Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Computer Issues

We all experience them, don't we?

My computer is on the blink and being repaired. I don't expect to have it back for two weeks. So, my computer time is cut to a minimum as I share my husband's (slow) computer. Oddly, I welcome the respite from so much computer time, while being challenged at how to keep my businesses running on one cylinder in stead of four.

I'll be back with more posts just as soon as I can. In the meantime, have a passionate Thursday!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Italian Events & Festivals

Here are some random events and festivals happening in Italy currently and for the next few months. I hope you are lucky enough to be going to Italy. Don't forget, if you need any help in planning your Italian vacations, please contact me through Passionate Palate Tours (my email is in my profile of this blog.)

Venice: Now, we're talking! Many of you know this is my favorite city in Italy, so I love to spread travel tips and help for "La Serenissima".
Now through October 12 - in celebration of Peggy Guggenheim's arrival to Venice 60 years earlier and the mark she left on modern American Art - "Coming of Age: American Art, 1850s to 1950s" at, of course, the Peggy Guggenheim Museum.

Florence: Now through September 7 - "I Grandi Bronzi de' Battistero: L'Arte di Vincenzo Danti, Discepolo di Michelangelo." "The Great Bronzes of the Baptistry: The Art of Vincenzo Danti, Disciple of Michelangelo."
When I was there I really wanted to see this exhibition a the former prison of Florence - the Bargello. Unfortunately, the museum was closed every time I had some free time. I hope you can see this exhibit of the artist who created three of the great doors of the Baptistry.

Verona: July and August - the great Verona opera season is in full swing. See their site for full details.

Macerata, Le Marche: July and August - the other great opera venue is the Sferisterio in Macerata (my husband's home town!) Not as many Americans venture into Le Marche, but it is worth it. The details of their opera season can be found on their site.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Maremma

After the wonderful week of wining and dining through Tuscany with my fantastic group, I headed west. I left Florence and drove to west to Vinci stopping to see the Da Vinci museum which I had wanted to see for years. I was not disappointed. For you Da Vinci fans out there, as well as all of you who can appreciate a brilliant mind, this museum is FASCINATING! It holds none of his art, only his inventions. Each invention is shown as working model, some real-size, some on a smaller scale. I came away more impressed than ever with this man's mind and talent. To be such an amazing artist, an inventor, a scientist, an architect, a physicist, and more, is mind-boggling.

From there I headed southwest to the Maremma area. This is the "wild west" of Tuscany, with miles of meandering coastline, islands, mountains, pastoral and agricultural lands. My first stop was in the mountains above Bolgheri at an agriturismo I had read about and had wanted to visit. It is an old restored villa - Tenuta La Bandita. One of the things I love about Europe is that you can feel like you are in the middle of nowhere, as in the case - 45 long minutes on a windy road to the nearest small city or freeway, but you can have all the comforts and culture that you could ask for. This place is run by a lovely young woman who looks like she could be on a fashionable street in Milan. Yet here she is the middle of mountainous country overseeing hectares and hectares of crops (vegetables, fruit and lots of olive trees), cinghiale, sheep, goats, pigs, dogs, workers, a lovely hotel with about 20 rooms and a first-class restaurant. How does she do it? When I asked her, she sighed and couldn't really give me an answer, but her tired look spoke volumes. Almost all the food you eat there was grown and made there, and it was delicious.

The grounds are lovely, with sculptures and views of nearby medieval hamlets:

I was very fascinated by these wild, dangerous creatures being raised for food. Can you see the cinghiale?
I took leave of this lovely sanctuary and headed south to see a very famous and ancient Etruscan town. I was in no hurry, which was a good thing because those mountainous Maremma roads are tedious to drive, but worth it for their views and tranquility. The solitude was good for my soul. What felt like three hours later, I reached my destination of Pitigliano. I had heard this "city of the tufo", or a city built on this tufaceous rock, was a must-see and now I know why. As I approached the city, I couldn't see it. The road signs kept stating I was getting closer, 10km, then 8 km, then down to 2 km and I still could not see it! I didn't understand as I know this city is built up high. I rounded a corner and the view took my breath away, literally. I exclaimed to no one, "Oh my God!" I pulled over as soon as I could to take in this view.

It turns out that I had been driving at about the same level as the city, the trees obscuring any view, but the city is surrounded by a kind of ravine. As if a river had naturally worn away at this rock. So, while it is high, it stands in a bit of a valley/ravine.

This is a big tourist attraction, although it is difficult to reach. Parking is at a minimum, so go when you have plenty of time.

After parking, I walked a bit to get into the city and stopped and admired yet another amazing view of this Etruscan marvel:

You can see the ravine here on the bottom, and in those trees are tunnels called Vie Cave, which the Etruscans used to safely moved their people when under attack. I assume these tunnels somehow reach the city itself, but in my laziness, I did not ask anyone.
Once inside the city, one is greeted with the lovely cobblestone streets and charming houses of most small, Italian hill towns. The restaurants were all packed with tourists and the prices are not cheap here. Despite that, it is indeed a "must see".
From there I headed west toward the coast to one of my favorite hotels in the world - Villa Il Tesoro. It is run by the Guldener family who make the famous wines of Terrabianca. They artfully restored these old stone farmhouses into modern and spacious guest suites. There is no detail overlooked here - from the toilet paper holder to the gracious staff that learns your name immediately and never forgets it.
The only downside to Il Tesoro is that is romantic and I was all alone with about six or eight couples! I did need some quiet time, so I welcomed it, but when it came time to leave was really anxious to see my husband.
I should note here, I could probably not afford more than one night here on my income, but I had received many "free nights" here from sales programs I had won years before for selling their wine. I never had enough time to use the nights while working in that sales job, but I was able to use them now.
Each night my table for one was prepared by the window with the most amazing views over vineyards, gardens and hills. I watched the sunset while counting my blessings for three lovely nights in a row.

The grounds are as tasteful as the inside of the buildings. With artistic and tranquil touches everywhere.
There are many hectares of vineyards here, too, growing Sangiovese, Cabernet and Merlot. Terrabianca also has a winery and vineyards in Chianti Classico.
I took day excursions to the coast to see the gorgeous area of Punta Ala, only about a 30 minute drive and the next day to Porto Santo Stefano and Orbetello. Punta Ala has pine trees that come right down to the beach and a peaceful, low-key atmosphere that really attracted me. I made a mental note to return to Punta Ala for a week at some point, or sail the coast in order to see more.

Perhaps I was a bit bored, but definitely relaxed, while watching a storm roll in from my room I was playing with the view out my window. I dubbed this "A Matter of Perception."

I vowed upon leaving that I would be back, and next time with my husband.