Thursday, June 20, 2013


Villa La Grotta
Vlad & Simone manage Villa La Grotta
Cathedral of St. Lorenzo in main square of Perugia
About 12 miles from the city of Arezzo is a villa built in the late 1700s as residence for a noble family.  It is now a guest house and we had 5 pleasant days there as part of a Travelzoo package.  Slightly away from the main tourist areas, this is truly the heart of Tuscany -- the air is crystal clear and the countryside gorgeous. The package included a visit to an organic farm and winery and to an elegant estate and winery owned by the Ferragamo family, but it was the managers of Villa La Grotta, a young couple from Romania, who made this stop memorable with their warmth, kindness and humor. 

Fontana Maggiore between cathedral and Palazzo dei Priori
Then it was on to Perugia.  Best known for chocolate, Perugia also has a wonderful old city. Built atop a hill, it is best reached by parking below and taking a series of escalators up.  They pass through the ruins of a medieval fortress.   A beautiful fountain built 1278-80 stands between the cathedral and the building that housed the original governing bodies of the the province.       

Convent of 1700s converted to apartments
Our second floor terrace overlooking pool 
We stayed just outside the city in what has to be the most beautiful setting of our various lodgings.  A convent of the 1700s was converted into modern apartments.  Since it was not too busy, the owner upgraded us to the 2 bedroom terrace apartment which had a fantastic view of the surrounding meadows and mountains.  We could even see the old city.

Spoleto was our favorite old town.  Different parts of the city are connected by narrow alleys with arches and cobblestone streets. They go in every direction but all alleys eventually lead to a piazza and a way back to where you started.   

Spoleto began as a colony in 241BC.  Our hotel overlooked the ancient Roman Theater. Today it is best known for The Festival of 2 Worlds, an incredible 17 day cultural event with opera, ballet, concerts, cinema, workshops etc. held in venues all over the old city. 
Typical Alley with arch in Spoleto

The Arch of Druso 23Ad
Spoleto is also renowned for Rocca Albornaziana, a fortress that was  commissioned by the popes around 1360 to win back the Papal territories that had been lost to Avignon, France during the approximately 70 years that Avignon was the papal seat.   From here you can see the city and far beyond.  St. Francis of Assisi said, "Never had I seen anything more pleasant than my Spoleto valley." In 1817 the fortress became a penal settlement and eventually a high security prison.  Massive restoration led to its opening as a museum in 2007.  
Rocca Albornoziana

Rocca Albornoziana courtyard
The Bridge of Towers which was built in the late 1300s is outside the fortress.  It was the aqueduct that carried water from the mountain into the city.  We walked across it one day marveling at how they managed to build the columns so high.  It is  considered one of the greatest masonry constructions of the ancient world.  

Frescoes on 2nd floor walkway overlooking courtyard
At the foot of a long, wide staircase, the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta is a stunning sight.  It was built in the late 12th century over the remains of other churches.

Summer has finally arrived and we are happily heading toward Italy's east coast and a couple of beach towns.  But Spoleto was a wonderful city in which to celebrate our 18th wedding anniversary on June 18.  

1st century Roman Theater 
Bridge of Towers Aqueduct
Cathedral of Santa Maria Asunta

Saturday, June 8, 2013


Hotel Posta in upper right corner
Thanks to a very reasonable Luxury Link package we had 3 days in a junior suite at the Hotel Posta in Reggio Emilia.  It became a hotel in 1515 but the building's history dates back to 1280.  It has been beautifully modernized inside and sits at the corner of the biggest piazza in town.  The central area of Reggio Emilia is filled with pedestrian walkways and public squares and most of them are filled with people on foot or bicycle – especially on Fridays and Saturdays when almost every square hosts a market.   
Wheels of parmesan cheese

The area is best known for the production of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.  It is only produced in this general area and they claim  “The secret of such goodness originates in the place of origin, in the natural feed, and in the high quality milk with no additives.”   There are strict regulations regarding the feeding of the 270,000 cows that produce the milk that goes into making the cheese.  It takes almost 160 gallons of milk to make one wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano.   Once the cheese is made, it ages for a minimum of 1 year but usually 2 years or more.  So think of this the next time you sprinkle your pasta with parmesan cheese!  
Our 1st floor corner unit in Chianti country
With our host at an Italian winery 
We went from one extreme to the other: the heart of a busy city and one of the oldest hotels in Italy to the quiet Tuscan countryside and one of Italy's newest hotels in the Chianti area.  Our big studio apartment with full kitchen overlooked a beautiful pool.  Here we enjoyed the beautiful Tuscan countryside, quaint little towns and a couple of real Italian family run wineries.  
Piazza del Campo site of the Palio de Siena horse race

Palazzo Pubblico on Piazza del Campo built 1338-48
The charming town of San Donato
We didn't have to travel far to our next destination outside Siena.  We spent a day in the city best known for its massive cathedral and the Palio di Siena - the annual horse races around the Piazza del Campo.  On 2 separate days every summer, 10 jockeys riding bareback circle the sloping piazza 3 times in about 90 seconds. The race is fast and treacherous, and horses often reach the finish line without a rider.

Siena's Duomo (cathedral) was built in the 12th and 13th centuries.  The sanctuary is huge and the walls and ceiling of the library are covered with magnificent frescoes. 

Siena's Duomo
Cathedral Library

Every town - no matter how small - has a big church
Since we have been to most of the major cities of Italy in the past, this time we are enjoying driving the backroads and visiting tiny, hilltop villages with the ruins of ancient churches.  It has been an unusally wet, cool spring but the rains have finally eased.  Vineyards, green meadows and bright flowers sparkle under blue skies.

I love the picturesque windows