Saturday, April 27, 2013

Picturesque Ischia di Castro

Loggia attributed to Antonio da Sangallo  the younger   
It was a bright, sunny Saturday  when we drove  north towards Lake Bolsena  to attend a conference  held in the icy cold  main hall of a castle  under restoration.  
view from the Rocca 
  When the drafts (and the long-winded speakers) became unbearable I escaped to the sun filled piazza to wander through  the narrow streets  of the oldest part of Ischia di Castro, the part the local residents call “di dentro”.

beyond the Duomo  begins "di dentro " 

Farnese lily  and laundry crown this portal
Lilies  (or iris) carved above many of  Ischia’s doorways remind us that this was  once  a Farnese stronghold.

 The huge Rocca Farnese, designed by Vignola,  was one of the first  “homes” of the Farnese. As they rose to power family members commissioned other Farnese palaces including the fabulous Palazzo now the French Embassy in Rome and the   pentagonal palace in Caprarola.  

stairway to the Rocca 

Under the Rocca’s shadow lies a labyrinth of tiny  lanes hung with  drying laundry. 
Cats snooze in the sun  and   keys   are left dangling in the door locks.  

 Inside a former bread oven/ cantina  we met a bee keeper preparing  his beehives.
wine cask transformed into bar 

a wicker baby carriage  pre-WWII

in the magazzino 
Comparable  to  a cellar or garage, the magazzino  is where families store discarded furniture, old bottles, the wine supply and anything else  not urgently needed in the home.

 Visiting a family’s magazzino  or cantina  shows what happens in a country where garage sales do not exist.  After  a few generations  the old cast offs  have become  antiques.   

Ischia   is   one of the less well known of Viterbo province’s   60 towns, each  with its own  personality and history.
 A stroll through the picturesque historic center is a perfect  respite from the stress of modern city life.

curious cats  
During summer  Ischia becomes more cosmopolitan for many of the  modest houses have been purchased as holiday homes  by  Romans wishing to escape the Eternal City‘s stifling heat.

conversation corner 
 There is also a small foreign community appreciative of the town's laid back lifestyle and inexpensive real estate.

shrine connecting two buildings 

Fascist period  doorhandles  and Cactus Madonna 

Excellent  food at honest prices 
entrance to Gigiotto trattoria

pappardelle al cinghiale 

Where to eat  in Ischia di Castro? Definitely  Gigiotto, on the main piazza. 
 Do you have a favorite small town in Italy? 
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Sunday, April 21, 2013

Ten Top Gardens of Central Italy


Garden in a vase, Hesperides Garden, Viterbo area 
Spring  has finally arrived here in central  Italy and it is time to tour some of  the delightful gardens that  can be found in  Lazio and  Tuscany.

 Here is my personal selection  plus  links to  more information and previous blog posts about  some of those  in the area around Viterbo.

Quirinale Palace, Rome
The magnificent  gardens of the Quirinale Palace in the heart of ancient Rome are part of  the Italian president’s  residence.   I wonder  if  President Giorgio Napolitano ( at  87 years of age, he was  elected  for a   second  seven-year term  yesterday !) ever gets a chance to enjoy a walk  here.

Christina's tulips, see  more on her blog" My Hesperides Garden"

Villa d’Este, Tivoli

Villa d’Este, built by Cardinal Ippolito Este, has  hundreds of fountains and shady avenues. A perfect day trip from Rome when combined with a visit to nearby Hadrian’s Villa,  the archetype of luxury residential architecture. The ruins of the  Hadrian’s Villa have inspired Palladio, Raphael, Michelangelo, Leonardo, Borromini, Piranesi and Canova.     

lavender  explodes in all its perfumed glory in late June and July 


Castel Giuliano, Bracciano
 Located on the slope of the Tolfa mountains, the  grounds of Castel Giuliano show  Marchesa Patrizi’s passion  for roses with hundreds of ancient species surrounding Etruscan tombs.

San Liberato Gardens, Bracciano Lake
 Bracciano is set among the Sabatini and Tolfa hills and known for the  imposing  Orsini Odescalchi Castle, built by Napoleone Orsini in 1470. The  Sanminiatelli  family’s castle is surrounded by magnificent  Botanical gardens  of San Liberato, a popular  venue for weddings.   Nearby is  the tiny Lake of Martignano  surrounded by cypress and poplars .   
Sacro Bosco, Bomarzo

Inscriptions highlighted in red  expressing  Vicino Orsini’s  philosophy  are engraved  on the tufa stone figures, moss covered benches, plaques and architectural follies of the park.

Palazzo Farnese, Caprarola
This  magnificent pentagonal palace can be considered the height of nepotism, for it was built for Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, grandson of Pope Paul III Farnese. The upper gardens have delightful avenues, giant stone sculptures and a pleasure house.  

Villa Lante, Bagnaia
A great parterre with intricate boxwood embroidery frames the 4-part pool surrounded by balustrades decorated with Cardinal Gambara's crayfish symbol. Moss covered stairs lead to the top of the garden with views over bubbling fountains.  Nearby  is the  Cardinal’s "icebox", Conserva della Neve, where  snow was stored for making sorbets.

Peony Gardens, Vitorchiano

April and May  are the flowering months for the thousands of peony plants of Centro Botanico Moutan .

Castello Ruspoli, Vignanello

Beyond the moat of  Castello Ruspoli are  the  raised gardens laid out by Ottavia Orsini, daughter of the creator of Bomarzo’s Sacro Bosco.  The box hedges have intricate designs which  include  the initials of family members. The prince’s secret garden is hidden in a sunken area.  

La Foce, Tuscany
 Iris Origo commissioned  garden  architect Cecil Pinsent,  to create the gardens of La Foce  between 1925 and 1939.  The garden  has geometrical  “rooms” made from box hedges and potted lemon trees, enhanced with wisteria pergolas and lavender hedges.  Part of the large estate, the garden also has a family cemetery.    

For  more information  on  historic and modern gardens,  nature reserves, castles to visit, unusual museums and other treasures  see my website  and order one of the many  books  published  in English (and soon in Italian) about central Italy.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Americans Discover Etruria

Here in central Italy this has been a week “all’americana”  with  my latest conference “La Tuscia vista dagli Americani “  at the Vetralla Library and  several visitors  from  USA. 

Fulvio shows off Vetralla's heritage 
Opening the season  was  Jamie  Stoeffel of Indiana, winner of the Irish Trivia quiz  which I ran  last month to  promote readers’   comments for  this  blog.  The best way you can  show your appreciation for  the information  I share with you each week is to leave a comment at the end of the post.  

official presentation of the Irish Trivia quiz  prize

Jamie  received  her prize, a copy of  “Travels to Tuscany and Central Italy”  with my personal dedication and then enjoyed  cooking with Fulvio and  lunch on the terrace.  

Ramona and Jamie  mirrored in the library 
She  and her travel companion, Ramona Fisher of Minneapolis, were happy to be  treated like VIP visitors  after having endured  an encounter  with gypsy pick pockets and the infamous  “sciopero”  
strikes that hit Italy’s transport system last  week.

enjoying  lunch  
Enrico Dolci, president of the olive oil cooperative,  charms le americane 
homemade cinnamon  digestivo 

They were thrilled to receive  gift bottles of Vetralla’s fine olive oil from the president of the olive oil cooperative and even the local kids wanted to have their photo taken with   le americane

with the kids of  Piazza del Duomo, Vetralla

Another group of  5 lovely ladies of  the same family dropped in for a visit during their tour of the nearby Palazzo Farnese in Caprarola. 

Ruud, Fulvio and  American visitors in my library 

They were happy to have discovered the area which offers  such beauty and hospitality, so  close to Rome and Florence  yet not touristy. 

David and Todd  interpreted early American writers 

Professor David Reinking,  actor-neighbor Todd Carter,  Lia Randazzo and Sydney Johnson students  of the USAC program  were the Americans who  helped  make the illustrated conference “La Tuscia vista dagli Americani “  a huge success   on Friday afternoon at  the Vetralla  library.

Lia signing  the guest book 
They read excerpts -in Italian-from  American writers  of the 19th century ( Mark Twain, Nathaniel Hawthorne etc.) describing   this part of Italy. 
 The  audience  of Italians, unaware of how  their land (Tuscia /Northern Lazio/Etruria)had been perceived  by foreign visitors in the past, were horrified  at  the many  negative descriptions.

a part of the  attentive audience 

a full house for  Mary Jane's talk 
 Central Italy has come a long way since  the days when American  writers described filthy streets and desolation due to malaria.    Besides  the natural improvement  of the area, we must  thank the images created by Hollywood films and writings by contemporaries living in the area  among these  
the audience came from Sutri, Viterbo, Rome, Soriano, Bracciano and a few from Vetralla
Linda Lappin's mystery novels, Eleanor Herman’s  story of Donna Olympia, “Mistress of the Vatican”  and Mark Leslie’s amusing description of life (and learning to cook )  with a local family.

 Thanks also go to social media tools Facebook and  blogs which have made journalists  and promoters of  all  those who come to  visit  and remain enchanted with the quality of life in Etruria. 
Thanks  to all these things, a special part of Italy, unintentionally  ignored by American visitors,  is finally  coming out of its  centuries-long  slumber. This year Italy has been named  as the number one destination  for adult  Americans for a visit outside their own country. 
Mary Jane presenting  "La Tuscia vista dagli Americani" 
 For the past  eight years it has held the  first and second places for best vacation destination. This was no surprise to marketing specialists  who consider Italy as the top destination for romance, culture, history,fine food and wines.
Be sure to visit  my website for  practical information and books about the area and  share with friends and  family.
Your comments and feedback are welcome.  

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Entrance Ticket for Civita di Bagnoregio

Civita  from a distance, photo by Giulia Pancani 

Hostaria del Ponte, lunch with a view over   Civita di Bagnoregio 

For  decades tourists have flocked  to the shrinking island of tufa that is Civita  di Bagnoregio, an iconic  village  surrounded  by calanchi  and a moon-like landscape.  
Mercatello -ready to cross the bridge  

main street, Civita 

 Few visitors realize  why  the town looks  like it does, why it was built in this spot or what is  happening to it,  but its  uniqueness  makes it stand  out from all the other  nearby hill towns of central Italy.
Duomo  in the main piazza, Civita

Perched on a similar cliff  nearby, Orvieto is  reached by a funicolare and is famed for its  Duomo and Etruscan sites; Montefiascone on Lake Bolsena  has its Est Est Est wine  and views; while the provincial capital, Viterbo  owes  its fame to  San Pellegrino medieval quarter and the Papal Palace where the first papal conclave was held.

  Civita  has been hyped  as  "the dying city" by guidebooks for decades  and this  has turned  it into  a “must see” for Japanese tour groups and American back packers .

Palazzo Alemanni, the museum entrance  
By the end of April Civita di Bagnoregio will be the only town in Italy requiring an  entrance ticket for those who wish to visit. 
At the bridge leading over the ravine  there will be a ticket office run by the Pro Loco.

explanatory panels in English and Italian 
The town's Mayor  informs that the 3 euro ticket money collected will help monitor  the  situation and be used for the most urgent repairs.
Luca  and model of Civita 

 The ticket  includes entrance to the town as well as to a modern  Museo Geologico delle Frane where guests are informed of  the area's geology and the landslides that have plagued Civita  for  the past centuries.

virtual panorama of  Civita and the calanchi 


Geologist Luca shows  us the modern museum 
 There are several places to stay in the village, including this  high level historic residence, plus many agriturismo in the surrounding area.
Leaving  Civita 

 While you are in Bagnoregio, don't forget  to stop at the antique car museum .