Food confession!

Brace yourselves, because here it comes: I don’t really like gelato.

I know it’s a heretical view–my Italian blood must be too thinned out by mixing with English, German, and miscellaneous other roots.

Caserta gelatoBut we were encouraged by my friend Nicola in Gaeta, to stop in at his cousin’s gelateria when we visited Caserta.  So we located Bianco Bio at Via Ferrante 38, just a few blocks from our hotel and right on the way to the royal palace. They sell organic gelato, a little pricier than the typical gelato, but my oh my! I ordered a coconut cone, and it was delicious!! Too bad we weren’t in Caserta longer–I’d have gone back for more. If you ever find yourself in Caserta–visiting the royal palace, maybe?–stop by Bianco Bio for a gelato treat.

The Royal Palace at Caserta

In the 1750s King Charles VII of Naples determined to build a royal palace that would outdo Versailles in beauty and grandeur. He chose the architect, Luigi Vanvitelli to make that goal a reality. The result is a 1200-room marvel of a palace, in fact the largest royal palace in the world, by volume. Each of the four inner courtyards is nearly an acre in size.

A waterfall along the long watercourse behind the palace.

A waterfall along the long watercourse behind the palace.

I had read reviews of visitors who complained that the interior which is available to tour was just empty rooms deteriorating in the heat. That was not my experience. Period furniture and artworks were in most of the rooms on our tour–though no interior photography was permitted. The tour covers a small fraction of the palace. Some areas are used for offices of government agencies. I believe most of the palace is unoccupied.

The exterior is perhaps even more of an attraction than the palace itself. A dramatic waterway forms the centerline for a series of parks and gardens.

For the rest, my photos will speak for me.

One of the four massive courtyards inside the royal palace.

One of the four massive courtyards inside the royal palace.

This spectacular staircase leads to the "piano nobile", the floor containing the royal apartments. In the film 'Angels and Demons' this staircase was used for a scene set at the Vatican.

This spectacular staircase leads to the “piano nobile”, the floor containing the royal apartments. In the film ‘Angels and Demons’ this staircase was used for a scene set at the Vatican.

A little more stairway detail.

A little more stairway detail.

One of the ponds along the watercourse in the palace's "back yard."

One of the ponds along the watercourse in the palace’s “back yard.”

 

Artistic detail is everywhere!

Artistic detail is everywhere!

Luigi Vanvitelli's statue stands in a park named for him, in the town of Caserta, a few blocks from the palace he designed.

Luigi Vanvitelli’s statue stands in a park named for him, in the town of Caserta, a few blocks from the palace he designed.

 

Planning for (not just dreaming of) a visit to Italy. Please help!

DFRINLPLUAEUKpassportstampsI’m one of those travelers who likes to imagine traveling footloose, but really wants the security of reservations and an itinerary. Hubby is happy to let me make the plans without too much of his opinion, and fortunately our likes are alike enough for that. But I’m a bit overwhelmed with planning this trip–we have a lot going on the home front, soooo…

My readers, can you help me? We will be spending two weeks in Italy this August, with the first six days committed to Venice and surroundings. We will then fly to Rome or Naples, and rent a car. Any suggestions about car rental? We are hoping my brother will join us about this point, so need a car that will suit three adults with light to moderate luggage. And I’m not familiar with the European car types being offered for rent. Lancia? Fiat? Would it be easy to find diesel if we rented a Mercedes?

We will drive to Caserta to spend that night, and plan to visit the palace the next morning. Any recommendations for hotel or palace visit?Calabria-Gonfalone

After seeing the palace (is three hours enough time to allow?) we will drive to Cosenza for a night or two. The next morning we’ll look around Cosenza and the area. Is there a good hotel with car parking? And what sightseeing do you recommend in the area? Maybe we should just go to the beach! (But more of that later.)

We’re planning to spend August 13-16 in my ancestral village, Scigliano, so will celebrate Ferragosto there–hopefully with my Italian cugini. What kind of celebration might we expect for Ferragosto?

Map_of_region_of_Calabria,_Italy,_with_provinces-it.svgFor the next three days we will be “touring the toe”. If you had three days there, how would you spend it? I’d love to hear about your favorite beach, favorite museum, favorite castle–and not just tourist experiences. Is there a great place to hear  Calabrian music? Farm visits? Hiking? I doubt we will stay in a beachfront hotel–but who knows? We’d like to have a look at both coasts of the toe.

On August 19 we’ll turn in our car and fly out of Lamezia Terme to London, so will want to spend the night of the 18th close to there. Recommendations?

I am so looking forward to your suggestions. And hope you are looking forward to coming along via the blog later in the year.

*All images on this post are from Wikimedia Commons.

Caserta, the Versailles of Italy

My research in Italy in 2004 focused on thirteenth and fourteenth century history. As our visit came to an end, we didn’t want to return our rental car in a city, with all the crazy traffic, so we chose–and I can’t recall why–to drop it off at Caserta, north of Naples, and take the train back to Rome from there. I knew nothing about Caserta, because its major claim to fame developed about 450 years after the history I was most interested in.

File:CasertaNorthernAspect.jpgAcross the street from the train station, a few hundred yards away, we could see a massive building, certainly palatial, and we looked with some curiosity but no spare time, wondering what it might be. Our view was not the one you see above, but from the other side of the building, with no hint of the wonderful canal and park.

Now I know. The Reggia di Caserta, the royal palace built by the Bourbon kings of Naples in the 18th century. In fact, the largest palace contructed during that century, and among the largest buildings built in that period, it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With 1200 rooms, it is the largest royal palace in the world.

It is on my itinerary for Italy next year!

The palace was conceived and construction begun by King Charles VII of Naples, but he inherited the throne of Spain in 1759, and ceded Naples to his son Ferdinand who was only eight years old. After a period of rule in Naples through regents until he reached his majority, Ferdinand occasionally lived at Caserta from its completion in 1780 until his death in 1825. This included the turbulent Napoleonic period during which Ferdinand was deposed and restored three times. The Bourbons continued to rule until 1861, when Italian unification dissolved the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.

Fast forward to World War II, when the palace again served a prominent purpose as the headquarters of the Supreme Allied Commander. In April of 1945, the German surrender in Italy was signed at Caserta.

In more recent years, the palace has been used as a movie filming site for a couple of Star Wars movies, and for scenes from Angels and Demons. In Mission Impossible III, the square where the Lamborghini is blown up is one of the inner squares of the palace.

Visitors today note that the palace is completely unfurnished, and a bit run down, but it is still a popular tourist stop. The grounds are as much an attraction as the palace itself, with a three mile long “Royal Park” considered by many to be superior to the park at Versailles.

Here’s a video peek at some of the Baroque wonders of the palace and park: