This year we spent our Easter break with friends in the breathtaking Veneto region.
In the heart of the Prosecco Veneto hills, halfway between Venice and the Dolomites, the CastelBrando Hotel steals the show as we approach Cison di Valmarino, a charming medieval village connected to the castle by a panoramic funicular.
It’s a wow experience from the moment we step foot inside the hotel.
To call CastelBrando a hotel is a slight misnomer, since the castle is so unique and replete with historic details. The panoramas are one of a kind. Everywhere we look – we are rewarded by spectacular scenery.
The cultural center offers guided tours of the castle and the possibility to discover several thematic museum areas, the 18th-century church of San Martino, as well as the fascinating history of one of the largest castles in Europe.
On Easter Sunday we enjoyed a delectable Easter lunch at court. It was a tasteful day embraced by a relaxed and convivial atmosphere in the refined and elegant rooms of Ristorante Sansovino.
The morning buffet, with freshly baked pastries and cappuccino, was delightful, and so was the setting, truly spectacular.
The afternoons spent within the magnificent surroundings of CasteBrando and its panoramic terraces were unforgettable.
In the evening head to Ristorante Pizzeria La Fucina, which offers informal atmosphere and… delicious brick oven pizza!
There are also wine cellars and bars situated in the most picturesque corners of the castle, like Bar Donatello/ Orangerie with beautiful vaulted ceilings.
Last but not least, Princess Gaia Spa offers a wide range of treatments to help you distress, relax and rejuvenate.
We had positive vibes throughout our stay.
And there is more! As well as being an attraction in its own right, the castle is also the jumping-off point for countless Veneto sights: Palladian villas, quaint villages, picturesque towns, UNESCO World Heritage sites, as well as good restaurants and important wineries, where to immerse, savour and revel in all that this attractive region has to offer.
The Fabbriceria della Cattedrale di Firenze (Florence Cathedral Works) has served as working and storage space since the Middle Ages. Founded in 1296 by the Florentine Republic, it is known today as the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore. This is where the world’s greatest collection of Florentine medieval and Renaissance sculpture has been preserved for over 700 years. It boasts masterpieces from the era’s major artists. It was here that Michelangelo carved the David, originally commissioned for the Duomo.
Since its opening to public in 1891 the museum has grown in size. The most recent transformation took place between 2010-2015. Now 750 artworks by masters from Donatello to Michelangelo can be admired here.
The museum is six thousand square metres. The exhibition itinerary has been aligned with the large marble and bronze decorations from the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, the Bell Tower and the Baptistery.
Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore a.k.a. Florence’s most ancient art project.
“The citizens agreed to rebuild the main church of Florence, which looked small for so great a city. And so they ordered to make it grander in size and exterior adornment, all in marble and with carved figures… The church would be big enough to outshine any other building built so far, so that men could never create anything bigger or more beautiful.” – Giovanni Villani
The building work was assigned to Arnolfo Di Cambio, who managed to complete the two aisles and part of the façade. Giotto designed the bell tower, and the whole project was crowned by Filippo Brunelleschi‘s gigantic dome, which took only sixteen years to complete (1420-1436). Brunelleschi originally envisaged the dome reinforced with mosaic decoration on the inside, but it was later frescoed by Giorgio Vasari, who created the largest fresco at that time (1572-1579), of more than 3600 m2.
The Museum houses: the originals of many sculptural elements of the Cathedral complex, such as statues and decoration from Di Cambio’s original, unfinished façade with its giant, full-scale model.
On the opposite side, the ten panels of Lorenzo Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise (1425-1452), which in July 1452 obtained the place of honour right in front of the Duomo. Michelangelo gave the masterwork this name for its gilded beauty.
And then: wooden models of the dome, different design plans for the beautiful façade developed over the centuries, liturgical vestments, as well as the second of Michelangelo’s three Pietàs, one of his most mysterious works, which may have been intended to go on the sculptor’s tomb; he once famously tried to destroy it with a hammer. There’s also the beautiful Penitent Magdalene by Donatello, an older and suffering woman with a tender gaze.
In the Gallery of Giotto’s Belltower, you’ll find 16 larger-than-life statues (including the renowned three Prophets by Donatello), as well as the 54 scenes that adorned the belltower, which most consistent part saw Andrea Pisano at work, as mentioned in my previous post about this marvellous cathedral.
The Sala del Paradiso, the museum’s main hall, literally takes your breath away. Before the dismantlement of the unfinished medieval façade in 1587, the Florentine Paradise (the area between the Baptistery and the Cathedral) had been the richest decorated piazza in Europe. If you stand in the middle of the room, you can grasp the whole effect of the façade reconstructed here on the basis of a 16th-century drawing .
Over the centuries entire generations of artists, workers and artisans succeeded on each other. They dedicated their lives to this project, knowing they would never be able to see its conclusion. Today, men and women at the Opera del Duomo continue working on the project with the same pride of their predecetors.
Opening times: every day from 9am – 7pm
Entry: an all-inclusive ticket admits you to the Museum, the Baptistery, Giotto’s Belltower, Brunelleschi’s Dome and the Crypt of Santa Reparata, €15.
The visit ends with a panoramic terrace that offers a breathtaking view of Brunelleschi’s dome and the rooftops of Florence.
The setting could not be more perfect: close enough to Sorrento and Positano, yet such a peaceful and quiet place. Welcomed by stunning scenery and awesome hosts, we felt at home from the first minute onwards.
Set in the hills above Sorrento, the place is truly magical: spectacular panoramas, comfortable, clean and elegantly furnished rooms. I especially appreciated the attention to detail.
Beautiful terraces and balconies overlooking the gulf of Naples across to Mount Vesuvius made for the perfect work space with views I would love to wake up to every morning.
Hotel Prestige, located conveniently near the Villa (just down the road), features a lovely swimming-pool and cosy restaurant with authentic local cuisine. Combine that with a fantastic sunset and it’s a fail-proof holiday experience.
The Villa is very well located to see the area. The staff, always on hand with tips, will make sure you are enjoying the region to the max and having a remarkable stay. Here customer service, communication, and attitude are second to none.
Villa Prestige offers a variety of programs to choose from. You’ll get help scheduling various tours and day trips throughout the region and the Amalfi coast, sea cruising, evening concerts, you name it…
The villa is ideally placed to quickly reach the islands and many dreamy towns of the coast. A courtesy shuttle to Sorrento itself is available several times a day.
Thank you for having us @Villa Prestige (site here), and arrivederci a presto!
Castello di Gallano Resort is one of our favourite escapes during the summer months. Plunged into the green Umbrian country, it offers the visitor a memorable and relaxing stay.
Enchanting is the area, which can be reached by driving through some lovely Umbrian countryside.
The medieval hamlet (which remains are still visible today) has been turned into this fantastic resort.
The 32 recently renovated apartments are well equipped and nicely furnished.
A very pleasant setting with swimming-pool (very refreshing on a hot day) surrounded by gorgeous Valtopina panoramas.
Extensive park-like areas allow you to get away from it all. Guests can use the many common areas such as barbecue facilities, picnic area and a playground for the little ones.
Here one can relax in the resort’s sublime surroundings or enjoy day trips to many beautiful towns easily reached from the resort – Foligno, Assisi, Perugia, Bevagna, Spoleto.
The elegant restaurant where to discover typical dishes of Umbrian cuisine. Everything is prepared out of high-quality products. Homemade pasta, truffles, and fine meats – all combined to ensure a memorable dining experience.
The views all around are breathtaking and the accommodations are beautiful too.
And what better way to spend an afternoon in Umbria than to come back to your accommodation and continue enjoying this view from your very own terrace, or maybe poolside with aperitivo!
This is how to whip up a yummy no-bake cheesecake. Fresh cherries, a crunchy biscuit base and smooth cream cheese filling make a delicious summer dessert.
100 g digestive biscuits
40 g butter, melted
250 g Philadelphia cheese
250 g ricotta cheese
350 g cherries, pitted & split into halves (save some for decoration)
100 g icing sugar (I like to use vanilla-flavoured icing sugar)
16 g unflavored gelatin sheets
6 tbsp cherry syrup
50 g sugar
mint leaves, to decorate
Crush the biscuits and mix in the butter (melted at room temperature), line the base of a 18 cm round springform tin with greaseproof paper, and push the biscuit mixture into an even layer into the base of the tin. Chill for 15 min.
Soak 8 g gelatin sheets in a bowl of iced water for 10 min. In a small saucepan heat slowly 3 tbsp cherry syrup, turn the heat off, lift the gelatin sheets from the water, wring gently, and whisk in until dissolved.
In a separate bowl use an electric whisk to combine soft cheeses with icing sugar and the gelatin syrup mixture, until completely combined. Add 120 g cherries. Form a layer on top of the biscuit base and let set in the freezer for 1 hour.
Finally, place 230 g cherries into a saucepan, add sugar, 3 tbsp cherry syrup and 2 tbsp water. Stir over medium heat without bringing to boil. Remove from the heat. Add 8 g gelatin (soaked beforehand in the iced water and then wringed out), stir just until the gelatin dissolves. Let cool at room temperature. Tip the mix on top of the cake, smooth over the top, and refrigerate until firm, at least 4 hours.
To serve, remove from tin, decorate with some cherries and mint leaves.
“Wine is constant proof that God loves us and loves to see us happy,”
– Benjamin Franklin
This year’s Cantine Aperte weekend has been filled with time with friends in the countryside around Montefalco. It was about tasting gorgeous wines, strolling through the vines, and enjoying stunning views over some of Umbria’s finest landscapes.
And what better place to learn about the local superstar grape Sagrantino than at the Arnaldo Caprai vineyard.
Umbrian families have been perfecting their crafts for generations. And that goes for harvesting olives, sculpting ceramics and, of course, winemaking.
Visiting this beautiful winery was on the top of my ‘to do’ list for years. They are evangelical about taking visitors on tours, tastings, or even gourmet picnics among the vines – the setting makes for the perfect al fresco dining experience.
Since 1988 Marco Caprai has been leading the company in his pursuit of giving the tradition an innovative approach. Harnessing his personal talent and skills, he made a commitment to produce high quality wines through environmentally conscious innovation, sustainable winery and farming operations. This, and the desire to preserve the landscape and regional identity, has lead to years of research in the agronomic and enological fields, which also involved the University of Agriculture of Milan.
An incredible journey awaits you once you set foot in this factory. A behind the scenes tour into the world of chocolate making!
You will learn about the history of the brand, as well as the aspects of top-quality chocolate production – this place has been home to the famous Baci (Kisses) wrapped in multilingual love notes, and then come the finest truffle and praline fillings, chocolate bars and so much more.
Since Perugina launched its first store in 1919, it has grown into an internationally known brand, which has conquered our hearts, one bacio at a time.
This is also a story of the lady behind it all, Mrs. Luisa Spagnoli, who realized her ambitions of creating not only a brand of women’s fashion clothing, but also a small chocolate making enterprise in the centre of Perugia.
The past comes to life thanks to a selection of photographs and objects that recreate the history of Perugina from its humble origins in 1907 to the present day.
In a relaxed atmosphere of the chocolate atelier you can create your very own chocolates under the expert guidance of maître chocolatiers, or practice the art of chocolate making by visiting chocolate workshops.
Our knowledgeable guide Luigi made the tour a very unique experience. He gave us an interesting insight on the company’s history.
An introduction video was followed by a wonderful visit of the factory, an explanation as to the origins of the coco bean and how chocolate is made, and of course, tasting the entire range of Perugina chocolates!
They also have a shop for you to go mad in – a wide selection of chocolate gifts to take home at the end of the tour.
The Sacro Bosco of Bomarzo is an extraordinary and mysterious garden in the province of Viterbo, where grotesque figures carved in situ out of peperino came to life in the mid 16th century.
The area, once homeland of the Etruscans, is extremely unique and beautiful – we are in Tuscia, northern Lazio, the Cimini mountains in the backdrop, and the Tiber River Valley marking the border with Umbria.
Lazio is not just Rome, even if hugely influenced by its nearness and its classical past. Characterized by the volcanic crater lakes – think Bolsena, Bracciano and Vico, Lazio has some important river flows and lavish green forests. Washed by the Tyrrhenian Sea, it is mainly a hilly region, with few mountains on one side and the plain towards the coast.
Rome’s noble families would have luxurious retreats set in the beautiful countryside. Just like the Orsini family palace that dominates Bomarzo, a small town perched on a tufa rock hill. Pier Francesco (Vicino) Orsini (1523- 1583) and Giulia Farnese moved into the palace surrounded by a sacred wood with lumps of peperino rock emerging from the ground.
The park was conceived by Vicino Orsini during the 30 years of his adult life. His intention was to impress his friends and visitors, to make them wander in wonder, and enter into a deep state of spiritual questioning.
The sculptures are spread all over the woody land. With no logical order nor designed route, the garden is unconventional and unlike any other. The guests would leave their horses at the entrance and stroll along the twisting pathways, fascinated and overwhelmed by curiosity to interpret the meaning of the sculptures.
There is also a Leaning House with an intentionally shifted centre of gravity, which gives you an odd wobbly feeling when inside.
Intended to astonish, the gardens was where Vicino Orsini tried to cope with his grief after his beloved wife Giulia died.
The monumental complex with its looming stone monsters, dragons, exotic animals, giant men and women, obelisks and mythological figures around every corner (some feature inscribed verses and mottoes) is an enigmatic example of the Italian High Renaissance.
Despite being a 16th-century architectural project, it is unlike any other garden of the time. Spring is a good time to visit. Take your time to enjoy this magical garden, which has inspired many artists.
The park is one of a kind, very educational and worth visiting. You get here by car. Go early or late to avoid crowds (and maybe get nicer photo ops). Allow an hour or two for your visit, maybe more if you bring a picnic lunch. There is also a small play area for the children.
The Valley of Ridnaun (Val Ridanna) will greet you with pure Alpine nature, bright sunshine and fresh air that stimulates the senses, while the Kruselburger family will leave none of your holiday wishes unsatisfied.
Like its sister valleys ,Val Racines and Val Giovo, Val Ridanna is relaxed and truly beautiful, and offers easy-going and friendly atmosphere.
For almost 40 years now Hotel Schneeberg and its knowledgeable and helpful staff have been taking good care of their guests. It is also known as one of the most family-friendly hotels in Alto Adige.
A fully equipped safe play area and an excellent spacious nursery (Mini-club), with well trained staff to look after the children. Our daughter enjoyed all of the fun activities and brilliant entertainment.
You’ll eat very well here. The restaurants combine the best of Italian cuisine and South Tyrolean cooking. The buffets and the 4-course dinner in the evening are great and can please everyone.
The location and the area are beautiful. The hotel offers great indoor and outdoor activities: the Schneeberg spa facility of 8000 m2 has saunas, steam baths, relaxation rooms, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, solarium and fitness area, not to mention the slides, pools and castles of the Bergi-Land aqua park.
There is also a bowling alley, bars, a pizzeria, and a disco pub. The cross-country ski trails are just outside the hotel, as well as the natural pond with pedalos, the huge open space for games, swings, and mini-golf.
There are lots of activities to try out both in summer and winter. Follow the call of the mountains and go hiking, climbing, mountain biking. Enjoy the surroundings and visit traditional festivals, events and concerts. Have fun on the 25 kilometers of snow-sure slopes of the Racines-Giovo ski area, which features 8 ski lifts, including the new eight-seat cableway, terrific ski runs, the Racines Funpark, a ski school and a children’s area. At these high altitudes the snow is almost certain from December through March, or anyway guaranteed thanks to the slopes equipped with snowmaking even when nature doesn’t cooperate.
You’ll find plenty of things to do here in your off-slope time, as well. You can visit the Wolfsthurn Castle, Mareta, which hosts the South Tyrolean Museum of Hunting and Fishing, and the Mining World Ridnaun-Schneeberg.
The hotel is about a 15-minute drive from the beautiful town of Vipiteno (Sterzing), read my earlier posts to learn more about the region.
Arezzo, a town about 80 km south-east of Florence, is universally known for its gold-working (since the Middle Ages) and the medieval jousting contest La Giostra del Saracino performed twice a year in the main piazza.
Arezzo is the capital of the easternmost province of Tuscany, which gets far less attention. The town was once part of the Etruscan League, then turned into the flourishing Roman Arretium, and later a medieval commune.
Among its native sons and supreme citizens were the poet and educated humanist Petrarch (1304-1374) and the talented artist and architect Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574). Here Guido monaco taught music and went on to invent the basis of the modern system of musical notation. Roberto Benigni filmed in Arezzo the scenes of his Oscar-winning tragicomedy Life Is Beautiful (La Vita è Bella, 1997).
Start at the Duomo (Cathedral of San Donato), it’s magnificent. Facing the same piazza is the 14th-century Palazzo dei Priori.
If you walk through the gardens, you’ll get to the 16th-century Fortezza Medicea. Situated atop the San Donato Hill, it was one of the three fortresses built to defend the city. It offers great panoramic views of the city and witnesses various periods of construction.
Walk down the corso (Corso Italia), past the shop windows, cafés, and the beautiful Romanesque church of Santa Maria della Pieve with its unmistakable bell tower called “of the hundred holes”.
From here you get to the most beautiful square of Arezzo (and one of the most beautiful in Italy) –Piazza Grande, with fine medieval buildings and the Vasari Loggia.
Here the Giostra del Saracino takes place twice a year (in June and September). A historical re-enactment of a medieval knights’ competition between the four districts of the town.
Inside is an amazing fresco cycle by Piero della Francesca – the extraordinary Cappella Bacci with the Legend of the True Cross; not to be missed!
Numerous Etruscan tombs as well as remains of ancient Roman buildings have been recovered within the modern town. A trip to Arezzo wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Roman Amphitheatre and Archaeological Museum: an interesting itinerary, where you can walk amongst the amphitheatre ruins and discover Arretium through the gems of the museum.
You may also wanna visit Casa del Petrarca (in via dell’Orto, not far from the Cathedral, now the seat of Petrarch Academy of Arts and Science) and Casa Vasari (in via XX Settembre, rebuilt and frescoed by Giorgio Vasari in the 16th century).
Around every other corner I stroll past there is something to explore and discover, like this interesting Fauna Selvatica exhibition.
Envisioned by the province of Arezzo, the project owes its existence to the group of experts. 600 different pieces from birds to mammals represent the local fauna as well as the exotic wildlife. An insight into the biodiversity of our planet, with particular regard to environmental problems. The museum is a few steps away from the Cathedral, at n.3 of Piazza della Liberta. Open every first Sunday and the preceding Saturday of the month, free entrance, 9:30 – 13:00 and 15:30 – 19:00, or by appointment.