A Toast To Autumn @Fattoria COLSANTO -Bevagna, PG

Umbria never fails to surprise me. I sometimes forget what a beautiful region it is. The landscape is simply fascinating, and autumn is the right time of year for a scenic back-road drive, with vineyards whose leaves paint the countryside red, orange, and gold.

If your Umbrian dreams feature these amazing vistas, set your sights on Montefalco, known as the ‘balcony of Umbria’ for its dramatic hilltop perch. There are few better places to connect with all the charm and authenticity of this beautiful region than Fattoria Colsanto, situated right in the heart of Umbria. It makes a great base to visit all the main towns, with so many sights and treasures to choose from:  Perugia, Spello, Bevagna, Spoleto, Foligno and, of course  Assisi, the birthplace of St. Francis, are all within easy reach.

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The area is known for its wine and Livon is one of the best wine producers from this corner of Umbria. The family also owns wineries in the most famous regions throughout Italy. They did a superb job in renovating the 18th-century farm house, adding today’s modern comforts to the estate, with five comfortable rooms for the guests. The cellar offers quality wine tastings, including the region’s signature Sagrantino di Montefalco and Montefalco Rosso.

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The area is so incredibly pretty. And what better way to experience it than stay in such a relaxed and charming place!

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How’s this for an inviting view?

Umbria’s Green Gold @ MARFUGA -Campello sul Clitunno, PG

November is the right month for a sensorial tour in the genuine Umbrian way of living made of good wines, freshly picked truffles and newly-pressed extra-virgin olive oils.

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Umbrian countryside is authentic, with a rich cultural and artistic heritage. And while paintings, sculptures and frescoes from the greats such as Raffaello Sanzio, Perugino, Luca Signorelli, Rosso Fiorentino, the Della Robbia family, fill the museums, churches, galleries and squares of many beautiful Umbrian towns, other art expressions await you here, in the vineyards, olive groves, factories and rustic farmhouses, as Italian quality products are very famous and appreciated all over the world. These masterpieces derive from the same history and culture, geographical position, love and pride, determination that producers put into their products.

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Olive harvesting and pressing has just started. I got really involved this year at local olive oil mills during Frantoi Aperti – the most important annual event dedicated to oil. Held in November, the festival celebrates the extra virgin olive oil of high quality Italy is so renowned for. Gastronomic itineraries and cultural events of all kinds are organized on November weekends in villages and tiny hamlets throughout the boot. Workshops, regional menus, guided tastings… olive oil can tell many stories, just follow the oil route to discover the best mills of the territory and spend a blissful time in this beautiful country.

A little stroll around Spoleto, before I head out of town for a very special experience.
A little stroll around Spoleto, before I head out of town for a very special experience.

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Frantoio Marfuga near the beautiful hill town of Spoleto. This morning begins with a memorable visit to the mill and the estate with Serena, who turned out to be a very knowledgeable and entertaining guide. The passion is almost tangible. Here olives are being turned into some of the best Italian extra virgin olive oils. Fruity and fragrant, they boast an extraordinary flavor, good intensity and persistence, and an unmistakable mildly peppery, bitter after-taste..

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Olives don’t have to be too ripe to be picked. When it comes to extra virgin olive oil, the timing is crucial. The harvest must start early in the olive’s natural maturation process. Olives are picked when they are only partially dark and the fruity flavor is at its max, which assures a low degree of acidity. The olives are harvested mostly by hand. After the olives are gathered into small containers, they are brought to the mill (or frantoio). The olives are separated from the leaves, washed, crushed into thick paste, and pressed into oil.

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Umbrian oil makes up only about 2 percent of Italy’s olive oil production, but these oils win a far larger proportion of awards.

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The award-winning company Marfuga with their D.O.P. UMBRIA Colli Assisi-Spoleto, and other oils. By the way, Umbria was the first Italian region to receive the D.O.P. designation in 1997 for the entire territory – a recognition of the authentic Umbrian oil, it’s basically a stamp of excellence and ‘protection of origin’.

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And as for the skin care, here are some EVOO beauty products, for a charming gift. Olive oil is a great moisturizer, and first uses of olive oil were on the body and not in it.

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Marfuga olive oil themed products include creams, soaps, lotions, and scrubs.

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Best way to savor the liquid gold?  On bruschetta, of course! MARFUGA NOVELLO Extra Virgin Olive Oil is the first oil of the year. Bottled without being filtered in order to maintain its precious qualities, it should be poured with gusto on your bruschetta. Happiness!

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Known as green gold, Umbrian olive oil is an expensive treat. But avoid olive oil with a low price; the idea is that you must eat quality and not quantity. It is good for you, the health benefits of olive oil are unrivaled. Characterized by its intense green colour with golden highlights, fresh and fruity fragrance, this liquid gold is peppery, spicy and absolutely delicious!

Proudly an olive oil sommelier and a member of AICOO

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Ravenna, the Capital of Mosaics

Today we are in Ravenna admiring the unique Byzantine mosaics that decorate the city’s 1500-year-old churches! Here we can go back to the dawn of Christianity, with EIGHT well-preserved monuments UNESCO World Heritage Sites, an amazing experience for lovers of history and architecture!

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Ravenna was the residence of western Roman emperors, Ostrogothic kings, Byzantine governors of Italy, and thrice the capital city.

In AD 402 Emperor Honorius, the younger son of Theodosius I, transferred the capital of the Western Roman Empire to Ravenna. The model taken as example was the Byzantine city of Constantinople. Its architecture, decorations, and mosaics in the first place, became a fundamental reference point. The city was progressively enlarged, and turned into a truly cosmopolitan city, an important political, cultural, religious and artistic centre. Many of its marvels still survive. And this is the historical period when three characters link their personal stories to Ravenna.

Galla Placidia

The earliest and hypnotically colourful mosaics  are in the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia (386-452). Emperor Theodosius’ daughter and Honorius’s sister, Galla Placidia was a very powerful woman who ruled Western Roman Empire in place of her son, Emperor Valentinian III, until he was old enough to take over.

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The mausoleum, which Galla commissioned for herself, her husband Costanzo and her brother Honorius, is made of re-used ancient Roman brick. The bare and sober exterior is diametrically opposed to the amazing interior decoration, inspired by the Byzantine model Galla was so attracted by. Covered with marble panels in its lower part, and above that – the uniqueness of the artistically perfect mosaics created partly by the Byzantine masters.

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In the dimly lit interior: the golden cross surrounded by 570 stars lighting up the deep blue of the nocturnal sky, in the centre of the dome vault – symbol of heaven in itself.

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In the 6th century AD, Ravenna’s bishops and archbishops, who ranked second only to the popes, embarked upon a notable building program of churches. The remarkable sites include the Basilicas of San Vitale and Sant’Apollinare in Classe.

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Basilica di San Vitale (526-547 AD), founded by Bishop Eclesio, is one of the most important churches in early Christianity. The lavish mosaics that decorate its interior were commissioned by Archbishop Maximian in 546/556 AD. They are some of only a few that remain from the time of Emperor Justinian I, who turned Ravenna into the westernmost pillar of the Byzantine Empire. With Justinian Ravenna lived its period of maximum splendor. He dreamt of uniting the Latin west with the Greek east, bringing together both military and church leaders, all reunited into a peaceful political and religious system.

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As we lift our gaze, we encounter the beautiful ceiling of the basilica. Lots of windows let the light in and invite you inside, where you can really be taken by the beauty of countless vibrantly coloured chips the size of your fingernail, as well as fabulously decorative columns made of a high quality marble brought from the east.  Justinian himself, and his wife Theodora are depicted in a pair of mosaics flanking the altar. Their faces look like realistic portraits. The large lunettes located under the vault depicting Old Testament sacrifices are especially noteworthy. There is so much to look at! All those tiny tiles of stone and glass, brightly coloured in blues, and greens, and reds; and gold, which was ‘sandwiched’ between pieces of glass.

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The octagonal shape of the 1,400-year-old Basilica of San Vitale, and the adjacent Mausoleum of Galla Placidia.

Photo taken at Italia in Miniatura Theme Park.

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Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe (c.533-549), is one of the most perfect basilicas in Ravenna. An imposing building with its impressive forms, cylindrical bell tower and spacious interiors. Built in the first half of VI century and consecrated by Archbishop Maximian in 549, it is famous for its wonderful mosaics. It was once facing the Adriatic shore, but nowadays positioned in the countryside just entering Ravenna, near the huge archaeological area of the ancient military harbor of Classe, an important station of the Roman Fleet.

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The greatness of the Basilica, as seen at Italia in Miniatura Theme Park
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View towards the early Christian Byzantine apse with a hemispherical semi-dome in the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe.

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Theodoric (454-526), the Ostrogoth King of Italy, brought further development to the city. Various cult buildings were erected in and around Ravenna, witnessing the two centuries of the maximum splendor and artistic fervor. These include the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, the Arian Baptistery, and the Mausoleum of Theodoric, just outside the walls. The roof of the mausoleum is made of a single piece of Istrian stone, 11 metres in diameter.

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The richest heritage anywhere of mosaics from the 5th and 6th centuries preserved in the basilicas and baptisteries of the city is a clear evidence of the extraordinary period Ravenna had lived centuries ago. The heritage that has come down to us, of universal value, will leave you breathless, overwhelmed and willing to say “I’ve been here, and I’ve seen all this!”

Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, FLORENCE

‘…broad enough to cover with its shadow all the peoples of Tuscany’

   – Leon Battista Alberti, 1435

The largest in Europe when completed in the 15th century, and the 5th by size now, Santa Maria del Fiore is a marvel in the heart of Florence, a majestic church carefully decorated with attention to the finest detail.

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Everything in Santa Maria del Fiore is extraordinary: the splendid floor decoration in coloured marble, designed by Baccio d’Agnolo, the famous frescoes and busts honouring illustrious men. The whole cathedral interior is charged by surreal atmosphere. The brilliant colours of the stained-glass windows saw even Donatello involved, despite his personal antipathy towards Brunelleschi.

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The circular stained-glass window high above the altar depicts the Coronation of the Virgin (1434-1437), and it is the only known surviving two-dimensional work by the greatest Florentine sculptor.

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A vast cycle made up of 44 windows created in less than 50 years constitutes most gigantic single glass project in 14th and 15th century Italy. Outstanding for its chronological consistency, for the high percentage of original glass still in position today, and for the level of the artists who prepared the designs.

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 The Assumption of the Virgin, the glass oculus of the façade designed by Lorenzo Ghiberti, was restored in 2015 to revive its original colouring.

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The one-handed liturgical clock over the main portal painted by Paolo Uccello in 1443 shows the 24 hours of the hora italica.

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1478 : Firenze faces a period of great political and cultural fervour: the commerce runs smoothly, the Florentine banks are among the most enterprising in the world, and there is a state of constant economic and socio-cultural ferment. Florence is the residence and meeting place of the main artists and thinkers. Its streets, washed by the Arno, are walked down by the greatest humanists and the most famous and appreciated architects of the time: Michelangelo, Leonardo, Botticelli, Perugino, Arnolfo di Cambio, Donatello, Brunelleschi, Ghiberti, Della Robbia, Filippo Lippi, Poliziano, Pico della Mirandola, Marsilio Ficino, Giotto, Paolo Uccello, Vasari…

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Upon the death of Piero de’ Medici, known also as Il Gottoso (the Gouty), the city is ruled de facto by Lorenzo and Giuliano, who take over their father’s power, at the age of 20 and 16 respectively. They are fortunate enough to see the majestic Cathedral in its full beauty, standing proudly in the heart of the city. There is art everywhere. Priceless artworks created by the greatest artists of the time and rich colours of the monuments – bronze doors and statues, marble sculptures, mosaics and stained glass.

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But, on Easter Sunday April 26, 1478 the cathedral was the scene of the Pazzi conspiracy, when Lorenzo and Giuliano were attacked during the Mass. Giuliano died aged 25, while Lorenzo managed to escape. The Pazzi, a rich and powerful Florentine family, would not be satisfied with their number two position and, supported by Pope Sixtus IV, had planned the attack. The Pope and Federico da Montefeltro, the Duke of Urbino, might have organized the military operation to seize the city of Florence and steal it from the Medici’s hands.

But Lorenzo survived and became even stronger, the patron of the arts and humanities, the ruler beloved of his people. It was his duty to treasure, transmit and glorify all the beauty born in those years, for future generations to come and admire.

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Piazza della Signoria, the lively beating heart of Florence, can be recognized as the scenario of crucial events in the city’s political life. Here in the late 1200s a series of projects were submitted, willing to showcase the status of Florence as one of Europe’s economic and cultural capitals and to affirm its supremacy.

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In 1294 the Florentine government decided to build a new cathedral on the site of an ancient church of Santa Reparata (the city’s cathedral till that time which was “crumbling with age”) – an enourmous church, far bigger than the cathedrals of rival Tuscan cities Pisa and Siena. The work on the new church designed by Arnolfo di Cambio began in 1296, when on September 8th the first stone was laid. The Cathedral as we see it today is the result of 140 years of work. After Arnolfo’s death in 1310, Giotto was appointed to oversee the project, succeeded by Francesco Talenti, Giovanni di Lapo Ghini and other architects.

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18 July 1334: construction work begins on the Bell Tower, to a design by Giotto, who had designed it more as a decorative monument rather than a functional bell tower, carried on after his death in 1337 by Andrea Pisano till 1348, then finished in 1359 by Francesco Talenti.

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The gorgeous sculptural decoration of the bell tower comprises 56 reliefs on two registers and 16 life-size statues in the niches by Florentine masters Andrea Pisano, Donatello, Luca della Robbia and others.

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The lower register reliefs facing the Baptistery depict biblical scenes (the creation of man and woman), the beginning of human work and also various trades (sheep-herding, metal-working, music and wine-making). Here the Florentines were displaying what made them proud and prosperous. While in the upper register are the seven planets, beginning with Saturn at the north corner. The originals of all these works are now in the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore Museum.

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Looking up at Brunelleschi’s Dome

By 1418 only the Dome remained incomplete. The architectural design competition for erecting the dome was won by Filippo Brunelleschi, who astonished everyone by proposing to carry out a project with no flying buttresses to support it. Lorenzo Ghiberti was appointed co-superintendent. Their lifelong competition remained sharp, and Filippo, forced to work side by side with his rival, faked illness, taking over sole responsibility of his project when Ghiberti admitted he was unable to carry out this field on his own.

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Brunelleschi created the most elegant dome, the greatest affirmation of Renaissance architecture. The dome’s interior remained white for over a century. As we lift our gaze now, we can feel the mystical atmosphere emanating from the majestic Last Judgment by Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari. This is the largest single area ever frescoed (with its 3,600 metres²), finished after 7 years of work, inspired by Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel (which took him 4 years to paint), with a lot of space given to Dante’s Divina Commedia.

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“And then did I make another dome on top of this, to preserve it from the damp, and to give it a more magnificent and swelling appearance”, – in his own words Filippo Brunelleschi sums up the simple grandeur of his architectonic immagination – a dome inside a dome.

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The Cathedral, consecrated by Pope Eugene IV on March 25, 1436 (the first day of the year according to the Florentine calendar), is dedicated to Madonna del Fiore (St Mary of the Flower), that is to Florence, and the ‘flower’ is in fact Christ – first fruit of our salvation.

When entering the Cathedral, one is struck by its vastness, as well as the simplicity that underscores the church’s dimensions.

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The Baptistery of San Giovanni, across from the Cathedral, dates back to 897-1128. Built atop an ancient pagan temple dedicated to Mars, it is the oldest building in the square. Its octagonal shape symbolizes the octava dies (the eighth day without end) – the time of the Risen Christ. Embellished with costly marble in the 11th century and three sets of extraordinary bronze doors it is famous for between the 14th and 16th centuries. Once again, a competition. Once again, Brunelleschi vs. Ghiberti. This time Ghiberti was victorious.

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The North Doors, by Lorenzo Ghiberti at the beginning of his career (1402-1425), with scenes from The New Testament.

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The Gates of Paradise, to the east, with scenes from The Old Testament by Lorenzo Ghiberti (1425-1450). Only a few years ago they were black with grime, but now all the original gilding is visible. These bronze panels allow us to look into an infinitely deep space and admire all the extraordinary detail, so we can really understand why the Florentines were so proud of them and wanted to move them to the most prominent place.

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The façade, completed between 1871 and 1887 to Emilio De Fabris’ design, in a neo-gothic style. The façade’s sculptures were dismantled in the late 1500s and it was left bare till 1800s.

The whole area includes the Baptistery of San Giovanni, the beautiful columns, the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (il Duomo) with the excavations of Santa Reparata, Giotto’s Bell Tower, the new and enlarged in size Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore Museum, all these sights have religious roots. Great artists of the past created their marvellous works to express their devotion to culture and Christian faith in order to enrich the life of Florence and all of humanity.

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Santa Maria del Fiore represents a real jewel in the heart of Florence, a masterpiece that helps us fully grasp the splendour Florence lived at the time, celebrated and praised by Dante. You could take forever just walking around this beautiful city. There’s something new to see down every street, around every corner…

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“Florence, exult! for thou so mightily Hast thriven, that o’er land and sea thy wings Thou beatest, and thy name spreads over hell!” – Dante Alighieri

Solomeo & Corciano

Two charming hilltop hamlets just outside of Perugia await discovery.

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The characteristic hamlet of Solomeo is nestled in the beautiful green hills of Umbria. It’s a peaceful place, surrounded by silence, hospitality and breathtaking scenery.

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The village has recently been rediscovered. It regained its ancient splendor and returned to its former glory thanks to its resident – cashmere entrepreneur Brunello Cucinelli – who restored it completely, with love and respect.

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The 13th– century hamlet of Solomeo was built on the site of an ancient settlement known as Villa Solomei. In 1391 its inhabitants decided to fortify the village and build a castle.

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The beautiful church of St Bartholomew is a real gem, especially on the inside. The first nucleus of this structure dates back to the 13th century. It was later rebuilt in the 18th century.

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In the end of July the village travels back in time and frames one of the most distinctive events of this region – Solomeo Rinascimentale, a nine-day medieval street fair with shows, demonstrations, music and dancing. The village streets and piazzas come to life with the never ending past…

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Arts and craft exhibitions are hosted in the village streets, lit with hundreds of torches, along with regional specialties tastings in this perfect atmosphere: handmade pasta, high quality local produce, homemade desserts, wine, torcoli with vin santo, and of course, my favourite panzanella (bread salad)..

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Falconers, minstrels, artisans, jugglers welcome visitors, connoisseurs of Italian village life and of Brunello’s cashmere!

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Falconry show in the open-air amphitheater.

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You can feel Brunello’s patronage in every detail. A curved Ionic portico and colonnade leading to the entrance to the Cucinelli Theatre. It faces the large amphitheater where concerts are held. Internationally renowned artists perform on these stages. Do not miss the Villa Solomei Festival – a unique occasion to enjoy classical music of the highest level.

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The centuries-old town of Corciano is just 9km away. It is listed among the Most Beautiful Italian Villages and is a charming evocative place to wander.

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Corciano is surrounded by three concentric walls and vast green swaths of land.

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Park at the entrance to the hamlet and walk up through the Porta Santa Maria.

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As you walk up and down the narrow streets and steps, taking pictures and enjoying beautiful panoramas from the numerous viewpoints, you are taken by timeless medieval atmosphere.

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Corciano was a strategic site, overlooking the valley that joined the Trasimeno area and the Tiber River valley, quite a desirable stronghold in the constant warfare of the 14th and 15th centuries.

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Legend has it that the castle of Corciano was founded by Coragino, the mythical companion of Ulysses.

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The iconic tower Torrione di Porta Santa Maria built in 1482.

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Church of Santa Maria Assunta (13th century), where one can admire the Assumption by Perugino (1513) and the Gonfalon by Benedetto Bonfigli (1472).

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So if you are exploring the area, looking for a simple, peaceful getaway, consider a visit to these evocative and atmospheric villages. As this is what Umbria really is – authentic, unspoiled and traditional .

Castel Del Monte, The Crown Of Apulia

Castel del Monte, parked on a hill near Andria, in a very panoramic position offering unparalleled views of the surrounding landscape, is one of the most enigmatic sites in the world. It is a must-see for every Apulia-bound tourist.

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We are in 1200s… following the track left by a man who changed the history of Southern Italy –  Frederick II of Hohenstaufen. His passage here was more than just a joyful occasion.

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The castle’s main entrance.

The castle is part of a much larger network of castles, as Frederick built lots of them along the Adriatic coast. It is a monument to his reign, a perfect building for a perfect ruler. Viewing himself as the legitimate successor to the Roman Emperors of Antiquity, Frederick commissioned this stone crown for himself.

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The octagonal motif runs through the entire castle: it has eight octagonal towers, eight rooms on each floor, as well as an eight-sided courtyard in the centre. The octagon is the intermediate figure between the circle (representing the infinite sky) and the square (the symbol of the earth), hence the emperor was seen as the holy instructor of humanity.

The central courtyard.
The central courtyard.

Frequently examined, the castle hides an enigma. We are in the Middle Ages. Why would Frederick II (1194-1250) commission this architectural masterpiece, most probably around the year 1240, with that octagonal plan and all those specific astronomical and mathematical references? We don’t know it for sure. One of the surviving beliefs is that the castle and its geometrical figures derive from the application of the ancient Chinese art of Feng Shui, which harmoniously combines elements of buildings and nature.

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Some scholars say it served as a citadel, or, that the emperor used it as a hunting lodge. Its military function has been excluded, as it had neither a moat nor a drawbridge. In the halls you can still see some polychrome marble refinements, but nothing unfortunately remains of the décor that once pleased Frederick’s eyes.

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The majesty of the castle halls, where elements of Gothic, Roman, Arab and Norman style merge together in a perfect way into a union of cultures.

The presence of baths and fireplaces on both floors, as well as its fine decoration, suggest the castle might have been used as a residence. And yet again, some are convinced there was a link between the castle and the Templars. Anyway, it is a complex architectural work, which includes fine mathematical , geometrical, and even astronomical knowledge.

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Here Frederick spent a lot of time training his falcons and birdwatching. Numerous scholars were invited to his court to dispute scientific matters. Frederick inherited German, Norman, and Sicilian blood, but he was brought up the Sicilian way and loved the island very much. He lived and left lots of sites behind in Apulia, and used his imperial power to expand the Sicilian Kingdom into Italy.

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To get to the castle, we drive away from the Adriatic shore and enter the Altopiano delle Murge. Apulia is the easternmost region of Italy. It is really beautiful, with about 800 km of coast and extraordinary landscape, which Frederick would lovingly call his garden.

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Frederick was called stupor mundi, the ‘astonishment of the world’. He spoke Latin, Sicilian, German, French, Greek and Arabic, promoted science and literature through the Sicilian school of poetry which, as Dante points out, had a great influence on what was to become the modern Italian language. He also wrote lyrics himself, which has been preserved to the present day.

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Castel del Monte depicted on the reverse of the Italian one euro cent coin.
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Balcony overlooking the central courtyard.
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Panoramic views over the Murge stretching to the Adriatic.

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Beautiful halls covered by cross ribbed vaults held up by semi-columns in coral crushed stone.

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And marble pillars that outline the first floor rooms.

 

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The castle is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, an outstanding example of the Middle Ages, though reflecting a different image of it. Here different cultures blend together harmoniously, making this site one of a kind and absolutely unmissable.

Tyrolean Holidays

South Tyrol, at the feet of the Dolomites – UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site, is… picturesque towns, nice people, fresh air, gorgeous food and wines (think Lagrein!), adventure and relaxation amongst its beautiful landscapes, and so much more. There are huge areas of wild nature, including the most important Italian national park. The region is officially bilingual, or even trilingual, including all road signs, menus and media. Three language groups live harmoniously together in a relatively small land. It is where the Romance and Germanic cultures meet. The ‘aborigines’ of South Tyrol are however the Ladin people.

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Merano and its surroundings is the perfect base for those wishing to explore the region. There is lots to see and do. Expansive forests, numerous fortresses and magnificent castles – testament to the eventful past of the region, panoramic roads, and then, impressive mountains, breathtaking views and delicious cuisine. Hiking, skiing, climbing, mountain biking, archery or golf – there’s no chance you get bored!

We stayed in Madonna di Senales, located at an altitude of 1,500 metres above sea-level, surrounded by forests with the glistening peaks of the Alps as a backdrop. From here we could explore valleys and mountains, as well as flourishing local culture and art.

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Berghotel Tyrol is a beautiful hotel I highly recommend. The spacious rooms all boast jaw-dropping views of the green mountains and quaint houses of a story-book village.

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It was a joy to wake up every morning to this stunning panorama! Dietmar and Monika are such amazing hosts, they make everyone feel welcome, and it sure was grand to return to the hotel after a full-day of exploring and enjoy a fabulous meal!

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Locals are proud of showing-off to the world Ötzi the Iceman, a mummy found in the glaciers in 1991. The ArcheoParc in Val Senales, surrounded by spectacular Alpine scenery, offers interesting insights into the world of the iceman and his homeland – a village in the Late Neolithic Age, with child-friendly experiences and educational open-air exhibits and activities.

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Senales Valley and the snow-capped mountains in the distance, where the world famous Ötzi the Iceman was found.

Discovered by chance, the Iceman is a unique well-preserved relic, a mummy from the Copper Age. You’ll find Ötzi, his clothing and accoutrements in the permanent exhibition centre of the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology, Bolzano.

We visited several gorgeous places near Madonna di Senales which I can recommend: Lake Resia, near the border with Austria and Switzerland, famous for its steeple of a submerged 14th-century church; and  the village of Glorenza, which boasts remains of an ancient Roman settlement.

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Lago di Vernago

Merano itself. The former capital of the County of Tyrol (1418-1848) has been a health resort for centuries, especially popular after Empress Elisabeth of Austria started visiting. Terme Merano boast indoor and outdoor pools, saunas and spa.

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St. Nicholas' Church, dating to the 15th century.
St. Nicholas’ Church, dating to the 15th century.

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Merano’s Gardens of Trauttmansdorff Castle display flowers and plants from all over the world. Tulips, peonies and elegant camellias in spring, roses and dazzling sunflowers in summer, my favourite dahlias in autumn make the visit to the gardens an unforgettable experience.

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And then, beautiful vistas of the surrounding mountains and sun-kissed Merano.

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It is a stunning botanical complex. You can really unwind here, and spend a pleasant summer evening at the Water Lily Pond in the spectacular setting of the gardens.

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Another splendid summer evening idea is to visit Braugarten Forst, on the edge of the town, with live music and cool freshly-tapped beer, right from the Forst Brewery across the wooden bridge!

Numerous characteristic cultural, culinary and musical events are offered throughout the year.

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Traditional Christmas markets during the four weeks of Advent are the idyllic atmosphere guarantee for pre-Christmas shopping experience. Summer or winter, there is always something going on.

The picturesque old town of Vipiteno, the northern most town of Italy and one of the Most Beautiful Italian Villages.
The picturesque old town of Vipiteno, the northern most town of Italy and one of the Most Beautiful Italian Villages.

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The 46-metre-high municipal tower of Vipiteno, known as the Tower of Twelve. It used to be the seat of the fire brigade, and it is considered the symbol of the town.
The 46-metre-high municipal tower of Vipiteno, known as the Tower of Twelve. It used to be the seat of the fire brigade, and it is considered the symbol of the town.

We also visited the South Tyrolean Strawberry Festival in the Martell Valley for some much-needed fresh strawberries. It is celebrated every year on the last weekend of June.

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The fertile valleys and foothills of the Tyrolean Alps are perfect for growing apples, peaches, strawberries, plums and apricots. These are high quality products, like those of Venosta Valley (every tenth apple in Europe and every third apple in Italy is grown here).

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Speck (top quality smoked ham) is among the typical South Tyrolean specialities. Other culinary delights are the dumplings and apple strudel (South Tyrol’s top dessert).

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Moser Speckworld shop and museum, Naturno

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The area is well known for its wines, both white and red, as well as the indispensable grappa as the finishing touch to your meal.

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South Tyrol produces 900,000 tonnes of apples per year, and it is thus Europe’s largest apple orchard.

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The region simply invites you to spend lots of time outdoors. Here you can enjoy wonderful walks, beautiful lakes, and outstanding beauty of the Dolomites!

Wine-Surfing in Tuscany (Cantine Aperte 2016)

I happen to love May and everything that comes along with it: the sunny days, the verdant hills, the many events, the balmy air and.., of course, Cantine Aperte. Italy wouldn’t be Italy if there was no wine involved!

Since 1993, member wineries of MTV (Movemento Turismo Vino) open their doors to personally meet the public on the last Sunday in May.

Tuscany, where outstanding wines and olive oil have been produced for centuries, is chock-full of great wineries. I wrote about some of them in my Cantine Aperte 2015 posts last year.

This year’s visit takes me  first to the gorgeous part of Tuscany near Florence and the bordering Chianti Classico region, Figline Valdarno. This medieval town was once known as the barn of Florence. Il Palagio estate, in the countryside, surrounded by vines and dark green, at-attention cypress trees, has been lovingly restored by Sting and his beautiful wife Trudie Styler.

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You can stop by, to taste and buy gorgeous wines, olive oil and more. Their Sister Moon is among the best 101 Italian wines.

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The farm shop sells everything made or grown on the estate.

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Carpineto

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What a stunning setting and beautiful winery! Surrounded by Chianti Classico vineyards, planted on steep hillsides to Sangiovese and Canaiolo grapes.  They produce some gorgeous wines here. We lucked out and had postcard style weather.

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Tasting quality Carpineto wines: Dogajolo, Chianti Classico, Chianti Classico Riserva, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva and Farnito Cabernet Sauvignon.

Castello di Querceto

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This is one of my favourite estates, located in the northeastern corner of the Chianti Classico region.

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It’s an unforgettable place in the heart of Tuscany, one of the fabulous castle wineries of the area.

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We had a wonderful experience here, and I can highly recommend this family owned and operated winery for lovely wine tastings, or even accommodation in the Chianti Classico region.

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Peacocks in the park
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Beautiful garden, tended with love and care.

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Radda in Chianti

Not too far away is another Tuscan wine mecca – Radda in Chianti. The road to Chianti is picture perfect Tuscany. This landscape with vineyards and olive groves has become familiar through its depiction in Italian Renaissance paintings, and every corner of it is rich in Tuscan authenticity.

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Located halfway between Florence and Siena, the Castello di Radda wine estate lies atop a hill facing the town of Radda in Chianti.

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This winery is one of the biggest in the area, and the surrounding scenery is simply gorgeous!

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The view was amazing and the estate maintained impeccably.  In the glass: Castello di Radda Toscana IGT Rosato.

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Vittoria gave us a detailed explanation, a true immerson in the world of Castello di Radda and its working philosophy.

Il Borro

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I previously wrote about this estate a year ago, I like it so much and I visit several times a year.

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A great stop for winetastings!

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The stunning pool overlooking the undulating countryside. Life should always be like this…

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The village of Il Borro – a journey into medieval Tuscany.

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Tenuta La Pineta

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A big reason for visiting Tuscany is to not just sample the great wines, but to have it served to you by the families who make it. We spent a lovely afternoon touring the vineyard and heard Luca share with us his love and passion for winemaking.

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And here are some of the gorgeous products you can take home to remind you of your visit to this beautiful region.

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Cheers! And, a presto!

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The Bufalini Castle, San Giustino

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The Bufalini Castle in the town centre of San Giustino is a must-see. Once a medieval fort of San Giustino, aimed to defend the territory of the larger town of Città di Castello, the castle we see today is a rare example of a noble residence.

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It has recently reopened its gates to welcome visitors into its beautiful Italian garden with mazes of the late 17th century.

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The Renaissance complex, which Giovanni Magherini Graziani used to call ‘a villa within a fortress‘, is surrounded by fortified walls.

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In 1487 the castle became property of the Bufalini family, and Niccolò di Manno Bufalini from the nearby Città di Castello financed the reconstruction of the military fortress, succeeded by his great-grandchildren who, between 1530 and 1560, decorated it with artworks including frescoes by Cristofano Gherardi (Sansepolcro 1508 – 1556).

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I loved the sense of discovery as I stepped inside the castle.

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The collection we can admire here today conveys the atmosphere once lived by an ancient Umbrian family, through artworks, fine furniture, ceramics and crystals. A family, whose members distinguished themselves in military, ecclesiastical, literary and juridical spheres while serving the Papal States, the House of Medici, the House of Este, and some Spanish, French and English royal families.

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The Stucco Room, or Gallery of Strong Women: a set of red velvet carved wood chairs made in the Marche region, and beautiful stucco framing a series of paintings on canvas showing tales of strong women.
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The Cardinal’s Room

Open on Sundays and holidays, tickets €5.

Read about more sites to visit in the area in The Upper Tiber Valley: More History Along the Hillsides.

Urbino and Raphael The Divine

“Heaven sometimes shows itself in showering upon one single person the infinite riches of its treasures… the possessors of such rare and numerous gifts are not merely men, but, if it be not a sin to say it, mortal gods”

– Giorgio Vasari

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Raffaello was born in Urbino “at three o’clock of the night on Good Friday, in the year 1483” to Giovanni de’ Santi, a painter and a loving father, who put a brush in his son’s hand almost as soon as the boy could hold it. Giovanni was Federico da Montefeltro’s court painter and poet. Federico died the year before Raphael was born, but the artist had the opportunity to learn the manners and social skills under the rule of Federico’s son – Guidobaldo.

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Still a boy, Raphael became a great help at his father’s workshop, and later on, a brilliant student of Pietro Perugino.

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Raphael’s birthplace in via Raffaello, Urbino
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A monument of the accomplished artist marks one of the city’s highest points

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“There seems to breathe a spirit of divinity, which makes whoever marvel how a human brain could make painted things appear alive…”

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Church of St. Francis, Città di Castello, Umbria

For the nearby Città di Castello a very young Raphael created masterpieces  that determined the fundamental stage of his artistic development (1499-1504), like the altarpiece for the church of Sant’Agostino, Raphael’s first registered work, or the Crucifixion for the church of San Domenico which, “if his name were not written upon it, no one would believe to be a work by Raffaello, but rather by Pietro”. And then, of course, the little panel-picture of the Marriage of The Virgin for the church of San Francesco, in which one may recognize the excellence of Raffaello increasing.  And it is exciting to think that Urbino and Città di Castello marked the very beginning of his destiny, which will later lead him to the Papal Apartments in the Palace of the Vatican.

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“… by studying the works of other masters, both the old and the new, out of many manners he made one, which was looked upon ever afterwards as his own; he put the best into a collection and enriched the art of painting with a sublime perfection, performing miracles in art, his art was and always will be vastly esteemed by all craftsmen”,

– Giorgio Vasari on Raphael’s sublime eclecticism

Read my earlier posts to discover Urbino (Marche) and Città di Castello (Umbria). A presto!