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Martha Bakerjian

Italy Travel

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Painting Vacation in Italy

Monday April 14, 2014

art-studio.jpgTaking cooking classes in Italy is very popular but how about taking a painting class in the country known for its great art? You can learn to paint on your Italian vacation at La Goccia Bed and Art Studio, in a small hill town in the countryside south of Bologna. Courses, from 2 to 6 days, are designed for 1 or 2 people and include accommodation in a comfortable bedroom in the studio, breakfast, and use of the kitchen. Irma, the instructor, is offering a 10% discount for classes in June or September - see details or sign up at Italian Decor Art Classes.

More Classes: Learn to Cook in Italy

Italian Decor Art photo by James Martin

The Seaside Town of Giovinazzo in Puglia

Wednesday April 9, 2014

giovinazzo puglia photoGiovinazzo, just north of Bari on the coast of southern Italy's Puglia region, is a great place to experience local life. Giovinazzo has a a small medieval center, a large and lively main square ringed with cafes with a park in the center, and a fishing port where you can watch the fishermen bring in their daily catch. There are several good restaurants where you can eat fresh fish and local specialties. The town is on the rail line and it's easy to visit Bari, Trani, and other seaside towns by train. If you have a car, you can explore inland towns too.

You can live like a local by staying in a vacation apartment such as the Duchess Sea House, on the top floor of the historic Palazzo Ducale, overlooking the Cathedral and sea. Giovinazzo is best visited in spring or fall but especially avoid August, when the town sees big crowds. For more information and photos, see A Look at Giovinazzo.

Photo of Giovinazzo Cathedral from terrace of Duchess Sea House by Martha Bakerjian

Where to Stay in San Gimignano, Tuscany

Monday April 7, 2014

We've just returned from a blogger tour with My Tuscan Experience to San Gimignano, one of Tuscany's most popular hill towns. San Gimignano is known for its 14 surviving medieval towers (there were once many more) that dominate its skyline. Because tourists often visit the town on a tour or as a day trip, it's really much nicer to spend the night to enjoy the peaceful evenings or early mornings when it's not so crowded.

san-gimignano-1.jpgWe were hosted in two nice 3-star hotels, both with excellent restaurants. Hotel Bel Soggiorno, in a renovated 13th century building, is on the main street right inside the town walls and has fantastic views of the countryside (shown in the photo) from the dining room and many of its 21 rooms, some of which have a balcony or terrace. Hotel Sovestro is 2 kilometers from town and has swimming pools, free parking, and all rooms come with a balcony or terrace. From Hotel Sovestro it took us less than half an hour to walk to town on a dirt road and there were good views of San Gimignano along the way. Both hotels are comfortable, family-run places and I would be happy to return to either.

San Gimignano also makes a good base for visiting nearby places in Tuscany including Siena and Monteriggioni, the Chianti wine region, and Volterra.

View from Hotel Bel Soggiorno by Martha Bakerjian

Easter Traditions and Events in Umbria

Sunday April 6, 2014

pasqua-058.jpgCentral Italy's Umbria region is a good place to experience traditional events and foods, and that's especially true of holidays like Easter. Events for Easter week take place mainly on Good Friday, with processions or Stations of the Cross, and Easter Sunday, which mainly centers around food. The day after Easter, Pasquetta, is also a holiday in Italy and it's often celebrated by getting away from the cities into the countryside and since Umbria has many parks and natural areas, it has many popular places for the holiday.

Read about top places to go for processions, what to eat on Easter, and where to go for Pasquetta in Umbria Easter Traditions and Events.

More: Easter Week in Italy

Torta di Pasqua photo from Rebecca Winke, used by permission

6 Italian Cities to Visit in 2014

Tuesday April 1, 2014

ravenna italy picture, basilica di san vitale6 Italian cities are vying to become the European Capital of Culture in 2019. Although that's a long way off, all 6 of these cities are worth a visit now. Click on the link for each city to find out more about it:

  • Cagliari, on the island of Sardinia
  • Lecce, in Southern Italy's Puglia region
  • Matera, Southern Italy City of Cave Houses
  • Perugia, Umbria
  • Ravenna, Northern Italy City of Mosaics
  • Siena, Tuscany
The first European Capital of Culture was Athens in 1985 and since then three Italian cities have been designated European Capital of Culture so far - Florence in 1986, Bologna in 2000, and Genoa in 2004.

Ravenna photo by James Martin

George Clooney May Have Bought a House in Lunigiana Tuscany

Tuesday April 1, 2014

pontremoli, lunigiana castle, tuscany medieval townYou may have heard that actor George Clooney bought a house in Lunigiana and you're probably wondering where that is. Lunigiana is the northernmost part of Tuscany, bordering the Emilia-Romagna and Liguria regions - see Lunigiana map. It's rumored that Clooney's villa is near Pontremoli (shown in the photo), one of the principal towns.

Lunigiana's hills are dotted with medieval villages and castles, many connected by hiking trails, with the Apuan Alps above. The area is not so well known to tourists as most other parts of Tuscany or Lake Como, where Clooney currently owns a villa.

Pontremoli photo by James Martin

Pork Lovers Cooking Class in Bologna

Sunday March 30, 2014

The city of Bologna, in the Emilia Romagna region, is one of the top foodie destinations in Italy. In fact the regional cuisine of Emilia Romagna is considered to be the best in Italy and it's notable for pork products, including salami and Prosciutto di Parma, one of Italy's top hams. With that in mind, CIBO created a half-day cooking class for pork lovers, Oink Oink! Pancetta, Prosciutto and Porchetta - 50 Creative ways to cook with Pork. Participants shop at the market, then prepare and eat a 4-course piggie-based Bolognese meal.

For those who really want to get into the pig, La Tavola Marche offers a 4-day Whole Hog Master Butchery Course.

More: Taking a Cooking Class in Italy

Medieval Villages, Olive Groves, and Cooking Classes in Sabine Hills Near Rome

Friday March 28, 2014

Sabina-olive-groves.jpgThe Sabine Hills is an area of Lazio, the region surrounding Rome, that's often overlooked by tourists. The town of Fara Sabina can easily be reached by train from Rome in less than an hour, making a good day trip, or for you can stay longer and explore the rolling hills dotted with medieval villages and castles and go hiking or biking in the national parks. The Sabine Hills are known for excellent olive oil and if you're interested in learning more about olive oil you can take a half-day Olive Oil Tour, that includes a visit to a 2000 year old olive tree and an olive farm, from Convivio Rome who also offer cooking classes ranging from a half day course (that can be done on a Rome day trip) to a 5 day program.

Read more about what to see and how to get there in Sabine Hills Rome Day Trip.

More: Rome Day Trips | Learn to Cook in Italy

Olive Tree photo from Convivio Rome

Italy Tours for Women Only

Thursday March 27, 2014

If you'd like to spend a week in Italy on a tour that's designed especially for women, here are a couple women's only tours to consider:

  • Golden Week in Southern Italy - Spend a week in Sorrento in October with Susan Van Allen, author of 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go and Letters from Italy. Visit Amalfi coast villages, the island of Capri, a thermal spa park on the island of Ischia, Naples, and Pompeii. During the week, you'll have the opportunity to take a cooking class, shop, taste wine, and of course enjoy the culinary delights of Southern Italy.
  • Sicily Christmas Markets and Street Procession Trip - Spend a week in Sicily in December with The Women's Travel Group. Go to Christmas markets and a street procession on the holiday of the Immaculate Procession, taste culinary specialties of Sicily, and visit wineries, local shops, towns, and archeological sites. Spend 4 nights in the vibrant city of Palermo and 3 in the resort town of Taormina. See Destinations page for details and booking.

Cooking Vacations offers several Culinary and Cooking Tours for Women in Italy too.

What's New at the Vatican

Friday March 21, 2014

pope's palace photoBarberini Gardens at the Pope's summer residence in Castel Gandolfo are now open to the public on 90-minute guided tours only. Tickets (currently 26 euro) for the Pontifical Villas of Castel Gandolfo tour can be bought through the Vatican Museums Online Ticket Office up to 60 days in advance. Tours are held in the mornings on Mondays through Saturdays and fill up quickly. Castel Gandolfo is in the Castelli Romani hills southeast of Rome and can be reached by train.

Earlier this year the Vatican opened to the public a Roman necropolis dating back to the first century BC. Visitors who wish to tour the burial ground, called the Necropolis of the Via Triumphalis, can do so only on a 90 minute guided tour in Italian or English, (current cost is 10 euro). Reservations are mandatory for the tour which can be booked up to 60 days in advance. Go to Guided Tours for Individuals on the Vatican Museums Online Ticket Office. Also available is a combination ticket that includes admission to the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel or a ticket that includes a tour of the Vatican Gardens and admission (without tour) to the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel.

The vast collection of the Vatican Library, founded by Pope Nicholas V in 1451, is being digitized so documents will be available online to the public in coming years. The library contains 82,000 manuscripts, including a few dating back to 400AD, according to this article in the Telegraph.

Pope's Summer Residence Photo by Martha Bakerjian

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