Abruzzo’s gift that keeps on giving

Glenn and I with Piero at the Cantina di Biffi in Sulmona. Note bottle of Montepulciano d'Abruzzo on the table.

Glenn and I with Piero at the Cantina di Biffi in Sulmona. Note bottle of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo on the table.

We drank a lot of wine in Italy. Italian wine. Big mouthfilling reds and crisp Calabrian whites. But one of the most lasting wine pleasures we discovered was Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, a wine I had never heard of before spending a few weeks in Abruzzo.

So last week my brother, Glenn, forwarded me an email from a wine store, touting “a true gem of a wine” in Fantini’s 2012 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. The email claims a wine score of 90 for it, though my online research turns up 85 or 87. Am I concerned? Naaa. I’m gonna go look for some of this, which is available from several places at about $10 a bottle, and I’m gonna bring it home, and I’m gonna cook up some pasta with sauce that includes zucchini (because I am overloaded with it right now). Then I’ll pour a couple of big red glasses of that stuff.

I’ll be wishing my brother was here to enjoy it, like we did in Sulmona in 2004 at the Cantina di Biffi. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo has become my go-to red since then.

Readers, please share your best Italian wine experience in the comments. What made it special?

Destination weddings, Italian style

Wedding in Catania, "Carrozza in Piazza Duomo" by Giovanni dall'Orto (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Wedding in Catania, “Carrozza in Piazza Duomo” by Giovanni dall’Orto (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Does the Villa Caesar Augustus on Capri sound like your ideal wedding venue? Maybe you are more inclined to exchange vows on the Lovers’ Walk  along the Amalfi Coast. Or take a few of your friends on an antique sailboat and tie the knot on the water. Destination weddings in Italy come in all shapes and sizes.

Commercial wedding organizers are prepared to help you plan a wedding just about anywhere in the Italian South. (No doubt the north, too, but that is somebody else’s blog!) Here are some examples:

A 1950s Italian wedding.

A 1950s Italian wedding.

Sicily: A seventeenth century baroque castle near Taormina offers garden weddings for up to 250 guests, with on-site catering and hotel rooms for about 50 people. Enjoy music and dancing ’til dawn.

Calabria: A medieval chapel attached to a nineteenth century luxury residence near Cosenza, with religious ceremonies available in the chapel or civil ceremonies in other parts of the venue.

Basilicata: A masseria, or large farmhouse, in the hills, has been converted to a beautiful wedding venue with lots of privacy, and a more informal environment.

Apulia: Need space for 800 of your closest friends? Get married on the beach at Monopoli. The club has a private beach and restaurant–with parking for 500 cars.

Campania: Romantic to the core, Sorrento offers numerous wedding venues, and the possibility of a religious wedding inside the medieval cloisters in the historic center of town. Stunning views of the Gulf of Naples and Vesuvius.

A wedding in Amalfi. © Jorge Royan / http://www.royan.com.ar / CC-BY-SA-3.0

A wedding in Amalfi. © Jorge Royan / http://www.royan.com.ar / CC-BY-SA-3.0

Abruzzo: In a castle near Chieti, you can host your reception dinner in the cantina, the castle’s winemaking cellar, surrounded by enormous wooden casks. The castle sits among grapevines on a hillside above the Adriatic Sea.

One Italian wedding website, Slow Dreams, has an especially helpful page on legal factors involved with marrying in Italy. A Google search for ‘wedding venues in Italy’ turned up nearly three million hits–you won’t have any trouble finding a wedding planner to help you. If you have accomplished the first step–finding your lifelong partner–see what Italy has to offer for your perfect wedding.

Ravello Concert Society: Classical music on the Amalfi Coast

The terrace at Villa Cimbrone. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

The terrace at Villa Cimbrone. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

On a hilltop just a few kilometers from Amalfi, the town of Ravello has long been a haven for musicians, artists, writers, and actors. Founded in the 5th century, Ravello was named a World Heritage Site in 1996.

How did I miss it!!??

Although Ravello is linked with some very big names in the arts–Boccaccio, D. H. Lawrence, Greta Garbo, Tennessee Williams, Paul Newman–but perhaps the most enduring connection is with the composer Richard Wagner. Villa Rufolo (built in the 13th century) inspired Wagner for the stage design of his opera Parsifal.

The garden at Villa Rufolo.

The garden at Villa Rufolo.

Wagner’s music continues to anchor the festival music of Ravello, as it has for more than 60 years, but a wide variety of classical music is included in the programs these days.

The Ravello Concert Society’s website is worth a visit–and turn on the sound! You will enjoy the classical music as you browse the wealth of photos and information they provide, including details of the coming performances and links to purchase tickets.

The Ravello Festival website includes additional performance information–though not all of it is in English.

The pulpit in Ravello's Duomo.

The pulpit in Ravello’s Duomo.

Performances are offered throughout much of the year in historic villas, gardens, and on a spectacular concert stage overhanging the sea.

Looks like another destination to add to my travel wish list.

Easter in Italy: Parade of statues

If you visit Italy at Easter time, you don’t have to go to church to see the statues. A common feature of religious holidays in Italy is the procession through the streets with statues from the church. I’ve seen this a couple of times in Italy, but have never lived anywhere with this practice. Here are some photos, all from Wikimedia Commons, of Easter processions with statues. And some of them run with the statues!

Have you seen similar processions when traveling in Italy? Please share in the comments!

Easter procession in Ribera, Sicily.

Easter procession in Ribera, Sicily.

Residents crowd the balconies in Sulmona to watch the Madonna run through the streets.

Residents crowd the balconies in Sulmona to watch the Madonna run through the streets.

In Acquaro, Calabria, the Easter procession features John the Baptist running through town.

In Acquaro, Calabria, the Easter procession features John the Baptist running through town.

And here is a link to an article with a little history about one such procession, on the island of Ischia near Naples.

A visit to Segesta–secondhand.

I have yet to visit Sicily, though a couple of my favorite books about Italy take place there. (See the book reviews here and here.) Today I’m sharing another writer’s experience visiting one of Sicily’s premier ancient sites, the Greek temple at Segesta.

The ancient Greek temple at Segesta. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

The ancient Greek temple at Segesta. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Honestly, I just read about Segesta in another book yesterday. I was reading aloud to my mother as we sat in the car, waiting in line for a ferry across Puget Sound.

Then I saw that the Sicilian Housewife has a guest post about a visit to Segesta, along with wonderful photos. The journey to Segesta is as entertaining as the photos. So sit back and enjoy a mini trip to Sicily today! Just click here.

Ferragosto fun in the Sila

The western end of Lago Arvo.

The western end of Lago Arvo.

Six months ago I hoped to have most of my adventures from last August posted here–but that hasn’t happened. So today I am revisiting one of my favorite days in Calabria. The weekend after Ferragosto we drove up to the Sila, the mountains above Scigliano, to Lake Arvo. As we drove higher, the lowland tree cover gradually gave way to evergreens. We passed through a small town with some kind of dirt bike motocross gathering, and beside the road a stand was set up to sell local mushrooms. Sila motocross (1280x960)When we reached the lake, the town of Lorica had a street fair in progress. Sila bar (1280x935)After refreshments at a local bar, we wandered along the lake and through the stalls selling clothing, souvenirs, toys, and leather goods. What a crowd! Families were out for the holiday weekends, and kids took turns getting pony rides.Sila pony (1280x1066)

We decided to continue to the far end of the lake, and find a place to have some lunch. As the road wound through thick pines, traffic clogged to a crawl, with cars parked Italian style all along the road, wherever they would (almost) fit. It was easy to see the cause of the backup–a roadside grill sent smoke and a mouthwatering aroma into the air. We drove a bit further, and then turned back to try lunch at the grill.

The line at the grill caught our attention.

The line at the grill caught our attention.

We each had a grilled sausage on a bun with various toppings–sauteed greens, mushrooms, sauces–and beer was the ideal drink in the summer heat. The few tables were crowded, but we were able to join a couple at a larger table, and visited with them in my feeble Italian. They were enjoying their annual tradition of a summer day trip to the lake. The crowd was definitely Italian–we didn’t recognize any other foreign visitors. Our entertainment was the team manning the grill, with one guy warming the bread on a side grill, while two others grilled sausages as fast as they could, taking them from long ropes of sausage hung up above the smoking stove.

The grill team cranked out a lot of sandwiches!

The grill team cranked out a lot of sandwiches!

We returned to our rental in Malito with great memories of our day in the Sila.

I certainly enjoyed mine!

I certainly enjoyed mine!

Carnevale time! Are you ready?

Masks hanging in a shop mimic the crowds at Carnevale.

Masks hanging in a shop mimic the crowds at Carnevale.

Carnival season is well under way in Venice.  Carnevale is widely celebrated around Italy, but in many places only for the day or so before Ash Wednesday, which falls on March 5 this year.

carnival costumes (960x1280)In Venice, however, their celebration begins almost three weeks beforehand. You can visit the official website to see some of the many events that encompass the famous Carnival of Venice.

Since I’m not from a family, culture, or religious tradition that celebrates Carnival, it was fun to be in Italy a few years ago, when the appearance of costumed children on the streets of Sorrento in February surprised me. Some of the adults dressed up too, and most memorable were a pair of Dalmatian dogs getting into a car along the main street and driving off.

Animal masks of all sorts!

Animal masks of all sorts!

Last summer , I saw just what a year-round event Carnevale is in Venice. We saw everything from simple white mask “blanks” you could paint yourself, selling for a Euro or so, to glorious extravaganzas from feathered head to pointed toe, costing thousands. Some of my photos will tell the story better! 

Did you grow up with a Carnival tradition? I’d love to hear some of your experiences. Please comment!

carnival clown (1280x720)

Some Carnival characters can be scary!

Some Carnival characters can be scary!

carnival whites (690x1280)

In the record breaking heat last August this girl dressed in her finery to entertain tourists along the waterfront.

In the record breaking heat last August this girl dressed in her finery to entertain tourists along the waterfront.