Monday, 23 April 2007

Turin Sightseeing

Sightseeing in Turin Italy - The Piazzas
by David Leigh

Almost everything you want to see in Turin is located right in the old city centre and as the area is relatively compact it is easy to do much of your sightseeing on foot. Much of Turin's character comes from the many squares, known as piazzas in Italian, many of which are lined by arcades that provide cooling shade in the summer and shelter from the wind, rain and snow in winter.

Right in the centre of the city is Piazza Castello, a wide cobbled square that was commissioned by Carlo Emmanuele I and first designed by Ascanio Vitozzi in the 16th century. The square was the power base of the Dukes of Savoy where nowadays pedestrians, cars, buses and trams all vie for priority. The central point of the city, it is where Via Po, Via Roma and Via Garibaldi converge.

Right in the middle is the "castle" that gives the square its name - Palazzo Madama, which is a mediaeval castle built on a Roman gate and with a baroque façade. The arcades surrounding the square offer good shelter from the sun in the summer, while in the winter the square is equipped with an ice rink. Palazzo Reale, the Royal Armoury, Teatro Regio and the Royal Library all overlook it, the latter containing works by Da Vinci. Also nearby is the church of San Lorenzo, the original home of the Turin Shroud when it arrived in Turin in 1578.

In the centre of Piazza San Carlo is the "Caval 'd Brons", a bronze statue of Emanuele Filiberto, while hiding in the cooling arcades lie a variety of shops, cafés and restaurants. Two famous Torinese restaurants can be found here, Caffé Ristorante Torino and Ristorante Caval 'd Brons.

Carlo di Castellamonte was responsible for the design of the piazza in the mid 17th century, while El Caval 'd Brons was sculpted by Carlo Marocchetti in 1838. Remaining open at one end the square is flanked by an arcade-lined parade and topped by the churches of San Carlo and Santa Cristina on the southern side.

Piazza Vittorio Veneto is also another square that is as unmissable as it is unavoidable. Although the centre of the square is used for parking, there are many cafes with tables outside to enjoy one of Turin's legendary aperitifs and although the city can become unpleasantly hot in the summer, it is on the banks of the river Po and therefore good for some breeze, however gentle.

Although the city centre is small and easy to navigate on foot, it is easy to overdo it a bit and cram too much walking into one day. The Turismobus Torino is ideal for overcoming this problem as it allows you to see a lot of the city without having to do much of the in-between walking - simply hop on and off and you can see exactly what interests you most, although it currently only operates on Saturdays, between 10:00 and 18:00.

The bus departs on its circular route once an hour, and although times are published it should be noted that it is not punctual by any means.

For more information on Sightseeing in Turin see http://www.bella-torino.com, with advice on all aspects of your stay.

Friday, 13 April 2007

Sightseeing in Vicenza

Guide to Vicenza, Italy

Introduction

Vicenza is situated between Padova and Verona, in the Veneto region of northern Italy. It is known as the city of Palladio. The 16th century architect Palladio, who worked in the city, is one of the most influential architects of all time. It is one of the wealthiest cities in Italy.

Unique Points

Vicenza has one the highest concentrations of historic buildings of any Italian city. The influence of Palladio is significant in the city. His best known works include the Basillica, the Tetro Olimpico, the world's oldest surviving indoor theatre, and the Villa Rotonda. However don't be put off and think that this is just a city for architecture buffs. The city centre is fairly compact and it is a pleasure just to wander round and soak up the atmosphere. The city is also famous for goldsmiths who were first referred to in the city statutes in 1339. There are around 1000 local firms producing half of Italy's goldware.

History

The town was declared a Roman municipability in 49 BC. It was referred to as the "mainland Venice" during Venetian rule between 15th and 18th century. It was occupied by the French in 1796 and the Austrians in 1797. In the period 1806 - 1813 it became part of the Italian state, then back to Austria before returning to the fold of a unified Italy in 1848. The city was the headquarters of the First Armed Gaurds in the First World War. The city was badly damaged by air raids during the Second World War, however it has been carefully restored to its former glory.

Getting there

Venice Marco Polo, Verona and Treviso are the nearest airports. Vicenza is on the main rail line from Milan to Venice, so has a frequent train service. It is easily accessible from the A4, the main Milan to Venice motorway. If you come by car, it would be better to find a hotel outside the city centre, as there are traffic restrictions around the city centre.

What to see

VIlla |Rotondo Palladio moved to Vicenza when he was 16. He was taken under the wing of Count Trissino, a great admirer of classical architecture. Trissimo even changed his protogees name from Della Gondola to Palladio in homage to the Greek Goddess of Wisdom, Pallas Athene. Wealthy Venetians coveted residences in the quiet countryside as a refuge from Venice, and Palladio was able to service this need with the construction of his magnificent villas. The Bascilica was one of Palladio's first major projects. His remit was to improve the old town hall. He achieved this by the addition of galleries around the buidling, open on one side supported by columns, known as loggia. The Palazzo Chiericati has been used as the civic museum since the 19th century. It houses an gallery dedicated to Vicentene artists. Teatro Olimpico was Palladio's last project, completed after this death by his son and Scamozzi. Palladio once again sought inspiration from the classical period when he was commissioned to design a permanent home for theatrical performances. The Olimpico is the sole suriving Renassiance theatre in the world. It is still used for performances but only during the Summer as there is not heating in the building. T

The author and poet Anthony Fogazzaro was born in Vicenza. He originally trained and practised as a lawyer. His work focused on moral issues and the conflict between reason and faith. His best known book is the Patriot published in 1895.

The artist Tiepolo painted several frescoes at villas near Vicenza. Rich Venetians loved to have their villa walls adorned with colourful mythological scenes. The frescoes are unusual in that they were painted during the construction of the villa, rather than as a later addition.

Where to eat

Baccalla a la Vicentina, dried cod cooked in milk, is the best known dish of the region. There is a website listing restuarants which serve this speciality on their menu.

If you are looking for a fast cheap meal self service, Righetti (Piazza duomo 3, tel 0444 543135) is close to the cathedral. It is very popular with locals, always a good sign.

The Agli Schioppi is close to the historic centre and offers typical Veneto cuisine.

Day trips

Bassano de Grappo is a lovely small town around 35 kms north east of Vicenza.

Verona lies approximately 60 kilometres west of Vicenza. It is easy to reacH Veron by train from Vicenza.

Treviso is a beautiful small city lying 50 kilmetres west of Vicenza.

You can the full guide with photos and a selection of accommodation at http://www.europealacarte.co.uk/Italy/vicenza.html

Karen Bryan is a UK based independent travel consultant and writer. Her website Europe a la Carte, http://www.europealacarte.co.uk, features less well known destinations in Europe. Karen believes that if you venture even slighly off the beaten tourist track that you will see more of the real Europe.

Monday, 2 April 2007

Italy Car Hire

If you are looking to hire a car in Italy, it makes sense to shop around. There are lots of great car hire deals online.

To get the best deal visit each of the websites below and check the price for the dates that you are planning on visiting Italy, then choose the one that gives you the best price for your stay:

Be sure to read the small print and check what is included before you make a booking.

Museums and Galleries of Florence

Florence is simply heaven for culture and history lovers. The city is packed full of museums and art galleries - enough to keep even the most avid art enthusiasts engrossed for a few weeks!

The Uffizi Gallery is one of the most popular museums in Florence and a must for those who like paintings. It was originally designed by Giorgio Vasari in 1559 for Cosimo I de' Medici as offices of the government judiciary. The Uffizi is home to the finest collection of Renaissance paintings in the world and boasts around 1700 paintings and 300 sculptures, as well as a number of tapestries and some furniture and ceramics. There are 45 rooms containing works from famous artists such as Michelangelo, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Dante, Titian and Rubens.

The Vasari Corridor connects the Palazzo Vecchio to the Palazzo Pitti and runs through the Uffizi and over the Ponte Vecchio to the other side of the River Arno. It is over 1km long and contains paintings from the 17th and 18th centuries as well as a famous collection of artist’s self-portraits. The corridor can only be visited as part of a special tour known as Percorso del Principe, starting at the Palazzo Vecchio. Tours can be booked by phoning + 39 0552654321.

The Galleria Dell’ Accademia was founded in 1784 and hosts a collection of sculptures and paintings. One of the most important works on display at the museum is David by Michelangelo (completed around 1504), which was transferred from the Piazza della Signoria in 1873. There are also other works by Michelangelo, including the Four Prisoners. Paintings on display in the museum date back to the 3rd and 4th centuries, as well as 15th and 16th centuries. There are paintings by Fra' Bartolomeo, Andrea del Sarto and Perugino from the early part of the 16th century.

You might also enjoy a visit to the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, which houses works that were originally part of the Duomo. Exhibits include tools that were used to build the Duomo, the original Baptistry doors, Donatello’s wooden sculpture of Mary Magdalene and the unfinished Pieta by Michelangelo. It will only take about an hour to go through the museum since it is relatively small.

The Palazzo Pitti is a magnificent building housing many smaller galleries and museums and is the entrance to the Boboli Gardens.

  • The Galleria Palatina (Palatine Gallery) is on the first floor of the Palazzo Pitti. It contains a fine collection of over 1000 paintings from the Renaissance and Baroque eras, including works by Titian, Raphael, Rubens, Pietro da Cortona and Correggio. The ticket includes entry to the lavish Royal Apartments, consisting of 14 sumptuous rooms that were home to the Medici, Lorraine and Savoy families.
  • The Galleria d’Arte Moderna (Gallery of Modern Art) holds paintings dating from 1784 to 1924. The Dukes of Lorraine, who formerly inhabited the rooms in the museum, originally collected many of the paintings to decorate the Palazzo Pitti. The 30 rooms house paintings from neo-classicism to the 20th century and include both works by Tuscan painters and foreign artists.
  • The recently renovated Galleria del Costume (Costume Gallery) is on the ground
    floor of the Palazzo Meridiana and contains exhibits showing the changing fashions
    from the 16th to the 20th centuries. This is the only museum of fashion in Italy and
    contains over 6000 items including accessories and theatre costumes.
  • The Museo degli Argenti (Museum of Silver) is on the ground floor of the Palazzo Pitti in rooms that were formerly used by the Medici as their summer apartments. The collection includes a wide range of silver objects as well as ivory, glassware, clocks, crystal, amber and carpets. The former staterooms in this museum are decorated with 17th century Frescoes.
  • The Museo delle Porcellane (Porcelain museum) is located in the Casino del Cavaliere and can be accessed via the Rose garden at the top of the Boboli gardens. The collection of porcelain comprises mainly of tableware belonging to the royal families that ruled Tuscany, and includes many gifts from European rulers and pieces that were made for the grand ducal court.
The Bargello Museum is housed in an ancient civic palace and is home to many famous sculptures, including works such as Bachus and by Michelangelo and David by Donatello. As well as sculptures you’ll find a number of other collections including renaissance jewellery, enamels and ivories, Venetian glass and Islamic Bronzes. The building itself is three stories high and was built in 1255. It was once the home of Bargello, the Captain of Justice and then later became a prison before it was turned into a museum in 1865.

The Medici Chapels is a small museum with two main rooms: the Princes' Chapel and the Medici Tombs. The Princes' Chapel is covered with a huge dome designed by Buontalenti and contains six tombs of Grand Dukes. The tombs have elaborate designs in green and red marble. The Medici Tombs contain Michelangelo's spectacular statues Night, Day, Dawn and Dusk. Although the Medici Chapels are attached to the San Lorenzo Basilica, the entrance to the museum is from the other side in Piazza di Madonna degli Aldobrandini.

The History of Science Museum in Florence provides an opportunity for visitors with an interest in science to see a collection of about 5,000 original scientific instruments divided into the Medici and the Lorenese collection. Some of the items on show are original Galilean instruments, including telescopes and lenses. There is a hall devoted to showing the origins and historical development of the microscope. Another section shows electrostatic and electromagnetic instruments from the eighteenth century.

It is a very good idea to buy tickets for museums in advance, especially in the peak season. The lines for tickets in Florence can be extremely long. It is better to have the ticket in advance then to be disappointed when you get there. You can Reserve your Uffizi Tickets Here

The Top Sights in Florence

There are many places to visit in Florence, but here are some of the top sites which you don't want to miss on your next trip!

The Ponte Vecchio, or “Old Bridge” was built in 1345. This is the most famous and most frequently photographed bridge in Florence and the only one that wasn’t destroyed in World War II. The bridge itself houses many goldsmiths, jeweller’s shops and medieval workshops that overhang the bridge. The best time to view the bridge is at sunset, followed by a walk along the bridge after dusk, when the lights on the bridge reflect on the River Arno and everything seems almost magical.

The magnificent cathedral or Duomo is the most distinctive feature of Florence’s skyline and is the result of years of work over six centuries. The building was designed by Arnolfo di Cambio at the end of the 13th century and is located in the north end of the Piazza della Signoria. If you’re feeling fit you may want to climb the 463 steps into the dome or the 414 steps up to the adjacent bell tower to take in a fantastic view of the city.

The Piazza della Signoria is a lively square with many restaurants, bars and ice cream shops and is a must to see. The square has been the political centre of Florence for centuries and is dominated by the Palazzo Vecchio with a copy of the statue of David by Michelangelo in front of the palace. The entrance to the Uffizi Gallery is just off the square. Right next to the Piazza della Signoria is the promenade Via dei Calzaiuoli, a lively shopping street, connecting with the Duomo of Florence – a popular place in the evenings with locals and visitors alike. During the summer visitors can go on a romantic carriage ride through Florence, beginning in Piazza della Signoria.

The Palazzo Vecchio, or Old Palace is an impressive building, built by Arnolfo di Cambio during the 13th and 14th centuries. It is the main complex in the Piazza della Signoria and is so called to distinguish itself from the Palazzo Pitti, the “new” palace.Inside the Palazzo Vecchio lies the Room of the Lilies, Elenora di Toledo's Rooms and the inner courtyard with the Putto Fountain and Michelangelo's statue The Victory. Even if you don’t have time to visit Palazzo Vecchio, it is worthwhile going into the inner courtyard to see the Putto Fountain.

The Uffizi Gallery is one of the most popular museums in Florence and a must for those who like paintings. It was originally designed by Giorgio Vasari in 1559 for Cosimo I de' Medici as offices of the government judiciary. The Uffizi is home to the finest collection of Renaissance paintings in the world and boasts around 1700 paintings and 300 sculptures, as well as a number of tapestries and some furniture and ceramics. There are 45 rooms containing works from famous artists such as Michelangelo, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Dante, Titian and Rubens.