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.
You can’t beat the sensory experience of Alto Adige in December! For a Christmas enthusiast like myself, the magical Christmas markets of this region are a MUST!
The beautiful squares of Merano, Brunico, Bolzano, Bressanone, Vipiteno set the atmosphere for the most beautiful time of the year. Advent singing warms the hearts of visitors, and the smell of Christmas pastries, mulled wine, and other seasonal culinary delights lingers in the air.
Countless events help shorten the wait until Christmas, such as Krampus runs organized early in December. The scary-looking furry and horned figures, Krampuses, roam the streets of Bressanone, followed by St. Nicholas and his angels, who represent a victory of good over evil. You are in for a truly unforgettable experience!
Spend the most wonderful time of the year in Alto Adige. Each market has a unique personality and should not be missed.
Coming to Alto Adige is always a treat, whether it is winter or summer. We really enjoyed the holiday atmosphere here. I can’t wait to start planning our return trip next year!
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.
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.
The area is so incredibly pretty. And what better way to experience it than stay in such a relaxed and charming place!
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.
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.
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.
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..
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.
Umbrian oil makes up only about 2 percent of Italy’s olive oil production, but these oils win a far larger proportion of awards.
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’.
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.
Marfuga olive oil themed products include creams, soaps, lotions, and scrubs.
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!
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!”
‘…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.
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.
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.
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.
The Assumption of the Virgin, the glass oculus of the façade designed by Lorenzo Ghiberti, was restored in 2015 to revive its original colouring.
The one-handed liturgical clock over the main portal painted by Paolo Uccello in 1443 shows the 24 hours of the hora italica.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
The North Doors, by Lorenzo Ghiberti at the beginning of his career (1402-1425), with scenes from The New Testament.
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.
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.
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…
“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
Two charming hilltop hamlets just outside of Perugia await discovery.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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)..
Falconers, minstrels, artisans, jugglers welcome visitors, connoisseurs of Italian village life and of Brunello’s cashmere!
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.
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.
Corciano is surrounded by three concentric walls and vast green swaths of land.
Park at the entrance to the hamlet and walk up through the Porta Santa Maria.
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.
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.
Legend has it that the castle of Corciano was founded by Coragino, the mythical companion of Ulysses.
The iconic tower Torrione di Porta Santa Maria built in 1482.
Church of Santa Maria Assunta (13th century), where one can admire the Assumption by Perugino (1513) and the Gonfalon by Benedetto Bonfigli (1472).
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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Beautiful halls covered by cross ribbed vaults held up by semi-columns in coral crushed stone.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
And then, beautiful vistas of the surrounding mountains and sun-kissed Merano.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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).
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.
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!