salina ranking in at number ten overall.

Sardinia also did well, boasting the most beaches on the list (14), three of which are in the top ten. Last year’s top winner, Tuscany’s Capalbio, fell to number four. Some surprise disappointments included the island Ischia, and the town of Amalfi, which garnered only one and two sails, respectively.

If your future Italian travels look to be more lakes than beaches, however, fret not – for the second year, the group also reviewed the top Italian lakes, which host 24 million visitors a year, and accounting for about 6.6% of the total tourist influx to Italy. Among the lakes, three resorts received five sails:

  • Caldaro sulla Strada del Vino, on Trentino Alto Adige’s Lago di Caldaro
  • Farra D’Alpago on Venice’s Lago di Santa Croce
  • Malcesine on Lake Garda
-- Justine Gregory

"Angels and Demons" Now Filming in Rome

With the great success of the film adaptation of Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code, it was a forgone conclusion that Brown's other book, Angels and Demons, this one centered on Vatican intrigue, would be made into a film. In fact, as Trovacinema.it reports, director Ron Howard is filming in Rome this week. Actor Tom Hanks (does his hair look any better in this flick?) is reprising his roll as Robert Langdon. I, for one, think Angels and Demons (or Angeli e Demoni in Italian) was a much better book and will probably be a better film. What do you think?

P.S. - If you want to take your own self-guided tour of Rome following the plot of Angels and Demons, see our article by the guides who developed the first tour around the book. (Paid newsletter subscribers only.)

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

An Amazing Deal on an Umbria Villa Rental

I had lunch with my friend Suzy Menard last week. Suzy's one of my "Italy friends" - we share both a personal passion and a professional life centered on Italy. Suzy and her husband Bill own Bella Italia, a wonderful store selling Italian imports, especially ceramics, in Bethesda, MD. Suzy and I ate at the new Assagi Mozzarella Bar, right next to her store. Yum!

We were catching up on what we've both been doing in the past few months and turns out that Suzy and Bill were busy buying a small estate in Umbria! La Fattoria del Gelso , just outside of Assisi, is nestled on 40 hectares of a working farm. The main building is a two-story farmhouse built in the 1700s. There's also a separate annex just across a courtyard. Suzy showed me photos of the estate and it seems to have every modern convenience while maintaining that rustic charm - there's WiFi and satellite television and an enormous modern kitchen. In total there are 8 bedrooms - what a great place to bring a group of friends.

And get this - since they just purchase the property, they would like some folks to try it out and give them feedback on their stays. So they're offering this entire estate for rent for just 1,500 euros per week this summer and I think, fall. WOW! If you bring a group of 10, that's less than 100 euros per person for the week! It should cost three times that amount. Suzy assures me that the estate is in perfect working order and there's someone on call to help with any problem 24/7. If you're thinking about Umbria in the near future, contact Suzy and tell her I sent you! I just might take advantage of this deal myself!

Quiet Places to Stay in Umbria (paid subscribers only)
A Guide to Umbria's Towns (paid subscribers only)
Umbria Surges with Spirit (paid subscribers only)
On the Road with St. Francis of Assisi in Umbria (paid subscribers only)