Monday, May 30, 2011

Gastro-tourism at Vetralla's Cene in Cantina

 the cooks at Emergency's  cantina 

For the past  18 years the town of Vetralla, 65 km northeast of Rome and a short drive inland from Civitavecchia port, has been celebrating the beginning of summer with  Fiori in Finestra, Cene in Cantina (Flowers in the window,  dinner in the cantina) festival.

Opening  the festivities are oxen  and horsemen  
antiques & handicrafts   galore 
Piazza S. Egidio  is always beautiful
 On  two successive  mid-June weekends (17,18,19  and 24,25,26 )  local cooks show off their skills and the town is hopping  with happenings to please young and old: parades, magicians, music and   tiny shops with local handicrafts.

 The piazzas and balconies   are decked  with flowers while  in May  blossoms are used to decorate the cobblestones for  several religious processions.

The main focus of the Cene in Cantina festival is of course the  eight cool cantinas beneath the town's historic palaces which are opened up and filled with long communal tables for   lunch and dinner during the two weekends.

stone steps lead down to a cantina

inexpensive  home made food in  a "cool" cantina

Vetralla's best cooks  compete to produce tasty four-course meals  with flavors of the past.Check the menus  written in dialect   on the  website of the proloco  and call to book your table.
 The traditional dishes include truffles, pork, hand-made pasta  all cooked using Vetralla's excellent extra virgin olive oil and washed down with abundant local wine. All profits benefit  local volunteer associations.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Exploring around Civitavecchia

Walls  of the port and  Duomo 
For  those  adventurous cruisers who prefer to explore   the area around Civitavecchia port on their own  to  get a glimpse into the daily life of the local people, an inexpensive alternative is  now available.  
Duomo  of  Civitavecchia 
With a bit of foresight and planning a day ashore can be  enjoyed  on your own for  a  few  euro.
The port of  Civitavecchia is continuing  to grow  exponentially with more than 2 million passengers disembarking  here annually.
  Thanks to the free shuttle bus  that criss crosses the port continually, passengers are safely transported  to the port's main exit dominated by the magnificent 16th century fortress designed  for  Pope Julius II  by Michelangelo .
Michelangeo fortress -where shuttle buses  stop 


looking  down from the bus stop to the Info  kiosk and shuttle bus stop  

Its been about  2 years now that  the information kiosk has been set up  here  to dispense brochures and  travel information.
 It is  run by the Lazio Region  with multi lingual hostesses  who  give out free information, sell tickets  for  the train, bus and  tours.
ask the girls  for information...they speak English !!

After dodging  a few persistent  taxi drivers  offering outrageously expensive  transfers to Rome, a short walk along the   palm-lined  boardwalk brings to the train station (15 minutes along the sea) or around the corner  (5 minutes walk)  to the white facade of the city's main church and the local bus stop.

You can also  purchase  bus tickets at the tobacconist shop or newspaper kiosk  nearby. 

bus stop  in Civitavecchia to Siena, Aquila, Viterbo.etc.

From here for a few euro (I paid  1.50 for a one-way ticket home)  one can travel independently to the lovely  nearby towns of Tarquinia, Tolfa,Tuscania, Viterbo and Vetralla  using  the  inexpensive  blue  buses of the Cotral  transport system.

Don't expect  air conditioned luxury   for these  fast buses   are used mostly by students and non-drivers  commuting to school or work.

Check   the timetables carefully beforehand online -rarely are they posted at the bus stops- and remember to allow ample time to return to the dock. Our usual  bus home to Vetralla leaves at  9:00 am but we are always a bit early. 

Beware of the terrible word "sciopero" which means the buses are on strike.
 Find out  when the bus will return and learn to say the name Civita - vecchia- not just "port" which may be misunderstood as "airport".
At  the bus stop...overlooking  the cruise docks
Even better have a postcard showing your ship and the phone number  of the ship company's port liason with you. Buon viaggio!


Monday, May 16, 2011

Northern Lazio's Gorgeous Gardens

Climbing roses  and cypress trees at Michelini
        On  the outskirts of Viterbo within  a twenty kilometre radius, four historic gardens have been enchanting visitors to the area for centuries. Each  is unique  and worth an entire day's visit  but  two state-owned gardens,Villa Lante in Bagnaia and the gardens of Palazzo Farnese at Caprarola,  a half-hour's uphill drive away, could be done  on the same day. They are open every day but Monday.
Cypress trees  are found usually near cemeteries

 Two other historic gardens -Sacro Bosco in Bomarzo and  Castello Ruspoli   in Vignanello- are privately owned and charge more for  entrance.  They are an interesting  contrast with the younger, modern  gardens such as  the  University's  Botanical Gardens (celebrating its 20th birthday this year) and  the Tarocchi Gardens with its artistic sculptures located in nearby  Capalbio, Tuscany.

 Hidden near  the hot thermal pools   of Le Masse di San Sisto and Bullicame near  Viterbo, the  Orto Botanico is  famous for  its  collection  of  gigantic cacti.
Orto Botanico   in Viterbo

a 300 year old olivona    at Michelini
Villa Michelini  and  owner  Tiziana 


Garden experts  including  Sofia Varoli Piazza    
Lavender  rules !

Lavender  is big time here, just as in Provence, and the perfumes, soaps and objects produced by the  consortium of  local  lavender  farmers can be found in the newly opened outlet  shop,  Essenze d'Etruria  in Tuscania . 

Looking for  flowering gardens ?  Check out  Vivai Michelini     a nursery specialized  in decorative trees and landscaping.

Another magical spot is the  privately owned peony gardens in Vitorchiano   
  that offers  free  guided tours in the months of  April and May. 

Much more about the area's   modern and historic gardens  in "Etruria-travel,history and itineraries in Central Italy"  which can be found in local bookshops and tourism information points . For  signed  copies  order   directly  from the author through my website .   Feel free to leave your comments  and  suggestions for  touring  gardens .