Fire Masters of Venice

As we prepare to start the 4th of July weekend with a bang, I’m reminded of some of Italy’s most famous “fuochi d’artifico” (artificial fire) displays. Although the Chinese are credited with the invention of fireworks, the Italians are said to have brought fireworks into the realm of celebration. Varying accounts note that the Crusaders or Marco Polo introduced fireworks to Europe via Italy and if that be the case then the legacy of Italy’s “fire masters” is most brilliantly displayed in Venice’s RedentoreBetween the third Saturday of July and the Sunday after, La Serenissima celebrates with a festival of spectacular fireworks, gondola races and parties that commemorate the city’s redemption (redentore) from a terrible plague. During the festival a religious procession to the Church of the Redentore on the island of Giudecca is made by pilgrims crossing a 330 meter long pontoon bridge. The canals are glittering with boats decorated with branches, lanterns and balloons as thousands of Venetians and tourists gather to celebrate the famous fireworks of Venice.

My Kind of Town – Ferrara

Sinatra said it best, together with Chicago; Ferrara is one town that won’t let you down and one of my favorite seeing and savoring sites in Italy. If you’re traveling in Northern Italy and you want to get outside the beltway and travel outside the box, consider Ferrara. It is just enough off the tourist radar to give you a different taste of Italy. Located in Emilia Romagna along the Po River, Ferrara is surrounded by more than 9 kilometers of ancient walls, mainly built in the 15th and 16th centuries. They are among the best preserved Renaissance walls in Italy and enclose some of the most iconic Renaissance buildings in all of Europe.

Ferrara was one of the most significant towns of Renaissance Italy where the arts flourished around the brilliant court of the Este family.  The Este family were renown patrons of the arts whose A list included Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Titian, and Petrarch. A tour of the salons and gardens of Castello Estense and Palazzo dei Diamanti still resonates with the powerful presence and intrigue of one of Italy’s most notable families. The Castle has a moat and a drawbridge, dungeons and towers, ducal chambers with mirrors and frescoes and a vaulted hall of kitchens where it is possible to see the marks left by the drains for the ancient sinks.  The impressive Palazzo dei Diamanti, covered with 8,500 marble blocks carved to resemble diamonds, now houses the National Gallery of Art in Ferrara and Palazzo Schifanoia, once a pleasure palace where the ducal court and their entourage could get away from it all and relax (schifanoia comes from”schivar la noia” meaning to escape from boredom) is now open to all who would like to while away an afternoon. There is a small boutique  hotel in the main piazza (be sure to ask for a room that faces the Castle) and 6 designer suites located in the city center that will serve as your private appartamenti as you sample the exceptional cuisine of Ferrara. Ferrara is well-known for its egg pasta so be sure to try all the various permutations including  tortellini, tagliatelle, cappelletti (especially good in brodo) or the larger pumpkin filled capellacci di zucca. Other Ferrarese specialties include piandina, a classic Italian flat bread; pampapato a specialty cake of Ferrara made with almonds, candied fruit, cinnamon, clove and a chocolate glace on top and coppia ferrarese, bread whose twisted shape was first served at ducal banquet tables.

Ferrara is connected to Tren Italia’s national railway network and is easy to get to from as far away as Rome. It is a kid friendly city where more bicycles than Vespas are typically found and has been designated a World Heritage site by UNESCO.