Monday, 8 December 2008

Sightseeing in Umbria

Are you thinking of doing some sightseeing in Umbria? If so, read on to find out more about this amazing region.

Umbria - A Fascinating Region Of History And Culture

Umbria is located in the geographical centre of Italy, between Tuscany and Le Marche. The capital is Perugia, a city founded by the Etruscans. Umbria is the region where in a relatively confined space the visitor can enjoy the best aspects of Italian life, history and culture. Improved communications are opening up the region to new types of visitors attracted by the artistic and cultural heritage as well as the opportunities for having a second home, taking holiday breaks in peaceful country locations, or enjoying outdoor sports in attractive settings.

The hills, covered with evergreen oak, account for the traditional description of Umbria as ‘the green heart of Italy’. Between the Tiber valley and the Tuscan towns of Cortona and Arezzo there is an attractive area of wooded hills. Just west of Perugia is Lake Trasimeno, Umbria’s largest expanse of water, and scene of the battle where Hannibal and his elephants defeated the Romans in 217 BC. South of Lake Trasimeno the landscape changes, becoming gently undulating rather than hilly or mountainous and the houses are built of terracotta bricks rather than stone, which gives a different look to the countryside.

Perugia is home to the National Gallery of Umbria with a rich collection of paintings by Renaissance masters such as Duccio, Giotto, Gentile da Fabriano, Fra Angelico, Piero della Francesca and Pinturicchio. Città della Pieve to the south was the birthplace of Pietro Vannucci, the Umbrian painter also known as ‘Il Perugino’. In Assisi the Basilica of Saint Francis is famous for its amazing set of frescoes by Giotto.

For sports-oriented visitors, Monte Cucco above Gubbio, and Monte Vettore near Norcia, are centres for hang-gliding enthusiasts. Gubbio is home to an annual international Arab horse endurance riding event. White water rafting and kayaking are available in the Val Nerina near Spoleto, as well as skiing in winter. Country walking, bird and nature watching, and pony-trekking can be enjoyed almost everywhere in Umbria. There are also several golf courses in the region.

Umbria has plenty of good food and wine: there are truffles in the Val Nerina, as well as fresh and smoked trout. Wild boar are hunted every autumn and the meat is turned into prosciutto and sausages . Olives grow all over the region and Umbrian olive oil is prized for its low acidity and delicate flavour. Montefalco red wine and Grechetto white have a justly merited international reputation.

Alongside the genial and hospitable Umbrians there is now a sizeable population of resident and holidaying foreigners. Most have come for the countryside lifestyle and settle in old farmhouses. Many of these have now been restored to levels of comfort the previous inhabitants could only have dreamt of, mixing traditional building materials such as stone, terracotta and chestnut wood fittings with state of the art Jacuzzis and fitted kitchens. There is also no shortage of town houses and apartments in historic buildings in very attractive towns such as Città di Castello and Assisi.

About the Author:

Roger Coombes is a Director of Cluttons Italy, specialist Italyian Realtors and Estate Agents with particular experience of buying and selling property in Umbria.

Sunday, 31 August 2008

Top 5 Cities for Sightseeing in Italy

Have you decided to go on a sightseeing trip to Italy? Italy is rich with history and there are many places that are worth visiting. However, because there are so many places to visit, many people have trouble choosing the cities they plan on going sightseeing to.

1. The first city that you must visit while in Italy is Rome. Rome is the capital of Italy and it is rich in history and culture. With sights like the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Coliseum, and Vatican City, you will be able to go sightseeing in see some of the top tourist spots in the world.

2. Are you a fashion person? If so, you are going to want to visit Milan. Milan is one of the world’s capitals of fashion. There are many high fashion boutiques that are must see in Milan. If you are not into fashion, you can enjoy the nightlife or go to a football match at the San Siro.

3. How could you go to Italy and not visit Venice? Venice is the city on the water. Venice is famous for their romantic gondola rides and you can do your sightseeing through the canals of the city. You can also walk around the city, taking in the beautiful scenery.

4. Are you an artist looking for a little piece of paradise? If so, you will want to visit Verona. Verona was the setting for Romeo and Juliet. You will be able to find a variety of buildings that give you a taste of the historical importance of Verona, but the Roman amphitheater has to stand out amongst them all.

5. The last, but certainly not least, city in Italy to visit is Florence. Florence is the art and culture capital of Italy. This city is worth visiting because of its architecture and art galleries. Walking around the city you will notice the Renaissance architecture, which is second to none in the world. And, for you art fans’, taking a trip to the Uffizi Gallery is a must.

There is no doubt that Italy is rich with history and culture. It seems that each city in Italy has many places to go sightseeing and whereever you go in Italy you won't be dissapointed.

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Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Sightseeing in Basilicata

If you are looking for a European tourist destination, consider the Basilicata region of southern Italy. Basilicata forms the instep of the Italian boot with two small seacoasts, one on the Ionian Sea in the east and one on the Tyrrhenian Sea in the west. Depending on your interests, Basilicata may be an ideal vacation spot. You can get classic Italian food, and wash it down with fine local wine. Basilicata is among the few regions of Italy as yet undiscovered by tourists. There's a tradeoff; you won't have to fight the crowds to see what you want to see. On the other hand, you'll have a hard time finding fancy hotels. And its roads are not always the best, hardly surprising when you consider the region's mountainous terrain.

Basilicata's population is only slightly above six hundred thousand. While quite mountainous this is the only region of Italy in which farm workers outnumber industrial workers. Up until the 1970s it steadily lost population to other Italian regions and to emigration abroad. But all is not lost. Its east coast has become an important agricultural area. And the mountainous interior with poor soil and lots of sun; what could be better for producing fine wine? Let's not forget that many consider Basilicata's native Aglianico (also found in Campania) to be Italy's third best red grape, after Nebbiolo and Sangiovese. It sounds like there could be a major breakthrough in Basilicata's wine industry.

We'll start our tour of this region in the northeast at Matera. Then we head south and east to Potenza. From there we go southeast to Aliano and then south and east to Terranova di Pollino and the Parco Nazionale. If you want a bit of seaside you could continue to the little town of Maratea on the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea. When driving in this part of the world, you'll need a good map and good reflexes; the roads here don't always go directly from Point A to Point B and rarely go in a straight line.

Matera, population sixty thousand, lies just south of the Apulia border. This area has been settled since Palaeolithic times, in other words for at least twelve thousand years. The Romans claimed to have founded the city in the Third Century B. C. Like so many other parts of Italy it was occupied by an almost never-ending stream of invaders. One of the proudest moments in Matera's history was in September 1943 when it rose against the German invaders, the first Italian city to do so. We'll start with the usual sights and finish with something truly unique.

Matera's Duomo (Cathedral) dates from the Thirteenth Century and was built in the Apulian-Romanesque style (Apulia is the region north of Basilicata, its architecture reflects Greek, Arab, and Norman influences.) There are frescoes and sculptures to admire. Check to see if the Thirteenth Century Romanesque Church of San Giovanni Battista has been reopened for tourists. If so, stop by. But these sights pale in comparison to Matera's unique old town in which the streets are often rooftops and the houses, churches, and chic restaurants are caves, hewn out of solid rock.

The Sassi di Matera (Stones of Matera) are caves that have been occupied continuously by human beings for an estimated nine thousand years. At twenty years per generation, (remember they didn't wait to finish law school before starting a family in those days) this works out to an incredible 450 generations possibly living in the same neighborhood. The area has been named a World Heritage Site and numerous bars and restaurants now take advantage of this unique location. What a turnaround from the days when Matera because of the Sassi was called ''la vergogna nazionale,'' Italy's shame.

Potenza with a population slightly under 70 thousand is the capital of Basilicata. Here in a famous battle Carthage definitively lost to Rome. The city has known numerous invasions and earthquakes, the latest in 1980. During the Second World War Potenza was bombed heavily by the Allies. Monuments to see include the Twelfth Century St. Gerard Cathedral, and the Eleventh Century Church of San Francesco which includes a Renaissance painting entitled Madonna del Terremoto (Our Lady of the Earthquake). The Romanesque Church St. Michael the Archangel was also built in the Twelfth Century as was the Church of St. Mary of the Sepulcher. You should also see the Castle's Tower built prior to the year 1000 and the ruins of a Norman fort, probably built on Roman and Byzantine foundations. All in all there's a lot of old stuff to see for a small provincial capital that was almost destroyed by earthquakes.

With less than twelve hundred inhabitants you might be tempted to skip the village of Aliano. Don't, it's living proof of the phrase - good things come in small packages. The scenery is spectacular; cliffs and rivers, and gullies, and local growing things include olive, peach, and citrus trees. This lovely scenery may be typical of the region. However, unlike any neighboring village Aliano is famous thanks to an involuntary visitor who stopped by more than seventy years ago. Between May, 1935 and October, 1936 Aliano was the home in exile of the well-known author Carlo Levi. Levi, a painter educated as a doctor, was a founder of an Italian anti-Mussolini movement. This explains his unintentional extended Aliano visit. Once released from exile Levi spent two years in France but returned to Italy and was imprisoned once again. After the war he wrote a book, Christ Stopped at Eboli, about his Aliano experiences. This book exposed the problem of poverty in Southern Italy to the relatively prosperous North. Levi served nine years in the Italian Senate where he continued his fight against poverty. He is buried in the village. The house where he lived is still standing; it is now the Museo Storico Carlo Levi (Carlo Levi Historical Museum).

Terranova di Pollino is a mountain village in southern Basilicata very close to Calabria. It lies at the entrance to the Parco Nazionale del Pollino (Pollino National Park) the largest in Italy at just under 750 square miles (more than 1900 square kilometers.) Let's quote their website "With its 192,565 hectares, Pollino National Park, the largest protected area in Italy between Calabria and Basilicata, has a wealth of landscapes to offer: great areas of wilderness where the cuirassed pine -the true emblem of the park- clings to the rocky slopes as the wind shapes its twisted trunk; not far away, rolling hills and valleys, lush slopes with flowering plants in springtime, and then endless upland plains where the sheep still graze like in ancient times."

But that's not all. The park is home to a wide variety of endangered species. Many fossils have been found including a very well preserved skeleton of a giant elephant that lived between 400,000 and 700,000 years ago. Other fossils date from the time when dinosaurs ruled the earth. Historic churches abound in the neighboring villages. Many of these villages are home to ethnic Albanians who have kept their language and culture for over five hundred years. Look for their festivals during the spring and summer months.

What about food? Basilicata is very traditional when it comes to cooking. As expected in an economically deprived area meat consumption is limited. The major meat is pork and the locals know how to extract the maximum from their porkers. Hot peppers are popular and can be quite hot. Basilicata bread is consumed in many parts of Italy. Locals make a special pasta from wheat and lard. The Pollino mountains are known for wild mushrooms and for game.

Let's suggest a sample menu, one of many. Start with Zuppa di Pesce alla Santavenere (Ionian Fish and Seafood Soup). Then try Spezzatino di Agnello (Lamb stewed in an earthenware pot). For dessert indulge yourself with Frittelle alla Lucana (Doughnuts). Be sure to increase your dining pleasure by including local wines with your meal.

We'll conclude with a quick look at Basilicata wine. Basilicata ranks 17th among the 20 Italian regions for the acreage devoted to wine grapes and for total annual wine production. About 73% of the wine produced is red or rosé, leaving 27% white. The region produces two DOC wines, Aglianico del Vulture and Terre dell Alta Val d'Agri. DOC stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata, which may be translated as Denomination of Controlled Origin, presumably a high-quality wine. Only 2.4% of Bascilicata wine carries the DOC designation.

If you like powerful wines, try the Aglianico del Vulture from a local grape that grows on the extinct Mount Vulture volcano or its surrounding hills. This wine may be cellared for up to twenty years. The sparkling version may be dry or sweet. The red Terre dell Alta Val d'Agri is made from Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and possibly some local red grapes. The rose version may include some local white grapes as well.

Levi Reiss has authored alone or with a co-author ten computer and Internet books, but to tell the truth, he would really rather just drink fine French, German, or other wine, accompanied by the right foods. He knows what dieting is, and is glad that for the time being he can eat and drink what he wants, in moderation. He teaches classes in computers at an Ontario French-language community college. Visit his new wine, diet, health, and nutrition website and his global wine website

Friday, 20 June 2008

Sightseeing in Tuscany

Tuscany is well known for its wine as well as being the birthplace of the Renaissance movement. This makes it a fantastic place to visit and in this article we will look at several places to visit in Tuscany, Italy.

Florence is the capital of the Tuscany region and will make a great starting point for you, but there are also many places you will want to visit outside of Florence.

Getting to some of the best place to visit in Tuscany is very easy to do. You can rent a car and drive yourself, or hire a driver to do it for you. You can also take the train to various areas including Pisa, Siena, San Gimignano and Lucca.

1. Many people are familiar with the leaning Tower of Pisa. Pisa is located in central Italy, 50 miles from Florence, and the bell tower really is leaning and is a sight to behold. It is just 1hr from Florence by train.

2. The greatest medieval town in Italy to see is Siena. As is true with many places to visit in Tuscany you can enjoy the culture by walking through alleyways and narrow streets. You can also climb the massive Torre del Mangia bell tower and get a stunning view of Siena and the Piazza del Campo below. With a population of 250,000 will find that people here are extremely friendly.

3. The most popular place to taste wine is Chianti, which is very well known for its world-famous red wines. You can enjoy some spectacular scenery in Chianti while visiting vineyards and taking in some of the spectacular hilltop views.

4. Another popular place to visit to Tuscany is Lucca. Here you will find many churches and other medieval buildings that are simply amazing. The Roman amphitheater is located in Lucca and is over in 1900 years old. The town centre is completely enclosed by a brick wall built in the 16th century and you can take a walk along the top of the wall, which stretches 4km. Lucca is considered to have some the best food in the Tuscany region especially the tortelli lucchese. Tortelli lucchese is bright yellow pasta, stuffed with seasoned meat and topped with a heavily meat-laden ragù that is very rich in flavor.

5. San Gimignano is a wonderful place to visit while in Tuscany. It is set on a hill over 300m high and dates back to the 10th century. San Gimignano originally had 72 tower houses, some which were as high as 50m. In their day, the towers were a symbol of wealth and there are now only 14 towers in total.

6. Another place in Tuscany that is worth a mention is Fiesole. If you are in Florence and pressed for time you can make a quick trip there as it is just 5 miles outside of Florence. You can take a local bus and enjoy the great views.

7. Last, but most definitely not least is Florence. You probably want to spend at least 3 days savouring the sights of this wonderful city. There are lots of things to see and do and you should be sure not to miss the Uffizi. The Uffizi Gallery is one of the oldest and most famous in the world. Because of how popular it is you can wait up to 5 hours to get in so it is best to reserve a ticket in advance.

Learn more about the Florence and Tuscany sights and take a virtual tour of Florence and Tuscany.

Find out more about Tuscany Sightseeing and what the top rated activities are.

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Sightseeing in Montecatini Italy

Are you planning on going sightseeing in Montecatini, Italy? There are actually a few different places in Italy with the name Montecatini, so before you plan your sightseeing make sure that you are researching the right Montecatini!

Montecatini Terme is one of the most famous health resorts in Italy and is a lovely town with its own thermal springs and beautiful gardens. It is located in the province of Pistoia in Tuscany and is the most well known Montecatini. Over 2 million tourists visit Montecatini Terme every year.

Montecatini Alto which means "upper Montecatini" is an amazing hilltop village with panoramic views overlooking Montecatini Terme. You can get to Montecatini Alto by a finicular railway.

Finally Montecatini Val di Cecina is a hill town situated about 100km from Pisa and near to Volterra. It was a very prosperous town in the middle ages with lots of copper mines. These have now been turned into a museum. The town is very pleasant for sightseeing with lots of towers, little piazzas and medieval buildings.

Saturday, 5 January 2008

Vatican City Sightseeing

One of the most sought after sughtseeing destinations for those on a vacation to Italy is the Vatican City. Most people do not know that this is actually sovereign city-state, which means that it makes its own rules and has its own governing system, independent of the Italian system.

The Vatican City is a state within the city of Rome, surrounded by a wall. It was formed in 1929 under an agreement between the Kingdom of Italy and the Holy See and is the smallest independent state in the whole world with only a little over 100 acres. . The Holy See refers to the central governing system of the Catholic Church headed by the Pope, who is also known as the Bishop of Rome.

The Vatican City itself is home to the official residence of the Pope and is visited by millions of people each year sightseeing in Italy.

To get to the Vatican City you will first visit the famous St. Peter's square. This square is characterized by fabulous Baroque architecture from the 17th century, including symbols of the church motherly embracing its people in its arms.

St. Peter's Basilica is another place that I recommend you visit while sightseeing in the Vatican City because it is also found in St. Peter's square. It is the most distinctive building in the Vatican City and this church's dome can be seen for miles around Rome. St. Peter's Basilica seats 60,000 and is said to be the largest building in the Christian church. It is noted for being the burial site of St. Peter who is said to be the founding father of the Catholic Church by being the first Bishop of Rome. The discovery of his tomb was announced in 1950 after a decade of archeological research.

Catholic tradition says that St. Peter is buried under the altar of this Basilica and that all the Popes since then have also been buried in the Basilica the most recent being Pope John Paul II back in 2005. At the entrance to the Basilica are statues of Christ, St. John the Baptist and 11 of the 12 apostles. You can enter the Basilica for free during your Italian sightseeing vacation, but make sure you are properly dressed with no bare shoulders or knees. If you would like to attend mass you should go to the Basilica on a Sunday.

There are several other places to see here during your Italy vacation. The largest museum in the world is also found in the Vatican City. It has over 1400 rooms and galleries that represent 3000 years of art. The Sistine Chapel is also found here and is known for being the private chapel that the cardinals go to when electing a new Pope.

So what is the best way to see all the sights that the Vatican City has to offer during your Italian sightseeing vacation? There are plenty guided tours that can be taken for half a day or a full day. You can take a guided tour of only the museum or a guided tour which includes all the important places of interest in the Vatican City. This will ensure that you don't miss a thing while sightseeing in the Vatican City.