November 2016: musical forests, fine food at Roma Termini and balmy evenings in Sardinia

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Hidden Italy in November:

Hidden Italy in November:

Trieste and Friuli guided walking tour (1 to 13 September, 2017).

Surprisingly, Italy doesn’t stop at Venice: between La Serenissima and the Slovenian border lies one of Italy’s most fascinating and least known regions, Friuli Venezia Giulia (FVG).

With five languages, four national park, three borders, beaches and Alpine mountains, exceptional walking, gorgeous towns and fabulous food, the region of FVG has all the ingredients for a very special two-week visit.  Plenty of places available, please join us!

Exhibitions in November:

Exhibitions in November:

Arnaldo Pomodoro, Palazzo Reale, Milano, til 5 February, www.palazzoreale.it, www.fondazionearnaldopomodoro.it.  I love Arnaldo Pomodoro – his massive, mystical bronze sculptures enlivening the dowdy squares of Milano’s CBD.  To celebrated the Master’s 90th birthday a number of events are being held throughout the city, including an exhibition of 30 works personally selected at the Palazzo Reale, a series of projects with the Triennale and Pomodoro’s own foundation, and an exhibition at the Poldi Pezzzoli Museum (opposite La Scala) presenting a retrospective of the artists work with the theatre.

The Last Supper by Giorgio Vasari, Florence, www.santacroceopera.it.  Immersed for two days in the fetid water that engulfed Florence in November 1966, Giorgio Vasari’s (1511 – 1574) huge painting (6.5 mt x 2.5 mts) was thought to be irretrievably damaged.  Thanks to modern technology and years of work, this Renaissance masterpiece has been returned to the Basilica of Santa Croce, 50 years, centrepiece of the 50th anniversary events.

Artemisia Gentileschi, Palazzo Braschi, Rome, til 8 May, www.museodiroma.it.  In anera when female painters were not easily accepted, Artemsia Gentileschi (1593 – 1656), is now considered one of the most accomplished painters in the generation that followed Caravaggio.  With over 90 works, this major exhibition has included works drawn from collection in Florence, Paris and New York.

Events in November:

Events in November:

The Musical Forest, Malborghetto (Udine), www.comune.malborghetto-valbruna.ud.it.  The Julian Alps (on the border with Slovenia) is home to some of the most magnificent fir tree forests in Europe.  Apart from it’s extraordinary beauty, because of their density (due to their slow growth) and flawless timber, these trees (painstakingly selected) have been provided the raw material for the world’s finest stringed instruments since the time of Antonio Stadivarius (1644 – 1737).  The local council of this pretty valley have developed a 5.5 km marked trail with explanatory panels (also walkable in winter) to allow you to explore this magical forest.

Mercato Centrale, Roma Termini Station, www.mercatocentrale.it.  Great news for weary travellers dragging their bags through Roma Termini station – a wonderful new emporium celebrating the finest in Italian food has opened in what was once an abandoned space of the Esquilino side of the station (Via Giolitti).  Lined with marble, the vast food hall (2000 sq mts) has over 16 ‘botteghe’, some branches of some of the best restaurants and purveyors in the city, as well as an elegant restaurant upstairs, overseen by Michelin-starred chef Oliver Glowig.

2016/2017 ski season.  Get your boots and beanies ready, the Italian ski season officially kicks off on Friday, 2 December.  News for this season includes the addition of two new World Cup events: Women’s slalom at Sestiere (near Turin) and Women’ss downhill at Plan de Corones (in the Dolomites) with a 61 degree incline, finishing at San Vigilio (a lovely village where we spend 4 nights on the September Dolomites guided tour).

Hidden Italy weekend in Alghero, a slice of Catalonia on the edge of Sardinia.

Hidden Italy weekend in Alghero, a slice of Catalonia on the edge of Sardinia.

Wrapped around a fishing port on the north-western tip of Sardinia, Alghero is one of the most attractive towns on the island.  When the locals rose up against their Spanish masters in the 14th century, they were driven out and the town was repopulated by settlers from around Barcelona, giving the town its nickname: Barceloneta (Little Barcelona).  Six centuries later, Alghero retains strong links to Spain: an archaic form of Catalan is still wildly spoken here, there is a permanent delegation from Catalonia and Lionel Messi and Barcellona is the most popular soccer team in town.

Alghero is still a flourishing fishing port, which means it has resisted the excesses of mass-tourism, maintained its relaxed charm and serves some of the finest seafood in Italy.  With its historic centre still intact, surrounded by a medieval wall with eight original lookout towers, a spectacular coastline and a fascinating hinterland, Alghero makes a good destination any time of the year, but particularly in autumn, when the crowds have gone home, the sea is still warm and you can enjoy the long barmy evenings.

How to get there:

By ferry:  Ferries of the Tirrenia Line run between Genova and Porto Torres (their frequency depends on the season) with regular buses connecting the port with Alghero.  By plane:  regular Alitalia flights connect Alghero with Milan and Rome.  Car hire (you’ll need one to explore the area):  There are a number of car hire services in town, including Rent A Car Express (www.rentacarexpress.it).

Where to stay:

Villa Las Tronas:  With a spectacular setting on a promontory, this crenelated former royal residence (dating from the 1880s) is full of character, still retaining a baronial air with its old-fashioned furnishings.  It has a gym and a saltwater swimming pool and is well-worth a splurge.  Doubles from 280 euro.

Hotel Angedras:  This luminous, low-rise, modern hotel is a short walk from the city centre.  It has 31 rooms, an excellent restaurant and a private beach.  Double from 100 euro.

Bon Bons:  Apart from producing the finest cakes and pastries in town, this ‘’pasticceria’ also offers self-contained apartments, a dangerous combination!  Doubles from 60 euro.

Aquatic Boat Bed and Breakfast:  For something different, this 11 metre Sparkman & Stephenson yacht is birthed in the port and offers accommodation with breakfast and a kitchen from 110 euro per night.

Where to eat:

Ristorante Angedras.  Sitting on the battlements of the old town, this elegant restaurant offers gourmet meals:  raw fish; roasted octopus with chickpea puree and, the house speciality, lobster cooked in the Catalan-style.  From 45 euro per person.

Osteria Macchiavello:  In the centre of the old town, this excellent osteria serves local cuisine, including an awesome fish soup, fresh agliata and octopus crumbed in polenta meal.  From 35 euro per person.

Al 43 di Via Doria:  Chef Luisa Gagliotta proposes a menu that varies according to her moods and what the market has to offer.  Specialities include a gourmet beef fillet hamburger and fish crudité, all served in an elegant parlor furnished with lounges, mirrors and dust-collectors, all for sale.  From 20 euro per person.

What to do:

Friday evening:

Settle into your hotel, join the passeggiata then enjoy an early dinner and the local hospitality.

Saturday morning:

Explore the town.  Audio-guides are available from the tourist information office in tower on Porta a Terra, the historical entrance into old Alghero, but before you set out, climb up to the top of the tower to enjoy the spectacle:  the dome of San Michele, the belltower of San Francesco, the port and Cape Caccia in the distance.  When you reach Via Gilbert Ferret, look for number 37, Bar Concept 37, and stop for a snack and refreshment.  Climb up the belltower of the cathedral for another breathtaking view before visiting the Diocese museum, which holds a collection of silver lace from the 15th to the 18th century, a cycle of paintings by the school of Rubens and wooden statues from the 18th century. 

Saturday afternoon:

After lunch at the port, jump in your car and head north.  The hinterland is vineyard and olive grove country.  The Tenuta Sella & Mosca, a short 11 km drive out of Alghero, is one of the most innovative and celebrated wine producers on the island.  Founded over 100 years ago by Eriminio Sella and Edgardo Mosca, the beautiful central compound is surrounded by over 1200 acres of vineyards, making it one of the largest producers in Europe.  It is renowned for wines produced from native grapes, particularly the white Vermentino and the robust red Cannonau.  It is possible to book tastings, in the new degustation rooms, and visits to the historic cellars. 

In the middle of the Cannonau vineyards is one of Sardinia’s most interesting archaeological sites, the necropolis of Anghelu Ruju, which dates from around 3000 BC.  Over 40 tombs were gouged from the of the ground.  Known as ‘domus de janas’, or fairies’ caves, they are entered through low-lintelled doorways.  They are open from 9.30 to 4.00 pm.  Copies of some of the finds are held in the vineyard’s own museum.

Sunday morning:

Take a boat from the port across the bay to Capo Caccia and visit the Grotta di Nettuno (Neptunes cave).  Explore the northern coastline.  The thirty minute takes you along the clify coast past the lovely long bay of Porto Conte as far as the point of Capo Caccia, where the spectacular sheer cliffs are riddled by deep marine caves.  The round trip takes around 2.5 hours.

Or you may prefer to chill out on a beach for the morning.  Alghero is famous for its beaches, which are best visited in autumn when the water is still warm and the crowds have all gone.  The closest is the Lido, which is a ten minute walk north of the centre of Alghero.  Keep walking to the next beach up, which is lined with pine trees.

Sunday afternoon:

In the afternoon, drive south.  The road that winds down the coast from Alghero is one of the most spectacular in the Mediterranean, worth a drive any time of day.  8 kilometres out of town, you can stop at the beautiful La Speranza beach for a swim and a snackat the cute restaurant that overlooks the water.  Continue down this wild stretch of coastline for another 30 kilometres until you hit the Temo River, the only navigable river in Sardinia.  A short way up the river, you’ll find the charming town of Bosa.  With its pastel houses lining either side of the waterway and guarded by an ancient Spanish castle, Bosa a lovely place for a walk along the river, watching the sunset and enjoying an alfresco dinner at Ristorante Ponte Vecchio, with a verandah over the river, before heading back to Alghero.

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March 2017: Slow Food, Easter, Manet and a weekend in 'Campania Felix'

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