Rediscover Italy | Orta San Giulio

Just over an hour’s drive from Milan, in the province of Novara Italy, there is a small and beautiful village, placed on the official list of the most beautiful villages in Italy and awarded with the orange flag of the Touring Club Italiano: Orta San Giulio.

Getting there is very simple and it’s ideal for a day trip from Milan. In fact, the little village offers in addition to monuments or interesting architectures, an atmosphere of serenity, the memory of a time when towns were smaller and everything was hand made locally.

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Located on the shores of Lake Orta, this small village has maintained its medieval shape, formed simply by a square with brooks and narrow lanes stretching from the shore for just over a hundred meters inland. You cannot enter the town with the car which you can leave in the large  car parking that you will find near by. The town’s streets are made with pebbles and you will not find a drop of asphalt that could contaminate the original roads. All the streets lead to the central square, from where you can take small boats (at about € 4) that will take you to the small isle of San Giulio in the middle of the lake a few minutes away. A true gem of untouched medieval architecture. You will find a monastery, a few homes and just a small restaurant with a terrace overlooking the lake called: Ristorante San Giulio. Needless to say you must make reservations if you want to eat there.dscf5298

The island has been a key place in the area for centuries, not only for its strategic location but also for it’s spiritual value. Many of the legends, still handed down, speak of the creatures of the island and the fundamental role the church (built in 390 AD) had to keep them away.
Throughout the Middle Ages, there were military camps and castles on the island, up to the modern and contemporary age, when the last remains of the last medieval castle were demolished to make room for a monastery and a bishop’s seminary that today occupies much of the island. The Mater Ecclesiae abbey which is a cloistered women’s Benedictine monastery.

Helpful hints:

The best means of transportation is undoubtedly the car, thanks to a very handy parking right at the beginning of the village, try to avoid those at the top of the hill because they are too distant, even if provided with shuttles. If you have the chance, I recommend the restaurant that is on the island of San Giulio, not so much for the food, at the level of a good trattoria, but for the pleasure of having lunch on the terrace overlooking the water, from which you can see the shores of the lake.

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The alternative, if you have not made reservations, are the little restaurants in the village square, which are just as good in prices and quality of food.

When you visit this small town, take your time, enjoy the little streets and explore it because, now more than ever, it is necessary to find the value of time spent well and, in Orta San Giulio this feeling of peace is almost guaranteed.

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Rediscover Italy | Akragas

Rediscovering Italy: Akragas

For the Rediscover Italy section, today I would like to bring readers to a beautiful city, on the island of Sicily that everyone has heard of at least once, but few know: Agrigento.

If you want to reach Sicily you can either fly, there are three airports, Palermo, Catania and Trapani or take a ferry from different locations in Italy. If you chose to fly and purchase a ticket with due advance the cost of a flight to Catania or Trapani (excluding July and August and the national holidays) can cost as little as forty-five euro round trip from Milan, but as public transport is limited to some Busses, to reach different locations I recommend renting a car. In fact, the best locations aside from the valley of the temples, are outside of town and so you need one to be able to enjoy a sunset or a starry night on the beach or reach an archeological site. I feel obliged to make some recommendations: entrust yourself to the best car rental companies avoiding discounts and offers that come with flights because they often hide exorbitant franchises and pay attention to the minimum age limit for drivers that varies from company to company and can entail huge overcharges.

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However, once you are provided with a car, you are ready to face the wonderful city of Agrigento and its province and expect interesting experiences. This premise is a must: if you are looking for a relaxing holiday made of sea, sandy beaches, grilled fish and sunsets, San Vito Lo Capo, between Palermo and Trapani, is the place for you. It offers well-stocked sandy beaches, great restaurants and incredible views. If you decide to go for a holiday in Agrigento rich of Greek history you will be immensely rewarded. Inevitable is the visit to the valley of temples that for thousands of years thrives on Akragas (Agrigento’s Greek name) hills. It has a complete well preserved structure of a Greek temple and parts of others, an archeological park with its necropolis and museum, that have just been restored in some parts and deserves a good half day to explore.

Allow me to give you a little bit of the history of this city. Sicily was considered by the Greeks, who made it one of their provinces, their main grain provider so they built a few cities on the island. The rediscovery of Akragas was started towards the end of the eighteenth century, when the first European travelers ventured into Sicily discovering unexpectedly immense artistic and archaeological wealth.

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In an enchanted valley, with flowered almond trees, is the most impressive monumental collection of all Magna Grecia. The valley of temples is surely the most important testimony of the ancient classical culture of these places. It brings together the temples of gods and goddesses beyond the necropolis area and extra-moenia sanctuaries.

The Temple of Castor and Pollux (Dioscuri) the legendary twins born from the union of Queen of Sparta with Jupiter. It has become the symbol of the city of Agrigento, now it has only four columns.

The Temple of Olympian Zeus (Jupiter) was built to thank god Zeus for the victory of 480 BC Of the Agrigentines on Carthaginians. Here are the telamons, giant statues with human semblance.

The Temple of Concordia is located along the Sacred Street, which is erected towards the fifth century, today it is the best preserved. In the 6th century it was transformed into a sacred building. The name Concordia comes from a Latin inscription found near the temple itself.

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The temple of Heracles (Hercules) is the oldest, the god was venerated with special attention from the Akragantines. Inside there was a bronze statue depicting Hercules himself, loved as a national hero. The temple was destroyed by an earthquake, today there are only eight columns.

The temple of Esculapio was built far beyond the ancient walls of the city, a pilgrimage site for the sick who demanded heal. The walls of the temple were covered by the writings of the sick who got the healing.

The temple of Vulcano dating back to the 5th century BC had to be an imposing building, today we have little. In the foundations, the remains of an archaic temple were found.

Unfortunately, the ancient ruins of the town of Eraclea Minoa on top of a hill, an hour away, of which I have good memories as a child, are in poor conditions but if you decide to go there you will have a breathtaking view of the sandy yellow beech below. I would recommend Selinunte where you will find an other perfectly preserved Greek temple. Once you have experienced the history and seen the miracles of archeology you will not be able to resist going to the endless sandy beaches that embrace this corner of Sicily. Wild, uncontaminated and with the bluest sea.

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There is one for every taste, but all guarantee spending some time between the sun and crystal clear water, I personally would like to recommend two that have a special place in my heart for beauty and comfort: Lido La Spiaggetta di Giallonardo, a 20-minute drive from Agrigento, near Siculiana Marina, a wild, yellow sand long beach with a clay wall, equipped with convenient parking and a Kiosk that, in addition to being an excellent cocktail bar, also rents sun loungers. The water is calm and low but after about thirty meters from the shore it is already deep. Perfect for both swimmers and for those who want to go diving.

The Realmonte Turkish Steps, is closer to the city than Giallonardo. It’s an amazing formation of white rock in which the wind, through the centuries, has carved steps, a white calcareous rock formation as high as a six storey building that stands out and shines that can be seen from miles away. The legend has it that people would go on top of the rock to watch if the Turks would be coming to invade the city. It offers one of the best views found across Sicily. Walking on it is absolutely safe and fun, but because of the presence of rocks in the water around it it’s absolutely forbidden to use it to jump into the sea. The sea surrounding it, however, has crystal-clear water as that found in Giallonardo, and the bars along the coast will be very convenient for getting some fresh drinks and ice cream.

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As for what is one of the greatest attractions in Sicily, food, I always recommend avoiding tourists traps, not stopping at the most convenient or cheaper places but going a bit further.

If you continue to explore, you will find little beach bars or restaurants that will change your day. I can also advise going to two small little places where to find some peace and good food, but if you feel up to it mix with the locals, stroll, explore and find all the stuff that this amazing city hides. My suggestion again, where you will find the best pizzas I have ever eaten, is the Stop bar, right on the road that leads from Agrigento and Porto Empedocle to Giallonardo : You will recognize it by a small green sign and by the amount of cars that crowd its parking lot, because in addition to the excellent arancini (stuffed fried rice balls) it also makes brioche with ice cream that you have never had before.

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The other is a restaurant in Bovo Marina, also close to Giallonardo, called Marina Giò where, from a terrace on the sea, you can enjoy the day’s catch prepared in all the ways that the Sicilian creative cuisine conceives.

As for the best time of the year to come, I can only tell you if want to avoid the heat and the rush of the summer season, to visit this city, and Sicily altogether, in the Spring or in Autumn when you will not find the majority of the tourists flow and the weather is a perfect blend between warm and cool. It’s a bit windy in May and June, very warm in July and August and back to warm in the day and cool in the evening in September and October. I have seen people swim in the Mediterranean sea in mid November.

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In this article I wanted to give you a little taste of what a part so little known of Italy can give you, you must embrace what is the best way to travel by getting involved in the culture you visit, without being afraid of Interacting with the locals and approach new adventures.

If you would like to organize a trip to Sicily and you need some extra details or, do not hesitate to contact me and I will be more than happy to help another traveler discover a new part of our wonderful country .

Rediscover Italy | le Cinque Terre

There are very beautiful places in Italy which we Italians often do not consider as a possible vacation spot simply because we imagine them to be too expensive or full of too many tourists. For this reason, we end up missing out on seeing some of the most attractive places our country offers.
My attitude was changed by an Australian friend who visited me last year, who in his must see list had the very attractive Cinque Terre, The five lands.

In two days I was able to organize a tour for us during a special holiday, Ferragosto, which is a very busy time in the summer, I found great accommodations, nice restaurants and perfect means of transportation and were able to spend 100 euro for everything staying in Monterosso and Riomaggiore.

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Transportation
The train is actually the best way to move around the Cinque Terre, which are close to one another and with very little parking facilities which, for this reason are also very expensive (5 euro an hour). It’s possible to get there by car, but roads are steep and narrow not easy for someone who is not used to them.

If you leave from Milan Central Station with train reservation you can reach Monterosso with 50 euro (round trip); you can spend even less if you can make early reservations.
Once you arrive you can purchase a card which allows you to travel through the five towns at the cost of 16 euro for 24 hours

The only drawback is that trains that go to all five towns are not so frequent as the schedule says because the trains that leave every 10 minutes actually stop only by the first and the last town, Monterosso and Riomaggiore. The local trains pass only every half hours and, after 6 P.M, every hour.

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If your only objective is to visit the five towns, enjoy the beautiful views, dip your feet in the Mediterranean, and you are an early bird, one day is enough to see them all. But all this will be possible only if you are a good walker ready to go up and down stairs at a fast pase.

If you want to take it slow and take two days to fit in some beach time any of the five towns offer very nice accommodations for any pocket size.
My friend and I were not interested in a 4-5 star hotel, so we opted for a room in an Airb&b that costed 45 euro each. The room was comfortable, clean and had all the necessary items.

We chose to stay in Monterosso, which we found convenient as it was the last of the five towns and it’s where the train that goes to Grosseto stops. However, the other towns do offer similar accommodations.

Once you have taken care of the travel part and the accommodations you are ready to enjoy the beauty of these five small towns clinging to the hills and which promise unique views.

The list of things to do is very simple: it takes less than an hour to visit each town,
the only advice I can give you is to embrace the reality of this place and let it regenerate you slowly and intimately.

Be ready to approach many stairs but the treasures you will see once you get at the top are priceless. From a Doria Castle to the small town of Corniglia which you can reach after only 500 steps where, at the top you can find a terrace from which to admire the natural reserve in which the five towns are immersed.

Monterosso is the only town equipped with umbrellas and sun chairs, but the real sea of ​​the Cinque Terre is what lies in the small bays and coves that can only be reached by walks or walkways, and strictly on foot. But I found the most amazing water in Riomaggiore right next to the marina, which is accessible via a carved cliff path not suitable for those with a weak heart.

Food
In these villages you will find everything the Ligurian cuisine can offer: from focaccias, pastas to fish. Here too, the solutions offered are for all pockets and you will have plenty of choice.

13920578_10210608391346452_2816783827985167798_nI have three eating places to suggest: the Belforte restaurant in Vernazza, which offers an incredible view not only of the town but of the whole bay, or Captain Taverna also in Vernazza and finally the only focaccia maker of Corniglia, which has a really good farinata.

If you feel like spending a few extra euro, I recommend Mickey’s Cellar in Monterosso where you can find anchovies cooked in any possible way, in addition to all the Ligurian traditional dishes that will tackle your palate.

Finally, I would like for you to try at the end of your meal a glass of Sciacchetrà, a meditation wine that comes from those terraced hills overlooking the Cinque Terre which have been the main attraction of this landscape for millennia.