Two years ago today…

We were visiting the gorgeous Royal Palace at Caserta on August 12, 2013. Maybe a couple of my photos will inspire you to add this stop to your Italy travel dreams. The palace was modeled after Versailles but is about four times bigger–it has 1200 rooms! DSCN0659 DSCN0687 DSCN0680 DSCN0637 DSCN0612

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June 2: Festa della Repubblica in Italy

Today marks the 69th birthday of the Italian Republic. Google Italy has a special doodle for the occasion:

google doodle

And here’s how one Italian storyteller imagines a future Italy–a sweet story told in Italian, with English subtitles.

New world record from Molise?

Snow in Capracotta. Image from the Capracotta.com website, which also provides ski information in three languages.

Snow in Capracotta. Image from the Capracotta.com website, which also provides ski information in three languages.

We rarely hear from Molise, that region southeast of Abruzzo, northwest of Puglia. Molise extends from the mountains of central Italy to the Adriatic coast. But a village in Molise made international news today, boasting a world record snowfall of more than 100 inches–in just 18 hours! Take a look here. 

The village of Capracotta (translation: cooked goat. Hmmm.) is in ski country, so winter snow is common. But their recent snowfall was out of the ordinary, even for them! Check out this webcam for an image of Piazza Falconi.

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.

Adriatic beaches in Italy

Italy is a country of coastlines, and those include many beautiful beaches. Broad swaths of sand stretch into the distance at some of them. Tiny white crescents hide between rocky cliffs at others. While the beaches of Tropea and the Amalfi coast get lots of attention, there are also lovely beaches on the Adriatic, Italy’s eastern coast.

Like most beaches in Italy, you will find neat rows of sun umbrellas with lounge chairs, available for rent for a few Euros. Here are some photos and links to whet your appetite:1024px-Alimini_Otranto 1024px-Termoli_Spiaggia_di_Sant'Antonio Vieste pizzomuno Rodi_Garganico

Note: Nude beaches became legal in Italy in 2006. Click here for an article in English about them. Most of the beaches mentioned in the article are in central and northern Italy. Here is another article, in Italian, about the first nude beach in Abruzzo. There are others around southern Italy too, if you want to seek them out.

Rules of the table: Dining etiquette in Italy

Cappuccino_Loves_ItalyEverywhere you go, there are certain dining practices, expectations, and rules. In Argentina, mate (a tea) is served in a gourd with a silver straw, and is passed from person to person around the table. In Morocco, if you take a bone from the stew, you are expected to suck out the marrow. In Russia, table settings typically include a vodka shot glass. Japanese chopsticks are different from Chinese chopsticks.

I have always found Italy pretty laid back about rules in general, but there are some “food rules” that continue to come up. Cappuccino (and coffee with milk in general) is for morning. Don’t twirl spaghetti using a spoon. (That’s for children.) And please for the love of all that is edible, do not put cheese on seafood dishes.

Some people have compiled and explained these rules, and one of the places to find them is a website called Etiquette Scholar, which can help you with dining and related etiquette just about anywhere in the world.

Life in Italy also has a post about Italian food rules, and the comments on it are fun and instructive as well.

And Conde Nast Traveler‘s website has advice for Italian dining from a couple of Italians.

I’m sure during my travels in Italy, I have broken lots of the “rules” and nobody made a big deal of it. I know I’ve had cappuccino in the afternoon. Hubby loves grated cheese on his seafood pasta. But if I see an opportunity to learn more about Italian life and culture by adjusting some dining habits, I’ll do it! Most often, Italians will be gracious enough not to point out your gaffe, but if they do, I hope you’ll be able to thank them for teaching you something new. Buon appetito!

Supper Party by Gerard van Honthorst, ca. 1619. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Supper Party by Gerard van Honthorst, ca. 1619. Image from Wikimedia Commons.