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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Rome Colosseum: Leaning and Will Be Repaired With Corporate Funding

Someone neglected to tell Rome's Colosseum that there's a tower in Pisa that has cornered the market the whole "leaning" thing. Italian officials announced Tuesday that the south side of the Colosseum may now be 15 inches lower than the north side of the 2,000-year old monument.

"The concrete foundation on which the Colosseum is built is an oval-shaped 'doughnut' which is 13 metres [42 feet] thick," Professor Giorgio Monti of Rome's Sapienza University told The Telegraph (U.K.). "There could be a stress fracture inside it."

Engineers note that the vibrations from a nearby subway line and Rome's heavy car traffic may have contributed to the Colosseum's problems. Chunks of stone have been falling from the structure over the past few years.

Might now be the time to visit the Colosseum if the repairs on Pisa's Leaning Tower are any indication? The tower was closed for a decade as engineers sured it up. Could the Colosseum face a similar long-term closure?

No, according to Italian cultural officials. The Colosseum repairs will begin in December and are expected to take 2.5 years, during which time the iconic monument will remain open. The restoration will also help make more areas of the Colosseum open to the public starting in 2015.

Given the financial crisis in Italy who is going to fund such repairs? In an effort to find creative ways to finance the preservation of ailing landmarks, Italian officials are reaching out to corporate sponsors. Luxury leather company Tod's will foot the $30 million bill to fix the Colosseum.

"Companies have a social responsibility that should be supported and carried out," Tod's founder Diego Della Valle told a news conference. "It is also a signal for investors that it is right to invest in this country."

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Thursday, July 26, 2012

What's New in Italy This Summer: 7 Ideas For Your Italy Trip



Prepping for a trip to Italia? Here's what's hip, happening and noteworthy in Italy this summer and fall.

1. New Vaporetto Service in Venice: Ever seen those red hop-on, hop-off double decker tourists buses in major cities around the world? Venice now has its own version of a hop-on, hop-off tourist boat called Vaporetto dell'Arte. The seats all have multi-lingual video systems. Tourists can buy a 24-hour pass to travel among eight major stops.

2. Popular Budget Lodging in Rome: I know several people including a family with young children who stayed in one of the newer Eats and Sheets B&Bs in Rome and were blown away by the great atmospher location (three different ones - Colosseum, Monti, Vatican) and affordable rates (doubles start at 70 euros per night; apartments for 4/5 start at 100 euros nightly). Plenty more ideas for affordable places to stay in our Rome app on iTunes or Rome app for Android.

3. Florence's Most Famous Door to Be Unveiled: During the 15th century it took artisan Lorenzo Ghiberti 21 years to complete the bronze door Michelangelo called "The Door of Paradise." It became the entrance to the Duomo for hundreds of years before the original was removed to protect it during World War II and subsequent flooding. After decades of restoration work, the original will be back on display September 8th at Florence's Museo dell' Opera.

4. Dining in Local Italian Homes: More and more Italians are opening their homes to share dinner - including traditional local cuisine and conversation (in English)- with foreigners. The trend started with the founding of the Home Food network a number of years ago and continues with the new web-matching service, New Gusto. Don't miss this chance to experience Italian dining with locals!

5. Francis Ford Coppola's Luxe New Hotel: Palazzo Margherita, Francis Ford Coppola's new nine-suite hotel in his ancestral hometown in remote Baslicata, has made a splash in the luxury hotel world. No detail has been overlooked in Coppola's homage to his ancestors and the history and people of beautiful Basilicata. Cooking lessons included with every visit. Few can afford the price tag.

6. Night of the Shooting Stars: Every year on August 10th, Italians celebrate when San Lorenzo's tears (Perseids meteor shower) light up the sky. It is called the Night of Shooting Stars. Italy's Wine Tourism Movement has in recent years promoted Calici Sotto Le Stelle linking the falling starts with tastings, music and entertainment in wineries across Italy.

7. Vatican's Secret Archives Revealed: The hottest exhibit in Italy right now is Lux in Arcana bringing light to 100 documents, including the conviction of Galileo, hidden in the Pope's archive until now. The show runs through September 9th at Rome's Capitoline Museums.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Is Tom Cruise Looking to Buy A Castle in Umbria Italy?

Last week, there were reports that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is buying a castle in the Piedmont region of Italy, this week the celebrity real estate rumor mill has Tom Cruise looking for a castle in Umbria.

According to Italian newspaper Il Messagero, Catiuscia Marini, the president of the region of Umbria commented on his Facebook page about Tom Cruise looking for a castle in the ceramics town of Deruta.  Cruise certainly has an affinity for Italy; he and soon-to-be ex-wife Katie Holmes were married in a castle on Lake Bracciano, just outside of Rome.

Italian real estate is becoming more and more attractive to wealthy Americans as the dollar is stronger against the euro than it has been in years (today at $1.21 to the euro).  We don't know if this 16-bedroom Deruta castle (pictured above) has sparked Cruise's interest, but it sure looks fit for a Hollywood king (and it resembles the castle where Cruise was married).

Italy News Round-Up: Rome's New Eataly, Italy Traffic Tickets, Sicily Financial Problems

Here are the Italy travel news, culture and food stories that got our attention this week...

Is Rome's new Eataly all it is cracked up to be?
Katie Parla writes in The New York Times,"The lack of consistency is perhaps mitigated by the sheer convenience of it all. Thousands of nicely packaged products are artfully displayed in a large, air-conditioned space, an American paradigm that is alive and well here. Does Rome need an Eataly? Perhaps not, but judging by the crowds I saw, it sure does want one."

Traffic tickets in Italy's pedestrian zones still big problem
We've been reporting on this problem for years: you rent a car in Italy, drive through a pedestrian zone and get a hefty ticket some weeks or months later when you get home. The Los Angeles Times has some advice on handling the tickets if you get them and some advice on avoiding them all together.
The pressure's on Sicily to reform
The Wall Street Journal reports, "Sicily also has the biggest balance sheet of any Italian region, with a disproportionate 17,000 full-time employees on its payroll. And the region is home to the Mafia organized crime group, which underpins a parallel economy, puts added pressure on small-business owners and encourages tax evasion."

Recent Italy Travel Articles by Dream of Italy Editor Kathy McCabe

Where to Stay in Puglia: Two Luxury Farmhouses (The Huffington Post)

Use Woody Allen's "To Rome with Love" As Guide to Rome (ItalyTravel.com)

Meet the 3 Bs in Piedmont: Barolo, Barbaresco and Barbera (Ciclismo Classico Blog)

Friday, July 20, 2012

Madonna's New Video Filmed in Florence and Tuscany Countryside



The video for Madonna's new song "Turn Up the Radio" was filmed in Florence and Mugello, in the Tuscan hills above the city. She shot the video just a few weeks ago while staying at the St. Regis Hotel in Florence.  BFF Debi Mazar and her Tuscan husband Gabriele Corcos may have helped inspire the film locale; they have a house nearby. The megastar stopped traffic during filming on the streets of Florence.

The video is typical Madonna. MapItOut-Tuscany writes, "And if you wonder about the driver's famous last words in Italian: 'La festa è finita adesso. Allacciati la cintura, stronzetta.' Here's your English translation: 'The party is over now. Put on those seat belts, bitch.'"

Friday, July 13, 2012

Did Mark Zuckerberg Buy A Castle in Italy?

Very interesting...Select Italy reports rumors that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg purchased a castle in the Piedmont region while honeymooning in Italy.  Supposedly, Zuckerberg bought Lavezzole Castle, a former 16th-century monastery, for his new princess Priscilla Chang.

According to the real estate listing the property overlooks a swath of rolling hills and the medieval town of San Damiano d’Asti in the Langhe area (known for its exquisite wines like Barolo and Barbaresco) of Piedmont between Asti and Alba. The property boasts its own lake, tennis courts, indoor and outdoor pool and private chapel. According to Select Italy, Zuckerberg paid 7.5 million euros.

Looks like his new neighbors might be one of my favorite vineyards in Italy, Marchesi Alfieri.

Dreaming of vacationing in your own Italian castle or villa (even for just a week)? Download Dream of Italy's Free Guide to Renting A Villa in Italy.

Meet Mark Zuckerberg's (Possible?) Italy Neighbors: Marchesi Alfieri Wine Estate


Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg reportedly has bought an Italian castle in the region of Piedmont. If he indeed purchased  Lavezzole Castle on the Alfieri hillside between Asti and Alba, then I think he's neighboring one of my favorite wineries in Italy, Marchesi Alfieri.

Sisters Emanuela, Antonella and Giovanna San Martino di San Germano are the proud proprietors of Marchesi Alfieri, a wine estate, complete with a Baroque castle, steeped in Italian history. Among the more famous Alfieri lords were the architect Benedetto, the poet Vittorio and the President of the Italian Senate, Cesare Alfieri. The last male of the Alfieri line to possess the castle, Carlo, was also known for his part in drafting the Albertine Statutes of 1848 that resulted in a liberal transformation of the Italian monarchy.
 
 
More than half of the Alfieri vineyards are planted with Barbera grapes in order to produce the estate's crown jewel, Barbera d'Asti, yielding 100,000 bottles a year. Grignolino (used to make rose wines), pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon grapes grow on the rest of the land. In all, the estate produces five labels. La Tota is a soft, well-structured Barbera d'Asti. Barbera d'Asti Superiore is only produced in great vintage years and aged for 10 years. Il Rosso dei Marchesi is a blend of barbera and pinot noir grapes.
 
The owners rent two houses on the property. The Locanda, a restored historic building on the cobblestone courtyard, houses two guest suites. The farmhouse Margherita, located in the estate's parkland, has four bedrooms, some with fireplaces and terraces, and offers panoramic views of the hills of Piedmont. The estate's owners are the proud owners of precocious Wire Hair Fox Terriers (as is the author of this blog).

Dreaming of vacationing in your own Italian castle or villa (even for just a week)? Download Dream of Italy's Free Guide to Renting A Villa in Italy.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Seven Reasons to Love Puglia

In honor of Dream of Italy's new issue on Puglia, I've put together a few reasons why the region of Puglia rocks. There could be thousands of reason but here are seven to start...

1. The Trees: Each of Puglia's millions of gigantic, ancient olive trees seems to be as unique as a thumbnail, growing and contoring each in its own shape. These regal wonders contrast majestically with the color of the Earth and the white of the handmade limestone walls that surround them. Puglia's olive trees are protected; government authorities take aerial photos to make sure none have been cut down (they can however be moved to another area of the same farm).

2. Olive Oil: And from these trees come some of the most flavorful, pure oil you will taste anywhere in Italy. Puglia is Italy's greatest producer of oil. The local cellina di nardo and ogliarola salentina olives create wonderful flavors. Don't miss the chance to enjoy an olive oil tasting (some of the masserie in our Puglia issue are also olive farms.)

3. Unique Architecture: Where to even start...you will find structures here you won't find anywhere else in Italy. Of course, there are the trulli, the conical, stone huts that were first created in the 13th century to be easy to dismantle (and thus avoid taxes). An historic target of invasions, Puglia is home to numerous fortified farmhouses (or masserie) - most of them in white stone. And all those invaders left their mark architecturally, sometimes you will feel like you are in Greece or Turkey rather than Italy.

4. Stunning Beaches: Puglia boast 500 miles of coastline leading to turquoise blue waters. With the color of the water and fine whitesand, you will be forgiven for thinking you're in the Caribbean...or the Maldives. Pescoluse is called "the Maldives of the Salento" in part for the the small mounds of sand out in the shallow sea bed that look like tiny islands.

5. The Winds: There are two winds that seem to be entities unto themselves here in Puglia - the sirocco blows heat and moisture up from North Africa and the mistral is a cooler wind blowing from the north. In an area where the sun shines bright, the winds can provide some weather variety. Always windy, Sant' Andrea is famous worldwide for its kitesurfing.

6. Warm People: Italians all over the country are wonderful and welcoming but the Pugliese take it to a new level. Don't miss the real Puglia when you visit, get a local tour guide, learn about the traditions here from pizzica (an Italian folk dance) to the craft of paper-mache (centered in Lecce). (Editor's note: Even those not involved in tourism are doing great things here. I was thrilled to visit with Mino and Val of Puglia Pooches who have devoted their lives to rescuing abandoned dogs. I'll be writing more about them.)

7. The Food: It would take pages to tell you about the succulent simplicty and flavor of Puglia's cucina povere cuisine. (Visit any of the local restaurants we feature in the Puglia issue.) The food here from the vegetables (abundant here) to the seafood is FRESH; I don't know any place in the world where I have enjoyed fresher ingredients. You can taste and feel (I swear my skin was glowing - all the olive oil?) the difference.

Are there any reasons to love Puglia that you would add?

June/July 2012 Issue: Our Second Puglia Special Report

The June/July 2012 issue of Dream of Italy - our second special report on the region of Puglia -  is hot off the presses.

If you're NOT a subscriber, subscribe today to instantly access the PDF version of this issue and nearly 100 additional back issues of our award-winning print newsletter. You will also get subscriber-only Italy travel discounts and our new BONUS - 3 FREE issues of glossy travel magazine Italia! ($32 value) mailed to your home. The Italia! bonus ends July 31 so act now.
Our paid subscribers (who can log-in here) are reading the following articles this month:


Where to Stay in Puglia: Six Masserie Offer Charm and Comfort
Innovative locals transforming many of the Puglia's centuries-old fortified farmhouses, called masserie, into modern oases, with dreamy decor, luxury amenities, fabulous food and cooking classes. Here are six favorites:

You Can't Beat Their Meat: Visit A Braceria in Puglia
The fornello began as many great Italian traditions do, with great ingredients and a simple gesture of kindness. The livestock in the Murgia feed off beautiful grass, wild herbs, ancient bitter greens, and almost all of it just there for the eating.

Two Puglia Insiders Share Their Tips
On my recent visit to Puglia, I spent a few days with Southern Visions Travel, run by Puglia native Antonello Losito, and his fiancée Laura Giordano, who teaches cooking. They share what makes Puglia unique, locals favorite restaurants and Puglia's don't-miss festivals.

A Day Out in the Salento with Yle
A longtime subscriber had been urging me to meet this local guide and tour, saying this warm and passionate Lecce native had a particular knack helping others experience undiscovered Puglia. What a day we had, and you can too.

More Places to Eat and Drink in Puglia
Puglia offers fine, fresh, simple cuisine and the wines...visit this authentic Salentine restaurant in Lecce, then hit a hip, new enoteca for wine tasting. Looking for the best restaurant in Puglia? It just might be this gem in Conversano.

More Puglia travel advice

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Ghiberti "Door of Paradise" to Go on Display in Florence Museum This September

If you're visiting Florence in September or during the fall of 2012, you will have the chance to be among the first in three decades to lay eyes on the original 15th-century gilded bronze door by Lorenzo Ghiberti which Michelangelo called "The Door of Paradise."

This medieval masterpiece weighs eight tons and had been part of the baptistery of Florence’s Duomo for more than 500 years until it was removed for restoration. The door took Ghiberti 21 years to complete. It consists of 10 panels, most of which depict the life of Christ from the Old Testament. At the intersection of the panels are gilded prophets and sibyls, or women who were regarded as prophets by the ancient Greeks and Romans. The panels themselves are surrounded by a framework of foliage.

To spare the door from damage during World War II, it was removed from the baptistery. Shortly after, it was caught in the flood of the Arno River in 1966 which devastated the city of Florence. Only four of the ten panels had remained after the flood and, 26 years later, a copy was put in its place as the original was taken for restoration.

The “Door of Paradise” will not be returning to the Duomo following the extensive work, but from September 8, it will go on display in a case at a the nearby Museo dell'Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore (Piazza del Duomo, 9), to preserve it from renewed damage. Tickets are 6€ and the museum is open Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 1:45 p.m.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Cinecittà Bar: Another Francis Ford Coppola Production

Even if you can't afford a night at Italian-American film director Francis Ford Coppola's new hotel Palazzo Margherita in the southern Italian region of Basilicata, a visit to his ancestral hometown of Bernalda is will worth a visit. Bernalda is like a town out of the 1950s and there is plenty to see in this area of Basilicata.

Plus, nearly anyone can afford a drink or a meal at Cinecittà Bar, another Coppola production, just next to the palazzo on Bernalda's main and open daily to the public for lunch and dinner.  Cinecittà is, of course, the famous film studio in Rome that is considered the Hollywood of Italy.

As I mentioned in my detailed review of Palazzo Margherita, Coppola and famed French interior designer Jacques Granges didn't miss a detail in restoring the palazzo and they didn't at the bar either. My favorite touch: "Cinecittà Bar" written out in faux lipstick on the bar mirror. (The antique bar itself came from Paris.)


Another beautiful design detail in the bar are the black and white photos of Italian film stars and directors of the 1950s and 60s - the golden age of Italian cinema.

Plus, the chefs behind the fabulous food at the hotel, including Chef Filomena, also make the dishes for the bar, so you're in for a treat no matter what you order.

Second photo by Lisa Limer

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

August in Italy: Montelago Celtic Festival

A Celtic festival of music and games is hardly the sort of thing you’d expect to find in the mountains of central Italy. But the Montelago Celtic Festival, launched in 2003, routinely attracts over 20,000 exuberant and kilted Italians and Europeans for a totally unique weekend experience.

Every year on the first weekend in August, the alpine plains of Colfiorito straddling the border of Le Marche and Umbria throb to the beat of Europe’s Celtic heavyweights, with the final act bringing the sun up on Sunday morning. This year the Peatbog Faeries headline the festival at 1:00am on Saturday night/Sunday morning (August 4th-5th), following in the footsteps of previous appearances by Hevia, Kila and Berrogüetto. The mainly under-30 crowd, who camp in a reserved area for the two-night event, are boisterous but amicable as they heave to the music, toss the caber, pulse to the thrusts of a Celtic battle reenactment, and trip through the more than 50 Celtic stalls (amongst which is a stand dedicated to Tolkein).

Set in the spectacular surrounds of the central Apennine mountains, it’s a happening festival of rare camaraderie that offers something very different for the young European music and nature lover. Within striking distance are as many travel gems as you’d like from the outdoor (the Grand Circuit of the mythical Sibillini Mountains) and the celebrated (Assisi), to the “indoor” (Frassasi Caves) and the unheralded (the art and architecture of almost any village/town you happen into in Le Marche or Umbria). For more information in English, visit the festival's blog. -- Duncan Campbell