Thursday, July 28, 2011

Summer Time Eating Out Around Viterbo

Otello on the  lakefront, Marta, Lake Bolsena
 Summer  time and  the living  is  easy...and everyday lunch is usually  indoors for  the thick walls  of  our  ancient palazzi  provide  natural   air conditioning .
 Evenings mean  dinner time  on the terrace watching  the  swallows  dipping  and diving and  listening  to the  noisy crackling of the  crows  as they fly  off  in  formation towards  Norchia, the nearby  Etruscan necropolis,  and the setting sun.

anniversary lunch  Otello, Marta
For  a special  lunch we usually  head  for  the lake of Bolsena where  the lakefront  of  Marta  is dotted  with fish  trattorie.  Otello  is  a third generation  trattoria that  has been  recently  spruced  up  and a small  B&B  added  for   overnight visitors.  The speciality  is   their  multi -dish  spread  of  fish antipasti and for  the main dish,  roasted fish or  coregone al forno . A special bottle of wine  followed  by caffe and  digestivi  brought the bill to  100 euro  for   three.

Russian icons    

post pranzo passeggiata  along the lake , Marta

one man's junk is another's treasure  

musical instruments and old radios

L'Archetto, Viterbo  Photo by F. Pignatale
 In central Italy life goes  slower and living cost less compared to  the  tourist magnets of  Rome, Florence  and Venice.
This makes  a stay in  a smaller town or agriturismo  in Lazio, Umbria or Tuscany a good way to balance a family trip ....and the budget.
funghi  porcini  from road side stand
 One thing that strikes first time visitors to  our area  is  the importance given to  food with   shopping  done on a daily basis and menus change according to what's available at the market that day. The time spent preparing  and sharing  meals  becomes the best memory of a visit, long after  names  and  dates of churches and monuments  have been forgotten. 

Here are  some of our favorite places to eat in and around Viterbo. Most  are family-run and "senza pretese", not fancy and not expensive. Looking  at  the " conti "   from  recent visits  I notice that we  usually spend an average of 15-22 euro  each  including  a litre of  the always excellent house wine.  

In  the historic center of Viterbo  the tiny  L'Archetto on Via S. Cristoforo (hidden under an arch on Via Saffi)  is the place to find typical Viterbese dishes cooked up  by Enrico Bagnaia  and his staff. It becomes  crowded  on  Saturdays for  lunch with groups of Romans  who remain surprised at the prices, so much lower than the capital. 

Try the  bar attached to Libreria del Teatro, Piazza Verdi, near Viterbo's  Unione Theatre for  a quick one dish lunch at the  fixed price  of  8 euro,  or for just a cup of  tea, cappuccino  or ginseng with  a home made sweet such as this  apple crumble.

The local Montefiascone Est,est,est   is the house wine  which Nathaniel and Sophie  Hawthorne  enjoyed when visiting  the area in the 1840s , as you  will read in  "Early Americans in Etruria"  , from  my latest  book  that can be purchased  directly   from  . 

Another   lake town, Montefiascone, is home  to a trattoria  with excellent  food -Trattoria Al Buongusto snuggled  under the  Papal Rocca  in the historic center, Via XXIV Maggio. Its tiny, romantic and has excellent pasta. 

A visit to Civita di Bagnoregio   means having  lunch at Hostaria del Ponte, just before the bridge over  the calanchi .    Inside its snug and has interesting art work but the panoramic terrace  is the place  to get the best view of the "dying city"  A few more  of these restaurants  now have websites which you  will find  in a later comment. So leave a comment  below as you  check the websites.
Across the  calanchi  in Lubriano  another good  place is the pizzeria Il Frantoio carved out of an ancient olive mill.  Magical cave atmosphere   and genuine good food. 

Fulvio and Sabrina cooking -the best restaurant is always home
Our  local trattorie  in Vetralla all  have excellent  value for  money and are almost  like extensions of  our own kitchen.  When we go to  La Lanterna  on Via Roma   we have to have the nuvolette, light balls of fried whitebait . 

Da Benedetta  at the traffic lights  has been  run by several enerations of  Benedetta's family since  the 1950s. Today you will find nonna Benedetta  and mamma Ornella  in the kitchen while the  grandkids  serve or  prepare steaks over the open fire.   
L'Oliveto ,  located on a panaoramic  hillside  half way between Vetralla and Viterbo  is known for  its fresh fish and we often take friends there. If  you  get a  table in front of the  fireplace  you  may be bothered  by the  television which is always on. 

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Maltese Connection-capers and Caravaggio

Azamara Journey docked at  La Valletta, Malta

 I recently  gave the  sail-in commentary  as  we arrived  in the magnificent harbor of  La Valletta aboard my favorite luxury cruise ship.
mysterious doorway in the  Palazzo 

 Although  Malta  is  far away, an English island  halfway between Sicily and Africa,  it  felt like a homecoming for  the   harbor  and  the entire  city  were  dotted with  connections to central Italy.

courtyard  Grand Masters Palace
There were  capers covering  the walls of  the fortresses with  Italian names and Caravaggio paintings decorated  the  main church, St. John's Co-Cathedral .

entrance  to Grand Masters Palace 

piano nobile  in the palace

Caravaggio  was  a novitiate in the order of the Knights  in 1607 and  his huge  "Beheading of St. John"   is the  drawing card  for  tourists who flock  to the Cathedral today.

  The Cathedral's   marble  inlaid   floors  record  the numerous  knights who lived and died here, while  the mortal remains  of   Michelangelo Merisi ( Caravaggio's real name)    have recently been discovered in   the crypt  of S. Erasmo  church in Porto Ercole.
 For more on  the Spanish  past  of  the Tuscan promontory see  my latest book "Etruria-travel, history and itineraries  in central Italy".Copies can be ordered  directly through the website using paypal. 

armor  belonging to Ranuccio Farnese
The Palazzo  of the Grand Masters  holds memories of the Knights  who made it their headquarters  between   1530  and  the arrival of  Napoleon.

Another  local lad, Ranuccio Farnese,  is  rememebered in the  Armory  museum, where numerous   magnificent coats of armor  are displayed.

portrait  of  one of the  Grand Masters

Renovated  waterfront 
bus   La Valletta    to Naxxar .42 cents

 The pubs and shops  were still closed  along the newly restored  waterfront    as  we  boarded  a local bus  to reach the central square with its  huge fountain.

 From there   an even  more  ancient bus  took  us for  a 30 minute  ride through the  suburbs past  the   Mostar   church    where  an unexploded  bomb from the  Second World War  siege is  remembered.

Cathedral  Mostar  with unexploded  bomb
 We arrived to  the village of Naxxar  and Palazzo Parisio,  a magnificent  private palace where  a film   shoot was underway.

garden entrance 
facade Palazzo Parisio
entrance and family  portrait
Ballroom Palazzo Parisio, Malta

reception  in the Palazzo  garden

carriage, Palazzo Parisio
  The gardens are similar to   those of Villa Lante  or  Castello Ruspoli  with parterres, bougainville and  elegant rance ways.

Have you  been to Malta?  What is your favorite thing to do in Malta ? 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Awesome Istanbul

   When  you have lived in Italy as long as I have there comes a time when you want to travel further afield, and   what better   "getaway"  than the magical city of Istanbul. 
shoeshine   at Uskadar, Asian side of Istanbul

modern and ancient Istanbul

This ancient and modern city  on two continents  never fails to inspire awe, especially  when sailing  in  along  the Bosphorous  aboard  a luxurious  cruise ship.   Here  are  some of the   numerous historical connections  between Istanbul and Rome that make me feel at home there:

phoning  home   in  Istanbul park

veiled women awaiting  tram for Kabatas
  • like Rome, Istanbul was  built on 7 hills 
  • the Hippodrome  was the local Circus Maximus
  • the magical underground Basilica Cisterna  was built  by Romans
  • a city of many names: New Rome, Byzantium, Constantinople,  Stamboul
  • once  capital of the Eastern Roman and Byzantine empires 
  • Topkapi can be compared  to Vatican City since both are enclaves  within the city 

red half moon  instead  of Red Cross
" Ask Me" tourist helpers  at  the Hippodrome
The people  are friendly, the public transport is easily mastered and the unmistakeable  skyline  full of mosques and minarets  gives an exotic touch.

Each time I arrive in Istanbul there is a new neighborhood to be explored  by walking  and using  the inexpensive  modern  funicular and metro systems.

 This  spring  my  lectures on board cruise ships   Mariner  of the Seas  and  Azamara  Journey   brought  me  several times  to Istanbul where  I  was surprised  to find  further   connections  - this time  with   my  town of Vetralla  in central Italy.

l euro  trip  to Asia aboard this boat
Two monuments   commemorating   Ataturk,  the father of modern Turkey,  turned  out  to be works  of  sculptor Pietro Canonica,  who lived in Vetralla   where  his   villa and  workshop are located.

monument by Canonica in Taksim Square

Here is the huge monument  set in  busy  Taksim  Square.  The  flag bearing  figure   is  identical to  the Bersaglieri  monument  in Vetralla. 

Villa Canonica  in Vetralla, 
Another monument,  commemorating  Ataturk's  modernization of the Turkish language, can be found in the Asian suburb of  Karakoy.  Both  are works  of  Pietro Canonica, the genial globe-trotting  sculptor  and  musician   who was popular  with  foreign governments and royal families  in the  1920s-40's.

minaret  of Yeni Valide  mosque, Uskadar 

 Check  out   the  house museum and gallery dedicated  to him  next  time you are in Rome's Villa Borghese.