Weekly Photo Challenges: Reflections

Few photos from Italy to answer this week photo  challenge: Reflections.

ISLAND OF BURANO

ISLAND OF BURANO

VENICE

VENICE

VENICE BY NIGHT

ISLAND OF SAN GIULIO, LAKE ORTA

NAVIGLI, MILAN

NAVIGLI, MILAN

My two weeks in Italy: Two Nights in Venice

I was 17 years old the first time I visited Venice; I was spending a month with my uncle in nearby Treviso so I would often ride the train to Venice to explore the calle, museums, and churches. I already knew I wanted to be an architect and I was fascinated by this city however, I remember thinking that July was not the perfect time to fully appreciate it and the misty days of November would have added so much more to the atmosphere. I returned, in November, with my boyfriend (today my husband) and indeed I loved it.

I have returned to Venice time and time again, with my husband and my children. My children have then returned with their girlfriends. I have never, however, spent a night in Venice! Never until this past trip to Venice. September is still tourist’s season and also the cruise ships are still in sight, I needed to find a place where I could feel in the heart of Venice but far from the tourist hustle . . . I found the perfect place: The Bauer Palladio Hotel and SPA.

Set on Venice’s Giudecca Island, the hotel is a jewel under many aspects. First of all the hotel is discreet, just a small plaque on the outside and a slightly larger one as you pass the entrance.

Architecturally, it is housed in a historic palace originally designed by Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio – hence the hotel’s name. Historically, Casa delle Zitelle – as it was originally referred to – was a charity established by women in the 16th century to prevent young women falling into prostitution. From the hotel you enjoy sweeping views of the lagoon, Punta della Dogana on the left, San Marco and the Ducal Palace just across, and the Island of San Giorgio just one stop ahead.

The hotel went through a complete restoration and it reopened in 2006 thanks to the vision of Mrs. Francesca Bortolotto Possati, granddaughter of Arnaldo Bennati, whom bought the first Bauer hotel, on the Grand Canal, back in 1930 (Today divided into two: Il Palazzo and the Bauer Hotel).

The Palladio provided the experience that I was looking for, be part of Venice but away from the crowd. It’s easily reachable from the train station with a Vaporetto (we got a 3 days pass) and from the Airport with the Alilaguna. Both stop at “Zitelle” only few steps away from the hotel. The hotel also has a free shuttle which runs every 30 minutes (until midnight). The shuttle stops at the sister hotel, The Palazzo, which is a short 5 minute walk to Piazza San Marco.

Having arrived early, our room was not ready so we were offered a glass of Prosecco to ease our wait. We took the opportunity to visit the bar and wander through the outdoor space. Walking through the Palladio‘s quiet garden you feel relaxed and at peace, almost at home. The narrow paths, the secular olive tree, the grapevines, the large patio, the intimate cloister, perfect to enjoy an afternoon Spritz, the secluded benches, the brick walls . . . all make it for a true retreat.

It is striking how the Palladio, while offering all the modern amenities that you would expect from a 5 star hotel, has been restored in complete respect of the original 16th century convent. I must say that I am not surprised by that, especially after having the pleasure to meet Mrs. Francesca Possato, the Bauers owner and CEO. A native Venetian, pleasant and energetic, Mrs. Possato was not afraid to show her passion to preserve the culture and history of her hometown.

Model of the original palace

My husband and I had a beautiful two-story suite, which we loved. Unlike the rest of the hotel furnished with antiques and adorned with trelliswork stencils, our suite had a more contemporary style, it was simple and luxurious at the same time; fresh flower, fresh fruit and inspiring good night notes made it even more special.

I also loved that the bathroom was furnished with “Santa Maria degli Angeli” products made with natural and organic herbs from the local botanical garden of the 1400 ancient convent of ” Le Convertite“. The cosmetics are then created by the female inmates housed into the jail near the botanical gardens. The same products are used at the Palladio SPA, which I did not have the opportunity to test; I did however visit the facility which boasts an impressive relaxation room overlooking the Grand Canal.

After a quick lunch of cicchetti and Prosecco at a nearby cafè and after visiting the glass work exhibition ” Carlo Scarpa – Venini” on San Giorgio Island, my husband and I took the 5 minutes shuttle ride across the canal.

San Marco Square was just as my last time there, a lot of people, the pigeons, the Florian . . . and the scaffolding.

My trip to Venice this time did not include visits to museums, churches or palaces. I was there to enjoy the city, to get lost, to discover new corners, to wander, to eat and to have a good time. As we headed to the Mercerie the sky got dark and it was quickly pouring. We did not despair; we found shelter by a church, we purchased a 5 euros umbrella, we stopped at a bar for yet another Prosecco (my third for the day), we got wet, but at the end, we were rewarded with the magnificent views of Venice after the rain . . .

My husband and I kept wandering through the calle until dinner time. We went to ” Trattoria Alla Vedova“, a historic trattoria founded in 1891. Located in the vicinity of Ca’ d’Oro, the restaurant featured a simple Venetian menu, exactly what I was expecting. We shared an antipasto of mixed fish which included local sarde and baccalà mantecato (Venetian style cod-fish – like a spread), I had cuttlefish in black ink served with polenta, my husband had bigoli (sort of tick spaghetti) in typical salsa and we also shared a plate of veal’s calf in Venetian style. We drank the wine of the house and we ended with biscotti dipped in sweet wine . . . other than for the bigoli which I think were replaced with spaghetti, everything was delicious. Before leaving we also stopped to chat with the owner who graciously offered a local grappa.

After a short walk we rode the Vaporetto through the Grand Canal and to Fondamenta Zattere where I was hoping to end my evening with a gelato at Nico, however, we were late and the gelateria was already close. Time to get back to the Palladio for a good night sleep and to recharge for the full day ahead.

We started our second day in Venice with a plentiful breakfast at the Palladio. The spread of food was awesome, from freshly baked bread to homemade pastry, from fresh fruit to local cheese and charcuterie.

The plan for the day included a trip to the islands of Burano and Torcello but, first I wanted to make few stops.

We walked through empty streets and calle, enjoyed the quiet morning hours and of course took many pictures.

Our first stop was the “scala” (stair) of Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo. How many places can you go in Venice and say that you were the only one there? This is the place . . . my husband kept asking me: ” Are you the only one to know about this?” I guess that’s one advantage of marrying an architect!

Our next stop was the Mercato di Rialto (Rialto open market). On our way we walked by the Scuola Grande San Teodoro, whose Main Hall, was the setting of the evening Concert of Baroque and Opera performed in XVIII century costumes. I purchased two tickets for the evening performance. To many this might sound like a tourist attraction, however I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the performance, especially the atmosphere, the closeness to the artists and the beauty of the Hall.

Back to my morning and my stop to Rialto Market. What can I say about it that my pictures could not? Look at the vibrant colors of the fresh produce and the fish so fresh that you could smell the sea.

We finally reached the Fondamenta Nuove and we were in route to the island of Burano from there we would have later reached Torcello. Both islands are so beautiful that they deserve their own post, so please come back in the next few days to enjoy a very colorful slide show!

We spent most of the day on the two islands and came back right in time to make a quick stop to Ca’ del Sol. Ca’ del Sol is a laboratory and shop specialized in hand-made masks. The craftsmen produce masks and carnival costumes for the public but also for the theaters. If you are looking for something more than a souvenir you should definitely stop here and take one their beautiful mask home . . . I purchased an awesome Arlecchino (the one in the picture getting one last touch up)!

Time to run to the concert . . . of course got lost again but we made it! After the concert it was another first for us: we sat at the Florian in Piazza San Marco! Late at night, with only few guests and with no crowd, the live music and the gelato seemed so much better . . . despite the steep check, it was the perfect ending to a perfect day and to wonderful stay in Venice!

Buona notte da Venezia!

Related posts:

My two weeks in Italy – A day in Barolo

My two weeks in Italy: Windows and Balconies

My two weeks in Italy: Windows and Balconies

During my recent trip in Italy I found myself taking many pictures of finestre e balconi (windows and balconies). My mom’s balcony was always full of flower pots. She truly had a green thumb, she could grow anything. She also had a small vegetable garden growing in her pots. My mom never bought a plant in her life; she would just snap off a thumb size piece of any plant she liked and before you knew it, the plant was in full bloom in a pot on her balcony. I definitely did not inherit her green thumb, however, I do love balconies!

I was already planning on sharing some of my windows and balconies pictures and then few days ago, while I was trying to catch up with some of my favorite bloggers, I came across my friend’s blog, Meg Travels. There it was, a post on windows! With her wonderful, Monet inspired, pictures she entered the CBBH photo challenge, whose October’s theme was in fact “windows“.

So I took this encounter as a sign and here I am with my answer to the CBBH challenge: these are my windows and balconies of Italy! The pictures are all mine, some taken with my Nikon DX40, some with my iphone. There is a little of everything, colorful windows of Burano – some embellished with their traditional lace curtains – architecturally ornate windows of Venice, balconies overloaded with flower’s pots, and simple wroght iron balconies.

Please enjoy and let me know which window or balcony is your favorite.

P.S. I also took a lot of pictures of gates, but they will be on another post, so . . . come back!

Don’t forget to visit Meg Travels to take a look to her windows and Margieinitaly to take a look to some of her Italy’s pics.

Also to learn more about the monthly CBBH Photo Challenge visit East of Málaga

Bagnaia . . . A peaceful corner on the Island of Elba

THE BEACH OF BAGNAIA

You have probably heard about Isola d’Elba – the Island of Elba – the third largest island of Italy and the largest of the Tuscan Archipelago. It is covered with lush vegetation and it is considered to be the greenest island of the Mediterranean. Rich in history, the island was most notably Napoleon’s place of exile. Today, the island is a coveted tourist destination, lined with a beautiful coastline and lively towns.

My post today, however, is about a small seaside village located between the towns of Portoferraio and Rio Elba. It’s the village of Bagnaia, a little gem, away from the crowd and traffic.

ISOLA D’ELBA

Located on the North Coast of the Island, Bagnaia lays at the feet of the Monte Volterraio, on a bay across from Portoferraio that is visible from Bagnaia’s picturesque pebble beach. From the beach you can also spot the island of Capraia and the French Island of Corsica.

Portoferraio – on the hill Napoleon’s Villa dei Mulini

BAGNAIA and MONTE VOLTERRAIO

Most importantly, while sipping your aperitivo at the beachside bar you will be mesmerized by one the most beautiful sunsets. The red sky with the sun setting between the Napoleon’s Villa dei Mulini and the small island of Scoglietto are simply breathtaking. Have your camera ready, as you will want to take many, many pictures!

The protected bay of Bagnaia offers a public beach, a private beach with bathhouse – Lo Scoglietto – two small piers, and a sailing school.

Even in August, renown in Italy as mese delle ferie (month of summer holidays), Bagnaia holds true to its family style profile. Filled with children splashing in the pristine water, proud grandparents spoiling their young grandkids, and games of Burraco (a popular Italian card game) being played under the ombrelloni (beach umbrellas), it is evident that Bagnaia is a destination for families.

The beach from the water

A midday snack is readily available right on the beach at the bar/restaurant Il Faro, or just off the beach, where the Snack Bar Villa Maria, the Bar – Ristorante La Rustica, and the Mini-Market (small grocery/deli store) would be happy to prepare you a delicious panino con prosciutto e mozzarella.

But if you are craving for cecina or pizza, simply hop on the “taxi boat” and in 10 minutes you will reach Portoferraio. Off the boat, head to Pizzeria il Castagnaccio, in Via del Mercato Vecchio. Here, Vincenzo sforna (take out of the oven) hot cecina, pizza, and castagnaccio for carry out or dine in.

Wood burning oven at Il Castagnaccio

Pizza at Il Castagnaccio

At lunch time the beach of Bagnaia is almost deserted as the families head home for pranzo (lunch) and a riposino (after lunch nap) – which makes sense since in Italy every mother will tell her children to wait three hours after eating before swimming.

Photo courtesy of my son’s friend Teresa

The afternoon is the perfect time to rent a kayak and explore the coastline. Or, with a boat or a gommone (zodiac) you can reach the nearby beaches of the Secche, Ottonella and Ottone.

But, if you are in search of a pristine swimming adventure, take the short boat ride directly across from Bagnaia to the Scoglietto di Portoferraio. Swim with a myriad of fish in the crystal clear water- thanks to a fishing restriction in place at this protected island- or, climb the rocks to reach the faro (lighthouse) on the island summit.

The lighthouse of the Scoglietto

Fish . . . a lot of them!

Once a week, on Saturday, in the square of Bagnaia there is the mercatino (open market) where the stands of fresh fruit and vegetables alternate with tables selling clothes, bathing suits, and cover –ups (did I mention that in Italy women change their bathing suit 4 times a day?!). You can practice your bargaining ability here; however, I don’t think anyone would have beaten my mom’s skills in this area (she even bargained with an American Indian at Niagara Falls . . . remember, my mom did not speak English!). The highlight of the mercatino is the food truck of “Pollo allo Spiedo e Patatine Fritte” (roasted chicken and French fries). Even if you place your order early in the morning – which is a must- you will still need to elbow your way to the front to pick-up your coveted brown bag.

While Bagnaia offers a wonderful beach getaway, it is not a place for those seeking exciting nightlife. The evenings are quiet; villeggianti (vacationers) stroll through the small piazza to enjoy gelato, after dinner drinks and caffè. Friendships are formed between families who vacation here year after year, and as such, large group dinners are had. Following dinner, many vacationers enjoy the live performances that take place in the piazzetta a few times a week. The nearby Pizzeria-Ristorante Bounty (also a Bed & Breakfast), once a week offers a theme evening with culinary highlights. Last year our group of 40 attended the “Alla brace “ (on the fire spit) where various meats were grilled in a wood fire oven and on a giant grill to be served with a variety of homemade side dishes and freshly baked bread.

Nearby towns such as Capoliveri, Porto Azzurro and Portoferraio, which offer a more active nightlife and trendy shops, are easily reachable by car.

Capoliveri

Porto Azzurro

Although two Alberghi/Bed & Breakfast are located in the square, I would suggest to stay at the Residenza Sant’Anna del Volterraio. Within the Residenza are the Apartments Sant’Anna and the Hotel Locanda del Volterraio. My brother has been a guest of the Residenza for the past 17 years, and he has rented the same apartment every year. I have been personally a guest of both the Locanda and the Residenza several times. Last year my brother and his wife hosted me for three weeks at the Residenza . . . how lucky am I?

Residenza Sant’ Anna del Volterraio

Entrance to the Residenza –
Photo courtesy of Teresa

Although it is only a 10 minute walk from the beach of Bagnaia, The Residenza Sant’Anna del Volterraio is part of the municipality of Rio Elba. The Monte del Volterraio, with its homonymous medieval castle, overlooks the Valley below where in an area of 3 hectares lays this complex surrounded by beautiful gardens. Secular olive trees dot the landscape, the pink stone structures covered with vines blend seamlessly with the lush green vegetation, which is softened by the colorful oleanders. The complex also offers 2 tennis courts, one beautiful adult pool, one children’s pool, a solarium, and a wellness center. The original Napoleonic Villa Sant’Anna houses a bar, a TV room, a sauna, shower and dressing rooms.

Volterraio and red oleander – view from the apartment

Olive trees and Villa Sant’Anna

Blending with nature

Within an orange and lemon orchard lays the restaurant, Il Giardino degli Aranci. I must admit that I have not experienced the restaurant’s cuisine; my son, however, tells me that he has enjoyed a tasty dinner while visiting his uncle. The restaurant also hosts – in its giardino (garden) – evening events for kids and families.

The restaurant Giardino degli Aranci

The complex is completely car-free, however, covered parking is provided.

There are 6 apartment types, ranging from 2 to 8 beds, but they all have an independent entrance and a patio. The apartments are spacious, simply furnished, but functional and comfortable. I shall say that they start showing their age and some renovations are due. The apartments do not have air conditioning, but fans are provided. Also no Wi-Fi connection is provided. In the evening it is particularly pleasant to sit outside on the patio (furnished with table and chairs) under the summer starry sky.

The Hotel Locanda del Volterraio is composed of 18 double rooms, all with independent entrances and balconies. Unlike the apartments, the hotel rooms have air-conditioning and Wi-Fi Internet (from the lobby). They also boast nice new furnishing. From the balcony you will enjoy great views of the hills and of Monte del Volterraio.

The nightly rate at the hotel includes breakfast, which offers a very diverse spread of food: fresh baked croissant and brioche, fruit tart or torta, cereals and granola are also available. You can also enjoy toast with the assortment of jams, honey, butter or NUTELLA that adorn each table. They also offer a large selection of fresh fruit, however, it appears that your choices are limited if you don’t show up early. Orders for espresso, cappuccino, latte and also American coffee are taken at the table.

I asked my son’s friend, who along with her sister, joined him and his girlfriend at Elba and lodged at the Locanda, to share her opinion about her experience; she used one word: AWESOME! She also noted, confirming my opinion, that the staff was kind and attentive.

The 10 minute walk from the Residenza to the beach is pleasant; the scent of oregano and wild fennel accompanies you along the way. Blackberry bushes border the path and you can also attempt – like my brother – to pick up prickly pears along the way.

Lastly, if you are in the mood for hiking, Bagnaia offers some good trails. From the piazzetta you can follow the uphill road toward Nisporto. You will enjoy some beautiful views of the coastline from up above.

VIEWS FROM MY MORNING WALKS

View of Residenza Sant’Anna from the hill across

Last year every morning I went a little farther. On one particular morning I woke up at 6:30 and as I started my walk I decided to reach Nisporto, 5 miles away on an uphill terrain. I went all the way up above Nisporto, then I decided to go down to sea level. While the beach at Nisporto was enjoyable to reach, the trek back up the hill to reach Bagnaia was anything but that.

THE YELLOW PATH OF MY WALK TO NISPORTO – BELOW IS THE ELEVATION PROFILE!

Thankfully, I made it all the way back and to reward myself I stopped at the Bounty for a custard cream stuffed brioche!!!

Ciao from Elba!

Have you ever been to the Island of Elba?

Where is your favorite little gem in the world?

My First Giveaway! “Masseria the Italian Farmhouse of Puglia”… a Beautiful Book Waiting for You!!!

THIS COULD BE YOURS!!!

I am thrilled to announce my very first giveaway!!!

Last month, I posted “A cultural evening at the Embassy of Italy in Washington DC”, an event to celebrate the publication of  the book  “Masseria – The Italian Farmhouse of Puglia“, published by Rizzoli.

At the end of that evening, I purchased a copy of the book and I have enjoyed it very much since. Not to mention that it looks great on my Italian marble credenza!

The book is full of stunning pictures by Mark Roskam – Miami-based photographer who specializes in architecture and interior design – and it is introduced by Diane Lewis – professor of design at Cooper Union’s Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture – who also provides a short description of each Masseria.

The Italian region of Puglia, on the Southeast coast,  is known as the “tacco d’Italia” , the “heel of Italy”, and “the masseria building is one element among the roads, wells, towers, walls, courtyards, and gates that collectively, comprise a refined architectural landscape across Puglia” (excerpt from book).  As I mentioned in my previous post, the masseria is a sort of fortified farmhouse and they are are mostly located along the Via Appia (Appian Way) – the ancient Roman road.

This is indeed a beautiful coffee table book, but it is more than that; it transports you into beautiful landscapes of vineyards and olive groves, takes you back in time in the Magna Grecia and the Roman Empire, and mostly, makes you wish you were there!

I love the book so much that I thought it would be awesome if I could share it with one of my faithful followers and lovers of Italy.

During the evening at the Embassy of Italy I met signora Cristina Rizzo, book’s project director, she seemed charming and kind yet I was hesitant to contact her. Finally, few weeks ago, I plucked up my courage and contacted signora Rizzo, I shared my idea of a giveaway, and asked her to donate one copy of the book for that purpose. Signora Rizzo, without hesitation, kindly agreed to donate the book and I am excited to say that I have just received the precious copy, which is now sitting right here next to me, waiting for a new home . . . it could be yours!

Would you like to be the lucky winner?

Here’s how to enter the contest:

REQUIRED ENTRIES

  1. Follow Sharing My Italy . . . The Blog by clicking on the “Join Me” icon on the homepage of this blog and enter your e-mail address to receive regular updates
  2. Leave a comment to this post and share if you have ever been to the Italian region of Puglia and/or visited a Masseria.

BONUS ENTRIES:

  1. Follow Sharing My Italy  on TWITTER and tweet this giveaway  – comment saying you did or already follow.
  2. Follow ME on PINTEREST & comment saying you did or already follow.
  3. “Like” Sharing My Italy on FACEBOOK – comment saying you did or already follow.
  4. “Share” this giveaway on FACEBOOK
  5. Follow Rizzoli book on TWITTER and tweet this giveaway – comment saying you did or already follow

Remember to leave a comment below each time you’ve done one of the above (= up to 5 comments = up to 5 bonus entries)

DETAILS:

  • This giveaway will remain open until July 21 at 11:59 p.m. EST.
  • One  winner will be selected randomly and will be notified via email and will have 48 hours to claim their prize.
  • This contest is open to US residents only, my apologies to my international friends!
  • I need to be able to contact you, should you be the lucky winner, so please be sure you provide your e-mail or I will need to choose another winner.

Good Luck to Everyone!!

Grazie Mille Signora Rizzo for donating the book!

If you are not the lucky one to receive the free copy of the book, you can order your copy here.

In a meanwhile enjoy few more pictures from the book.

FTC Disclosure

I have not received any compensation for posting this content and I have no material connection to the brands, topics and/or products that are mentioned herein.  I have purchased my own copy of the book and reviewed it. Mrs. Cristina Rizzo – book’s project director – has donated the book for this giveaway. I will personally pay for the book’s shipment to the contest’s winner.  My opinions are 100% my own.

Related post : A cultural evening at the Embassy of Italy, Washington DC

The Italian Island of Sardegna . . . My Paradise

Two weeks ago I was fortunate to spend one week with my husband in the Caribbean Turks and Caicos Islands. While I was there, loving the sun, the soft white sand, and the crystal clear water, I kept thinking how much I miss living close-by the sea.

My hometown in Italy, Avellino, was only thirty minute away from the amazing Amalfi Coast – I shall write about it; after lunch, I could just hop in my car and take the drive to Amalfi, Maiori, Positano or Minori. My boyfriend husband and I exchanged some of our first kisses on Minori‘s shore…

My nonna (grandmother) lived in a sea town from where we would take the motorboat to reach Il Bikini, a beach/bathhouse establishment in the Bay of the Sorrento Peninsula.

Il Bikini
photo courtesy of http://www.ilbikini.com

And, as I mentioned in a previous post, I used to spend most of my childhood summers on Paestum‘s beach.

In my twenties, I vacationed in many Italian’s islands: Sicilia, Salina, Panarea, Vulcano, Lipari, Pantelleria, Favignana, Ischia, Capri, Elba, Caprera, and finally, my absolute favorite, Sardegna.

In the Summer of 1984 I was my  uncle Vincenzo’s guest in Sardegna. In the small village of Portoscuso, on the South-West coast just across the little jewel of Isola di San Pietro;  I spent three wonderful weeks with my relatives, their home only few steps away from the beach. My days were simple: napping and reading on the beach during the day, dining alfresco under the portico in the evening, and watching the Olympic Games – held in Los Angeles – at night. My fiancé husband joined me in Portoscuso and we then spent three more weeks traveling throughout the mysterious island of Sardegna.  From South to North, from West to East, then South along the East Coast, and inland to Oliena and Su Gologone where I had one of the best meal I have ever had. I was in love with everything . . .  the sea, the mountain, the architecture, the food, the people. But guess what? I did not have a camera! Yeah you heard it, no camera, no pictures!

No pictures of the white beach of La Pelosa in Stintino, of the secluded Cala Luna, of the Catalan city of Alghero, of the ancient Nuraghi . . . nothing, just my memories.

My husband and I went back to Sardegna in Summer 2008, this time with our teenage boys. We only spent one week in the area of Porto San Paolo, on the North-East coast, just South of Olbia and across the small island of Tavolara. Only one week was needed for my boys to fall in love with the place too. And this time I took few pics too!

You might be asking why I am telling you all this. You know what they say,  ” l’erba del vicino è sempre più verde ” (the neighbor’s grass is always greener), so in Europe all are longing for the Caribbean Sea and for good reasons, don’t get me wrong. Imagine my excitement once I came to the States . . . so much more convenient to reach the Caribbean’s from here! So, I visited Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Bahamas and lately Turks and Caicos.

Coming home after this latest trip, however,  I had an epiphany. I started comparing my Caicos‘s pictures with my pictures from Sardegna and  that’s what I want to share with you today. While enjoying the slide show, remember that in Sardegna, the scenery also comes with the delicious regional cuisine: porceddu (suckling pig rosted on the spit), malloreddus (handmade pasta), pane carasau (sort of thin flatbread), pecorino sardo . . . .and the unique aroma of mirto (myrtle)!

La mia Sardegna and Turks and Caicos

NOTE: click on the first picture and a full screen image will appear then follow the arrow . . . I guess you will like it!

Well, I know where I am going back . . . and you? Where are you going?

If you need a travel consultation and trip planning for your next trip to Sardegna visit my site Sharing My Italy or email me at mg@sharingmyitaly.com

A Tuscan Borgo, Pienza

Last year, in May, after five days in Florence, my husband and I spent three days in the Tuscan countryside. We stayed in Cortona and from there we took some daytrips. Cortona is a wonderful Medieval town itself and I shall, in the near future, write a post about it. Today, however, I want to share with you my day in Pienza.

Pienza is in the province of Siena, in the magnificent Val d’Orcia. In 1996, UNESCO declared the town a World Heritage Site, and in 2004 the entire Val d’Orcia was included on the list of UNESCO’s World Cultural Landscapes.

Hard to believe, this was my first time in Pienza. During my freshman year as architectural student, I had taken a class on History of Renaissance Architecture.

My 30 years old textbook

Pienza, which is considered a model of Renaissance architecture/urbanism, was studied in great detail.

So much so, that once I was there I felt like I knew the place by heart: the piazza, the chiesa, the palazzo; all, except for the view of the valley that, from 1600ft above sea level, was simply amazing.

Until 1462, the village was called Corsignano and it was the birthplace of Silvio Piccolomini, who later became Pope Pius II. In February 1459, Pius II visited his native borgo (village) and decided to rebuilt it as his ideal residence. He hired the most famous Florentine architect – at the time –   Bernardo Rossellino.

The Pope and the architect, without disturbing the original medieval village, which is aligned along a road on the crest of the hill, freed a large area – closer to the Orcia Valley – to build a group of monumental buildings. The architectural landmarks are: Cattedrale dell’Assunta (Cathedral), Palazzo PiccolominiPalazzo Borgia, and Palazzo Pubblico, all surrounding the magnificent Piazza Pio II (Pio II Square). The Piazza, unlike others, has a trapezoid shape, emphasized by herringbone paving divided into panels by strips of travertine. The travertine is also used to shape a circle within the paving.

Do you know that if the façade of the cathedral was laying flat on the square, the occhio centrale (the central eye, the round window) would line up with the circle on the paving?

The cathedral is located on the hill’s ridge and turns the apse to the valley and  over the ridge. 

Arriving in the square, the façade is framed between the diverging walls of Palazzo Piccolomini and Palazzo Borgia.

The space appears contained and grandiose at the same time. On either side of the church, two large openings hint at the vast open space of the valley. And how could I not mention the pozzo (well), off the center, close to the Palazzo and in perfect proportion with the whole . . . my favorite element.

Il Pozzo

The church, inside, is divided into three naves, the largest one in the middle, but all three of equal height. The design was inspired by both the German Hallenkirchen  – Pius II had visited the German church in Austria – and the description of Leon Battista Alberti’s ideal temple.

After visiting the church, my husband and I visited Palazzo Piccolomini, which is truly beautiful. As you enter, you are welcome into a spacious courtyard.

While the palazzo may appear similar to its contemporary Florentine palaces, with its three quadrangular shaped floors and courtyard, it has an new unique element: a panoramic loggia.

The loggia occupies the entire North façade and connects the palace to the giardino – remember, Frank Lloyd Wright was not born yet!

The Sala delle Armi overlooks both the courtyard and the loggia, where you will be amazed by the expansive view of the Val d’Orcia and the Monte Amiata.

As usual, my husband and I had lost track of time. After 3:00pm in Italy – take note of this – it is hard to find an open restaurant. So, at 2:55pm, the only place that agreed to let us sit was “Sperone nudo”. We sat outside in the small square and although the service was a little rushed, the food was good and the atmosphere enchanting. The table next to us was occupied by American tourists who after a brief conversation, realizing that I was an Italian living in the States, asked for suggestions on the menu`. Luckily, they were all pleased with mine/their selections!

We spent the rest of the afternoon strolling around the borgo, stopping for gelato – of course – and browsing all the little shops.

Pienza is also famous for its homonymous Pecorino cheese. I bought two round cheese blocks and I gave them to my brothers as a gift.

Before leaving we wanted to enjoy one last view of the surrounding landscape and we could not have found a better place than a  walking path, next to the town walls on the south side . . . beautiful!

Narrow street to the walking path

How lovely would be to wake up every morning to this view!