Road Trip

What is the fatal charm of Italy, that can be found nowhere else”? – Erica Jong It all started in the Fall of 1999. The “fatal charm” of Italy began to unfold through the window of a Renault on a road trip through Tuscany with my Italian cousins. Fresh from reading Frances Mayes Under the Tuscan Sun, with visions of vineyards and olive orchards dancing in my head, I jumped at my cousin Lidia’s suggestion that we travel by car from Milano through Chianti on our way to Siena stopping to visit Monteriggioni where my cousin’s husband Roberto was born.

Lidia and Roberto

Lidia and Roberto

Many more road trips followed. Some with family and friends, some alone and now with other like-minded taste travelers desiring to see and savor Italy on more than a “show and tell” tour. Yet that trip was and will always be the singular most perfect experience of Italy. Not because everything went right. It didn’t. We got lost repeatedly (yes Italians often get lost in their own country). I fell down in a vineyard and got car sick a few times (the roads of Chianti are winding). The experience was so memorable because this is where I discovered the heart and soul of Italy and began to see that Italy was far more than I ever imagined.  Now after 15 years  and 15,000 + miles traveling, shopping, cooking and eating in Northern Italy, Tuscany and Umbria I’ve come to regard Italy as a faraway friend that I look forward to visiting every year. Italy still continues to engage me in new and different ways.

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Monteriggioni

Road trips are an adventure in the making. Described by some as a transformative sort of travel experience a road trip will take you from point A to point B but with a playlist of possibilities you have yet to discover. Your itinerary is set by the lifestyle of a country not by a travel brochure. You see the iconic sites of Italy a little differently, traveling like an Italian, on the road, with a personal connection to a landscape that unfolds as you drive the autostrada and Italy’s roads less traveled tasting regional food and wine at tables where centuries of culinary traditions are still part of eating Italian. You learn about how Italians live and work, how they think and what they like to do and along the way you’ll find a perspective and clarity about where you are in your own life.  And don’t be surprised if you get lost once in a while – all Italians do. PS: Don’t be afraid to drive in Italy. Read why Contrary to Popular Opinion Driving in Italy is Not an Extreme Sport

 

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21 Undeniably Signs You’ve Traveled in Italy (on more than a “show and tell” tour)

Are you part of the confraternity of Italian travelers who have truly seen and savored Italy? Off the tourist flow to see Italy’s iconic sights a little differently. Traveling le stradi dei vini e sapori to taste regional Italy food at the gastronomic epicenter of the world. Ready to return home boasting about the most wonderful food you ate, wine you drank and what you saw.

Traveling to Italy on more than a “show and tell” tour will take you down Roman roads, past castles with Celtic altars and Etruscan ruins, through medieval walled cities and alpine lakes, visiting Renaissance chapels and Gothic cathedrals, into kitchens, vineyards and orchards to experience the food of princes, popes, pilgrims and everyday Italians, developing a taste for Italy and wanting more.

Here are 21 undeniably signs you’ve seen and savored Italy.

1. You can’t drive by the Olive Garden without thinking or saying “THEY JUST DON”T GET IT”.

2. You’re on a universal quest to find the right olive oil like the one you had in Italy.

3. You find yourself wanting to take a mid-day break without regret just to rest and recharge.

4. You would never think of having a cappuccino after 12 noon.

5. You’re favorite pizza is Pizza Margherita with Bufala Mozzarella.

6. Each night after dinner you take a passeggiata.

7. You’ve seen the Palladian villas.

8. You’re favorite Italian cheese is something other than parmesan.

9. You’ve driven through the Val d’Orcia in Tuscany.

10. You’ve been to an Italian terme.

11. You’ve stared at the starry blue mosaic ceiling of the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Ravenna.

12. You’ve stopped at a cicchetti bar in Venice for a nibble and nip.

13. You’ve eaten papparadelle con lepre or a ragu’ of wild boar.

14. You’ve visited the Museo di Tartufo in San Giovanni d’Asso for an addictive truffle experience.

15. On more than one occasion, you have cornered a totally uninterested stranger at a house party to rant about how America needs to learn how to make a proper pizza.

16. Supermarket cheese aisles depress you.

17. Chianti is not your favorite Italian wine.

18. You’ve window shopped Via Monte Napoleone in Milan.

19. Visited a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Italy.

20. You’ve breathed the air of the Renaissance at Santa Maria Novella Farmacia in Florence.

21. You find that you sometimes avoid talking about Italy or your time there, because you know how pretentious it sounds (but come on!! it’s a huge part of your life!!).

Fortune is Fickle

pinturicchio mount of wisdomIf you need a visual image to keep you focused on your Lenten journey you might consider the Italian Renaissance artist Pinturicchio’s Allegory of the Hill of Wisdom (1504). The Greek philosophers Socrates and Crates are caught in a rather tricky balancing act on the top of a steep hill with the Roman goddess Fortuna. A desperate band of travelers are shown trudging upward on a difficult path, supposedly a path we humans have to undertake if we want to reach wisdom.

To view Pinturicchio’s Allegoria del Colle della Sapienza you have to look downward rather than upward as it is part of the floor intarsia in the Cathedral of Siena. A masterpiece underfoot, Giorgio Vasari called the floor of Siena’s Duomo “the most beautiful, big and magnificent that has ever been done”. Normally covered by carpets to protect it, the floor is uncovered for a few months each year when stories from antiquity, biblical scenes and allegories come to life through intricate patterns and designs created in marble as vivid and alive as any Renaissance sculpture. Siena cathedral floor

Siena is one of my favorite cities in Italy, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a must see when traveling in Tuscany. Siena is located in the Val d’Orcia, a breathtakingly beautiful part of Italy that makes the journey all the more memorable. A perfect image in my mind’s eye to reflect on life’s journey.  Pinturicchio’s travelers to the Hill of Wisdom find their fortunes cast from the top as if to say Fortune is fickle and Wisdom lies in knowing so.

Italian Selfies

Fillippino Lippi Uffizi

Fillippino Lippi (1457-1504)

Did you know that the Uffizi Gallery in Florence has one of the largest collections of portraits in the world?

Lining the walls of the Vasari Corridor, the hidden elevated  walkway that links Palazzo Vecchio to the Pitti Palace, are paintings by, among others, Tintoretto, Giordano, Rubens, Rembrandt, Corot, Larsson and Chagall. Uffizi curators hope to make the longest single passageway of portraits in the world and they are well on their way with over 1600 self-portraits currently in the collection. Just another reason for you to visit Florence in Italy, a country where you can find 60% of the world’s art treasures and 40% of those treasures in the city of Florence.

Renaissance artists share gallery space with contemporary painters from all over the world and include some of the most famous masters of painting from the 16th to the 20th century. Far from the “flash-blinded” self-portraits taken on cell phones these selfies in total would certainly have broken Ellen DeGeneres’ retweet record of her star-studded selfie group shot at the 2014 Oscars.

Agrifuturismo

The rustic farmhouses of Italy that host travelers and immerse them in the rural lifestyle of the Italian countryside are getting a new look.

Rustic-Farmhouse-in-TuscanyMany abandoned buildings and villas left vacant and alone were being renovated and restored in the late 1980’s and early ’90’s. Laws passed in Italy allowed small scale farmers to open their farmhouses to guests creating a new style of vacationing in Italy – the agriturismo farm house holiday. These agritourismi allowed farmers to augment their income and for adventuresome travelers to sample la bella vita  – the  idyllic life  of rural countryside. You could rent a room in a farmhouse or an apartment on the grounds where you would enjoy food and wine from fields, orchards and vineyards right on the property. In some cases you could even help with the chores. Guests could arrange for cooking classes, horseback riding, guided tours of the area and wine tastings directly with the owners of the agriturismo who knew the best places to see and savor the local lifestyle.

These types of accommodations have become so popular that enterprising Italians and expats are renovating a new style of agriturismo, one that is decidly more chic and upscale. Now known as agrifuturismo they have attracted a whole new group of travelers with amenities that rival a 5 star hotel. The rooms are decorated with a designer flair and the food is chef inspired. They still retain their rustic appeal and rural charm and the settings are photoshopped by nature. The hosts often still live onsite and are eager to please and proud of their artisan way of life which they are happy to share with their guests. Pools, tennis courts, hiking trails and gardens coexist with tractors and farm animals. Tenutas or estate farms are often stunningly restored villas with antique furnishings and private accommodations. Far enough from the maddening tourist crowd but close enough to motor down to the nearest Prada outlet.