POSTCARDS FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD: TUSCANY

“Tuscany was the only country in the world that you could call a «home»: the rest of Italy, and France, Great Britain, Spain, Germany, were Republics, Monarchies, Empires, not «home».”

Curzio Malaparte

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BELLEZZE D’ITALIA: VAL DI CHIANA

Today I’ll continue our trip through tuscan countryside: Val di Chiana is the name used to denominate the country around Cortona and Arezzo. The valley gives name to a type of beef meat, the “chianina”, a local product tipically served everywhere”al sangue” (rare) with vegetables. To reach Val di Chiana from Val D’Orcia, there are about 20-25 km from Montepulciano to Cortona: Cortona it’s a medieval village developed on several levels, with beautiful churches and monasteries.

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The main square in Cortona is Piazza della Repubblica, placed on a higher level than the contiguous streets, which bring down to the town’s medieval doors.

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Cortona has just a special charme, with all these ancient sideways that you can glimpse strolling in the main street. To be lost in these tiny streets is just the best way to visit and appreciate the town.

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Close to the town doors, in few alleys, you can admire also some ancient medieval houses: with a little imagination, you’ll go backwards over the centuries.

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After that, following the main road by car, you’ll soon reach Arezzo (half-hour); Arezzo too is placed on several levels, and the most interesting part of the city is on the peak of the hill: so, you’ll start your “promenade” at the “feet” of the town, climbing littlle by little the ancient alleys till you’ll reach the main square (Piazza Grande, or Piazza Vasari) and the Duomo.

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Curiously, the main square is similar to Piazza del Campo in Siena: it has the same incline, and the main buildings (a church, Pieve di Santa Maria, and the CourtHouse) are surrounded by characteristic multi-level houses. Just on the right side of the church, you can admire the “Logge del Vasari”, a long colonnade that ran along the square.

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The Duomo, dedicated to San Donato, in its back is surrounded by beautiful gardens, and the gothic inside is perfectly preserved. In the church, Pope Gregorio X’s relics are on display, and you can admire the fresco paintings of Piero della Francesca and beautiful stained-glass windows of Guillaume de Marcillat.

BELLEZZE D’ITALIA: VAL D’ORCIA

Hello! Last week-end we made a short trip in Tuscany, in the heart of Val D’Orcia, a countryside place between several ancient villages around Siena, in the South of Tuscany.

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We built a beautiful itinerary (also culinary, of course!) trought the Val D’Orcia and Val di Chiana (Cortona, Arezzo) which is just bordering on Umbria and Trasimeno Lake.

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We started our tour from Montepulciano, well-know for its excellent red wines. The countryside all around is just splendid, and the position of these villages allows to have a great view all around.

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To arrive in Montepulciano and Pienza there are panoramic bow-road that will excite you while driving.

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Pienza is also famous for the production of the Pecorino di Pienza, a great cheese which in Tuscany is served with cold cuts.

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Following the main road after visiting Pienza, we arrived in San Quirico D’Orcia, a small village which exhibits some of the better places and countryside views around.

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Typical tree of tuscan countryside is the cypress, which stands in line one after the other, creating suggestive path to walk and hike.

BELLEZZE D’ITALIA: VENEZIA

Venice: a great classic to visit. I’ve been in Venice several times, with my parents, with schoolmates, and also by myself. Venice is a charming city. I agree that it’s unique in the world, with its mill runs and bridges. I understand that it’s also reproduced abroad.Venice has been several times also the setting or chosen location of numerous films, novels, poems and other cultural references.

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Venice is a city in NorthEastern Italy sited on a group of 118 small islands separated by canals (177) and linked by bridges (409!-sources from Wikipedia). It is located in the marshy Venetian Lagoon which stretches along the shoreline, between the mouths of the Po and the Piave Rivers. Venice is renowned for the beauty of its setting, its architecture and its artworks. The city in its entirety is listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site, along with its lagoon.

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Venice is the capital of the Veneto region.The name is derived from the ancient Veneti people who inhabited the region by the 10th century BC.The Republic of Venice was a major maritime power during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, as well as a very important center of commerce.Situated on the Adriatic Sea, Venice always traded extensively with the Byzantine Empire and the Muslim world. By the late 13th century, Venice was the most prosperous city in all of Europe. During this time, Venice’s leading families vied with each other to build the grandest palaces and support the work of the greatest and most talented artists. The city was governed by the Great Council, which was made up of members of the noble families of Venice. One member of the great council was elected “Doge”, or duke, the ceremonial head of the city, who normally held the title until his death.Venice’s long decline started in the 15th century, when it first made an unsuccessful attempt to hold Thessalonica against the Ottomans (1423–1430). It also sent ships to help defend Constantinople against the Turks (1453). After Constantinople fell to Sultan Mehmet II, he declared war on Venice. The war lasted thirty years and cost Venice much of its eastern Mediterranean possessions. Venice began to lose its position as a center of international trade during the later part of the Renaissance as Portugal became Europe’s principal intermediary in the trade with the East, striking at the very foundation of Venice’s great wealth.

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The buildings of Venice are constructed on closely spaced wooden piles. Most of these piles are still intact after centuries of submersion. The foundations rest on the piles, and buildings of brick or stone sit above these footings. The piles penetrate a softer layer of sand and mud until they reach a much harder layer of compressed clay. Submerged by water, in oxygen-poor conditions, wood does not decay as rapidly as on the surface. Most of these piles were made from trunks of alder trees,a wood noted for its water resistance.
Tourism has been a major sector of Venetian industry since the 18th century, thanks to its beautiful cityscape, uniqueness, and rich musical and artistic cultural heritage. In the 19th century, it became a fashionable centre for the rich and famous, often staying or dining at luxury establishments such as the Danieli Hotel and the Caffè Florian. It continued being a fashionable city in vogue right into the early 20th century. In the 1980s, the Carnival of Venice was revived and the city has become a major centre of international conferences and festivals, such as the prestigious Venice Biennale and the Venice Film Festival, which attract visitors from all over the world.
If you take a tour in the city center, there are numerous attractions in Venice, such as St Mark’s Basilica, the Grand Canal, and the Piazza San Marco. The Lido di Venezia is also a popular international luxury destination, attracting thousands of actors, critics and celebrities.

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However, Venice’s popularity as a major worldwide tourist destination has caused several problems, including the fact that the city can be very overcrowded at some points of the year. It is regarded by some as a tourist trap, and by others as a “living museum”.Unlike most other places in Western Europe, and the world, Venice has become widely known for its element of elegant decay.

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As you surely can imagine, in the old centre, the canals serve the function of roads, and almost every form of transport is on water or on foot.The classical Venetian boat is the gondola, although it is now mostly used for tourists, or for weddings,or other ceremonies, or as ‘traghetti’ to cross the Canale Grande in the absence of a nearby bridge. Many gondolas are lushly appointed with crushed velvet seats and Persian rugs. For everyday transfers, people use to take the “vaporetto” (steamboat).

BELLEZZE D’ITALIA: LAGO DI COMO

Hello!Happy New Year to all of you! Sorry for not being here during these days, but i was very busy eating (and preparing) any sort of food, visiting parents and friends, and so on .. I’m glad that after today we’ll return to normal routine, because I need time to organize what to write on the blog, of course! I would like to start the year describing our short trip to Lake Como (Lario) and Bellagio. I can’t imagine a better way to start the new year! Every time I travel to some place in Italy, I always discover something new and breathtaking views. I’ve always considered myself a real traveller, who catch every chance to travel, often abroad, but Italy remains my hometown and it’s plenty of places to discover.

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Here a short account of our daily trip, with some shots that I took on the way. We took the highway till the exit Como/Chiasso (where is located the frontier post for Switzerland, Como is only 5 km before the boundary line). We start our tour from Bellagio, a tiny village on the lake shore, 35 km far from Como. The panoramic way is a narrow and tight-curved mountain road, that ran along the lake. We took some beautiful shots, even if weather was not really good. I suggest this itinerary because of the beauty of the landscape. It’s an area of ancient villas and tiny town, of acquatic sports and good food and products, like oil, wine, mushroom, and honey.

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First of all, we took a tour in Bellagio towncenter, going up and down on the stairs that connect several levels. It’s really characteristic, and i can imagine how many tourists crowd the boutiques and the cafés during spring and summer. All around the town is tidy, clean and welcoming.
With the boats down to the lake shore you can easily join the other side of the lake and visite the other villages. (they take on board also the rented cars, so the excursions are just so easily to organize also by yourself.)

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Bellagio is called the “pearl” of Lake Como, cause it’s undoubtedly the most famous resort on the lake. For centuries, its scenic location has enchanted artists and writers, not only from Italy, but also from abroad. It is situated on the tip of a headland that divides the lake into the two “legs” of Como and Lecco.  The town stretches along the coast and part of it goes up the slopes of the promontory.  Because of its location it has a great variety of views; indeed, it offers a good view of the whole lake. Finally, on the northern horizon, you can see the Pre-Alps.

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We had lunch in a tiny restaurant in Bellagio, (“Barchetta Restaurant”, I liked the name, – small boat – ) where we tasted some “bruschette” with tomatoes and extra virgin-oil, and I try a specialty of Northern Italy: Pizzoccheri, a type of pasta flavoured with cabbage, potatoes, local cheese and oil. It’s the perfect dish for a cold and windy winter day.
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In the afternoon, we returned to Como to take a tour in the citycenter, that is located on the lake shore. The Duomo Square, with one the biggest cathedral of the Northern Italy, surely deserves a visit. The citycenter presents even nowadays the typical aspect of the original roman “castrum-preserved medieval walls  and big observation towers (Porta Torre, Torre Gattoni, San Vitale).

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There are many interesting sites to visit meandering through the streets of Como: historical monuments, beautiful villas and breath-taking sights .The historic centre is located inside the ancient city walls where there are many shops and boutiques, and plenty of cafes to rest and enjoy the view. It’s a really pleasant tour to make, I recommend it!Cris

BELLEZZE D’ITALIA: FIRENZE

Hello there! Today i’ll show you a collection of my shots taken in Florence during the years: I’m in love with Florence, so characteristic and full of historical monuments. And of course, a healthy and tasty cooking!

It’s quite easy to visit Florence in a couple of days, if you’re never been there.Main monuments and churches are concentrated in the city center, and of course you can always take as landmark the river Arno, wich divide Florence into two parts.

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One of my favourite church ever is Santa Maria Novella, the cathedral of Florence (1296-1436): a huge monument ver well known because of the Brunelleschi Dome, and the Giotto Bell Tower. In front of the church we can see the “Battistero of San Giovanni”, covered with white and green Marble like the cathedral.

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Following the main streets (called “Corso”) you’ll enter in the hearth of the city: Piazza della Signoria and the “Galleria degli Uffizi” will make you astonished and bring you back in time in the medieval era.

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If you follow walking outside the Galleria Degli Uffizi you reach the Arno River and you’ll see the famous “Ponte Vecchio”, where you will find many shops of fine italian gold jewelry. The shops are called “botteghe” and are tiny wooden houses in which there are goldsmith studios. On this bridge you have a wonderful panorama of the buildings all around; on the other side of the River, there are many tiny restaurant with verandas on the river, very romantic…

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At the end of “Ponte Vecchio”, you can follow the signs for “Palazzo Pitti”, one of the biggest residence of the Medici Family. If you have time, take a visit of the “Boboli Garden”, and inside the palace there are always art exhibitions.

PLACES THAT I LOVE IN FLORENCE
DANTE ALIGHIERI’S HOUSE (http://www.museocasadidante.it/?site_lang=it)

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SAN LORENZO’S MARKET
Returning to the train station, you’ll enjoy the leather market in San Lorenzo, near the Church of San Lorenzo, with the “Princes Dome”. If you stay for lunch, i suggest a “focacceria”, tiny bars in which you can try sandwiches and flat bread with tuscan typical products, served hot. Delicious!

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SANTA CROCE SQUARE
This is one of the most lovely corner in the city. This is a meeting point for people, which can watch sometimes some street artists. During summer nights take place musical shows.

Next time we’ll talk about the cooking in Florence, i promise! Cris