Heading to Italy!

In one week, I’ll be flying off to Italy on a long-awaited trip with all my three siblings and a couple of other family members. Watch for updates. We’ll start in the north, but spend a few days in the south, Sorrento area, at the end of the trip. The crazy weather in Europe recently has had us all watching forecasts with some anxiety. We are hoping for some spring temperatures and sunshine, but are determined to have fun together regardless. Here’s a hint about my arrival city: OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


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.


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.

Book Review: 100 Places in Italy…

100 placesSusan Van Allen’s love for Italy has taken her from the knobby toe of the boot to its mountainous cuff, and this guide delivers a kick in the pants to get you planning your own next adventure there. 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go is in its second edition, and is certainly not limited to women’s interests–but it reads like listening to your girlfriend’s advice on what made her trip to Italy so fantastic.

In another sense, it’s a great reference book because it’s divided into practical sections, sections like “The Divine” (Italy is full of that!), Gardens, Beaches, Indulge Your Tastebuds, and Shopping. Other sections inspire you to actively engage the Italian culture, including Active Adventures, Cooking Classes, and Learn Italian Crafts and Culture. And with many chapters, Van Allen includes advice on where to eat, or places to stay, to make your visit a “Golden Day”, one of those travel experiences you’ll never forget.

Van Allen incorporates the advice of other Italophile writers, too, and includes appendices on travel, budget, and packing tips. There are frequent tips for recommended reading, and references to helpful websites throughout the book.

The book covers all of Italy, not just the south, but I’ve chosen a couple of paragraphs (from the section on Active Adventures, and a chapter on Hiking) for you, as a sample of Van Allen’s writing:

“My favorite coastal hike is the Sentiero degli Dei (Path of the Gods) above the Amalfi Coast. Here steep paths, that were once used for mules to bring goods to the mountain villages, take you through lemon groves, forests, and vineyards. You get great views of the candy-colored villages below that stretch out to the tantalizing sea horizon.

“But even with a map, parts of the Sentieri degli Dei are not easy to follow, so to the rescue comes Francesco Carpegna, an energetic, silver-haired ex-New Yorker who’s lived in Positano for twenty years and created a company called Walking with the Gods. He can be booked to lead your hike and along the way he’ll fill you in on the many legends that surround this amazing stretch.”

I’m glad I bought the book in e-book version. It will be easy to take with me on my next adventure to Italy!

Agrigento’s Almond Blossom Festival

Blossoming Almonds by Hungarian painter Tividar  Kosztka Csontvary (1853-1919). Image in public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Blossoming Almonds by Hungarian painter Tividar Kosztka Csontvary (1853-1919). Image in public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Do festivals appeal to you? Agrigento’s Almond Blossom Festival is relatively new in Italian terms–only about 70 years of celebration so far. Many Italian festivals have several hundred years of history.

But even though the festival is young, the almond has been in Italy hundreds of years, since its introduction by the Arabs (who brought many other delicious foods with them, too). And the almond trees around Agrigento accent the city’s ancient Greek temples.

Temple of Concordia in Agrigento. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Temple of Concordia in Agrigento. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Debra Santangelo ofSicilian Connections has a blog post with great photos of the festival just now concluding, and from earlier years.

Of course, almond based foods accompany the celebrations, and here’s another link to a recipe for cassata, a Sicilian cake–and what a beauty!–from Manu’s Menu, a blog by Manuella whose Sicilian heritage figures heavily in her blog. The visual archive of recipes will make your mouth water.

Tell me, readers, you have a wide range of interests. What would have more appeal to you in Agrigento–the almonds or the temples? 

Calabria from a bicycle

Today I’m sharing a video I found on YouTube, the bicycle tour of a British guy named Pete, through Calabria. I encourage you to take a look for more of his videos–a nice combination of video footage, his own commentary, and some stills edited in. If you’ve considered cycling through Calabria, Pete’s experience may help you prepare. And if you celebrated Thanksgiving yesterday, you may be inspired to bicycle your way through some of those calories!

Where are you from?

Italians have a long and strong memory of place. My family’s ancestral village is Scigliano, but my great-grandmother left there about 115 years ago. Only a handful of her hundreds of descendants have ever been there, and to my knowledge she never returned.

Malito, with the Sila rising in the background.

Malito, with the Sila rising in the background.

When we visited in August 2013, we found a vacation rental house in another small town about 30 minutes away, the town of Malito, across the Savuto valley, and across the A3 motorway. In Malito we wandered around the town, shopped in the local market, and had some beers in the bar to cool off.

The people were very friendly, always wondering why strangers have chosen to stay in their town, and we told them our ancestors came from Scigliano. Since we couldn’t find a place to stay in Scigliano, we stayed in Malito, and we would go to Scigliano to see our distant cousins there.

Several times, after explaining this, I heard the same comments among them in Italian: “Oh, they aren’t from Malito. They are from Scigliano.” Still friendly, but I could almost see their interest wane as they nodded knowingly to one another. They’re strangers, not our own people.

I translated for my husband and brother, and we thought it was funny that they considered us to be “from” Scigliano–a description I would apply to someone who had at some time actually lived there, but not someone three generations removed from that experience.

John, a native born man from Malito who moved to Canada with his family at 14, heard us speaking English as we walked around Malito and invited us in for a drink. John spends a few months every year, now that he’s retired, in a house inherited from his parents. His wife doesn’t come with him. She’s from Marzi, he explained. She doesn’t like to come and stay in Malito. Marzi is another small town across the motorway–about 25 minutes by car from Malito.

On our visits to Scigliano, when we explain our local heritage, we have been welcomed warmly by pretty much everyone, whether related to us or not. They also think of us as being “from” Scigliano. Their bright-eyed curiosity kindles, and they have more questions. It’s a very warm and embracing experience, the kind I wish for every visitor to an ancestral place.

A night in Agrifoglio

When we drove south to Calabria in August, we were hoping to get a room at the B & B we stayed in nine years ago in Scigliano–B & B Calabria.

What were we thinking? It was Ferragosto week, and our friend Raffaele could not accommodate us. He recommended another B & B, in a different part of Scigliano, the frazione of Agrifoglio. I didn’t know there was such a thing.

Valentino (left) and Mario de Rose welcomed us to the B & B Agrifoglio.

Valentino (left) and Mario de Rose welcomed us to the B & B Agrifoglio.

Agrifoglio is a tiny hamlet a little higher in the Sila foothills than Scigliano, and closer to the town of Colosimi. We took the road to Colosimi, and after a couple of phone calls to get directions from the Bed and Breakfast Agrifoglio, Valentino arrived at the old, now closed, Coraci railroad station, to meet us. From there we wound our way along the hillsides for the few miles to Agrifoglio.

The B & B was renovated in the last couple of years, and has two rooms for rent. Both are large, comfortable second-floor rooms (that is the first floor in Italy, because they don’t number the ground floor, but second floor in American), and have private bathrooms. There is also a lounge for guests. Downstairs in the breakfast room the wall is adorned with Mario’s certificate as a “Cavaliere” (champion) of “Sua Maesta” (his majesty) the pepperoncino, issued by the Italian Academy of the Pepperoncino.Agrifoglio-certificate

Valentino speaks English pretty well–his dad, Mario, doesn’t. Both are very hospitable, and we were happy to have a comfortable bed (with memory foam pad), and windows that opened as the evening cooled off. The bathroom had a toilet, sink, and tub/shower, but the hand-held shower head did not have a secure holder, so really had to be hand-held.

Grapes ripening in the B & B's garden.

Grapes ripening in the B & B’s garden.

Agrifoglio is very small–there’s no restaurant or even a coffee shop, so we drove back to Colosimi for dinner at the Blue Moon Ristorante Pizzeria, and were glad we did. No one there spoke English, but we got by, and enjoyed the pizza we shared. In fact we liked it enough to go back a few nights later! They were doing a booming business that night, and everyone in the place seemed to know each other–gotta love small town life.

Agrifoglio-breakfastAfter a terrific breakfast the next morning (check out the photo!) at the B & B, Mario and Valentino showed us around their garden–grapevines, dahlias, sunflowers, and a couple of holly bushes. When I commented on them, Valentino told me that’s what “agrifoglio” means–holly. And when we prepared to pack up, they packed up too–a bunch of the breakfast food went into a take-home bag for us to have for lunch.Agrifoglio-garden

I recommend this place for anyone needing a stop on the way up to the Sila, and it is roomy enough to be comfortable for a few nights if you’re exploring the area. We hadn’t planned to stay there, but I’m glad we did.