This is not a rural hotel but a house for rent beautifully hidden in the green Umbrian hills. The closest you can drive is to the organic farm where you can pick organic vegetables and get fresh cheese and eggs, then you walk down a lane for five minutes till you reach a typical, old, stone, Italian house. A porch and a flowered garden for the nice weather, a fire place and a big bright room for painting when it's rainy. It doesn't have a pool and you're asked to be careful with the water, but it is really worth it. Sleeps two to a maximun four people. 300 Euros a week.
Nearest airport Perugia (Ryanair)
Nearest train station: Fossato di Vico or Perugia
A rustic rural retreat based in a castle, 40 minutes drive North of Bologna, Italy. Only accommodating 10 guests, in frescoed rooms, it is like staying in your own personal castle. No TV, no WiFi and probably no mobile phone reception (as it is in the middle of nowhere) but lots of books, music and art, along with good food and wine. Early morning balloon rides followed by breakfast anyone?
Castello di Galeazza
Via Provanone 8585
40014 Galeazza di Crevalcore (BO)
Tel +39 051 985 170
Nearest stations: Bologna or Crevalcore
The hamlet of Peralta is set in the Tuscan hills that rise high above the valley of Camaiore, behind Viareggio and Forte dei Marmi on the coast.
It was restored over a period of thirty years with great love and imagination by international sculptor Fiore de Henriquez (her work is all over the hamlet). Fiore lived and worked in Peralta until her death in June 2004. Peralta is not just a collection of houses and apartments for holiday lets. It is a place that inspires, seduces, has a special atmosphere. When Fiore first found Peralta (1967) in an abandoned state she immediately fell in love with the place and knew she wanted to restore the houses. She went about this in the same manner that she made her sculpture, building up, adding, taking away, moulding. The result is indeed a creation and one feels this special atmosphere immediately upon arriving. It is not a place for people seeking luxury accommodation where everything always works perfectly, but for people seeking inspiration, tranquillity and beauty.
Tucked away at the end of a "white track" this wonderful gem of a rural retreat will recharge your batteries within a few minutes of arrival. With only 10 bedrooms and set in a 25-acre olive grove surrounded by evergreen woodland, this family run hotel has one great secret - cooking the best vegetarian food in Italy, if not Europe. It would have been enough just to find this quiet and idyllic haven, but the added bonus of award winning vegetarian cuisine is the icing on the cake. Rooms are simple yet comfortable, all with ensuite facilities, no TV's - keeping the rural idyll quiet and relaxing. Daytimes by the pool or out exploring Lake Trasimeno and the nearby villages work up an appetite for the beautifully cooked evening meals made with love and skill by Malu and her team and served by her immaculately dressed husband, Alberto. Everyone should stay here at least once in their life.
Via Montali, 23
06068 Tavernelle di Panicale
Tel: 00 39 075 8350680
Absolutely great espresso. Honestly, you thihnk youknow coffee until you have one here. The cafe is small and the waiters are classic Italian - white jackets, bow ties, the works. It is very atmospheric with huge old mirrors and wooden panelling.
Piazza Castello 15
We had a thoroughly enjoyable week at this attractive townhouse in the historic heart of Lanciano, Abruzzo. If you want an authentic Italian getaway then this is the place for you. Lanciano is centrally located for both the beach and the mountains and has plenty of bars, restauraunts and shops to entertain too. We had the most blissful week eating breakfast on the roof terrace overlooking the town, pottering about the alleyways and eating at the most authentic (and cheap) trattorias in town. There are a wealth of beaches and coves only a 15 minute drive away and yet we could be up in the mountains in only half an hour. The house is really well equipped and with lots of much appreciated touches such as wine and water in the fridge and the basics for our first meal should we have needed it. The owner took her time to meet up with and give us a quick guided tour of the town which really helped save time on the first day and were always on hand if we needed more information about what to see and do. This area is virtually unspoilt by tourism and the people genuine, warm and friendly. We will be back soon.
The Giostra is a great experience but from the square it is a nightmare. I go every year and it took me two years to find some spot from where I could really enjoy it, from a competent local enthusiast.
I am genuinely hesitant to offer my tip because its beauty lies in its unpopularity but the prize is just too good to pass up.
On the sunny southside of Switzerland's Matterhorn and Italy's Monte Rosa lies the best kept secret in European snowsports. Cervinia is the highest resort in the Valle D'Aosta (and maybe the Alps or even the world?) at 2050m and is a mere 3 gondolas and 30mins from Platuea Rosa at 3480m. This offers incredible riding for much more of the season than anywhere else in the Alps and some very accessible and pretty decent glaciar action even mid-summer. At a time when gloabal warming is threatening wintersports this altitude has advantages. From the plateu you can ski down into picturesque Zermat (a dizzy drop of nearly 2000m) or down the 22km run to Valtourenche (over 2000m below). There's everything else in between including Europe's highest snowpark and some of the safest powder off piste i've ever seen. My favorite times there have been early December and mid April. Cheap passes and empty slopes coupled with total snow coverage.
The village itself has everything you need and is certainly more suited to the dedicated dawn to dusk rider than the dusk til dawn clubber; perfect. Hotel Fosson is a personal fav at the bottom of a sunfilled blue run into Cervinia and Paula, the owner, has more skiing medals than the Herminator.
As if this weren't good enough its merely two hours drive from Turin and it's dangerously cheap to fly there from UK. Wait, what am I saying? don't go, you'll like it too much. Alright do go, but don't tell anyone about it.
Cervina, Valle D'Aosta. Just of the A5, Italia
Great restaurant with a great view of the old wall of the city - unique atmosphere!
The restaurant is close to Ponte Vecchio and Piazzale Michelangelo.
via San Niccolò, 55/r
We stayed in this apartment during a recent trip to Italy and wished we had been able to stay longer. It's in a lovely little village called Loro Ciuffenna and is a perfect base for anyone wanting to live the Tuscan experience. Best for longer stays (a week or more) and for people who have access to a car to be able to get around to all the fabulous tiny places that nobody gets to see. Run by an American woman, Barbara (she lives in the apartment below), who took such wonderful care of us and knew all the best places to see and things to do. Fabulous hiking and nature experiences if you tire of all the antiquity. Generally, just a wonderful place to recharge the batteries and forget the world for a little while.
Loro Ciuffenna, Arezzo
Modern, minimal, but with a friendly staff all just steps away from the famous Ponte dei Sospiri. I wanted breakfast to last forever - sipping on coffee as gondolas literally skim your jacket sleeve... Magical.
On 15th May, every year the town of Gubbio comes alive with the most amazing pagan-converted-to-catholic festival: the Ceri. The local enthusiasm gets very high as the three ceri (three very heavy wooden structures topped by three saints) are carried around all day by the ceraioli (the people who carry the ceri) in a town decorated by banners and flags. Everyone dresses up according to the saint they support and start the day at 5am till night when people eat, drink and dance till very late in the piazzas. It is called a race but the winner is not the first to arrive in the church at the top of the mountain (a 7 minute run up a very steep mountain), the winner is the cero (singular of ceri) that falls the least. A bad fall of a saint is considered a bad omen. Read more and see videos on www.ceri.it
Gubbio, near Perugia and Assisi in Umbria. Central Italy.
Closest train station: Fossato di Vico.
Buses to Gubbio from Perugia. Ryanair flies to Perugia from the UK.
It is an agency providing holiday apartments for rent in the centre of Rome. They have different solutions and are very helpful. After booking they sent me a lot of tips about events in Rome and how to spend my days there. Finally the apartment was well serviced and finely furnished, while the price was a lot lower than an hotel. In my opinion the best way to stay in a city like Rome is to rent an holiday apartment or a bed & breakfast.
One of the most scenic train journeys you can go on is the train whick links the beautiful Italian cities of Florence and Venice. The first wonderful surprise is the magnificent train station at Florence, a building of architectural worth and beauty in its own right. Get there early for the train and have a snack in the cafeteria while drinking in the rococo decor.
The train itself is superbly clean with comfortable seats and ticket inspectors with stylish uniforms. It feels like a 1960's Italian movie. The scenery is worth watching, no need to take a book to read on this journey. The excitement of arriving in Venice is hard to describe, look forward to walking from the station to the Piazza San Marco (try to arrive just before dusk to see the full magnificence of one of the world's most perfect scenes.......)
It is a massive cathedral and inside there is a hole in the roof through which a slowly (but perceptibly) moving spot of light shines illustrating the movement of the earth round the sun and the exact time of the solstices and astrological periods on a huge linear sundial on the marble floor. Arrive shortly before 12:30 (probably 13:30 in the Summer?) and you can follow the spot of light as it crosses the floor to reach its destination. Great for kids and free!
A side chapel also contains a Foucault's pendulum kept in motion by magnets.
It is a sandwich/cake shop selling wonderful slices of pizza. If you are staying at Porta San Mamolo hotel and arrive in between meal times (which appear to be fairly rigid in Italy!) go round the corner and experience very delicious sandwiches & pizza (which they will warm up for you).
From Hotel Porta san Mamolo it is 1 minute walk. From hotel door turn right, at the end of the street turn left along Via Paglietta and then right and it is on the corner of Viale Enrico P and Via Massimo.
It is free to go into almost all of the museums in Bologna and this one is amazing - due in large part to the work of an 18th century female artist/anatomist who made models to enable medics to study the human body. Some are wax and some are human bone and wax. I would not recommend a visit if you are pregnant - the obstetrics section, although fascinating, could be upsetting: it contains midwife-training models of wombs illustrating difficult foetal presentations, many of which would surely have resulted in infant and/or maternal death.
It also contains (less alarming!) sections on natural history and physics.
It's a stylish cafe/bar/cake shop in the centre of Bologna and at around 6pm they put out a mouth-wateringly delicious free buffet. It starts with tempting canapes, and after a bit they bring out warm things. The drinks are not cheap (it was 6 euro for a glass of wine) but as you can eat all you want for the price it is brilliant. It is also fascinating watching the bar staff prepare and serve cocktails with aplomb, and watching the other customers.
Piazza Galvani (web = caffezanarini.com)
Cantina Bentivoglio in Via Mascerella is a wine bar that serves brilliant food. The pork in balsamic vinegar sauce is meltingly tender, and the beef in red wine on polenta - so delicious. I finished off with lemon sorbet with "wodka" (the English translations in the back of the menu provide a few laughs). Plan to eat at 9 or 9.30 and you get to listen to live jazz - makes for a great evening!
Via Mascarella (round the back of the Palazzo Bentivoglio)- look up "Cantina Bentivoglio" on the net for more details
Italian chain that allows you to see what dishes are being prepared before you choose food. Always full of locals rather than tourists. Great opportunity to get a hang of Italian food habits. Padua Brek is slightly better if you're travelling.
Main square outside opera amphitheatre
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