My Day with Shepherds in Abruzzo

shepherd, italywise

Heading up the mountain.

Just two weeks ago I took the long, but stunning drive down to Abruzzo and to see my dear friends Novelia and Beppe for a three day stay in Sulmona. After my first trip, early in the summer, I had resolved to return as soon as possible. Novelia had orchestrated a day for me and three friends to “shadow” the shepherds from Abruzzo’s organic La Porta dei Parchi agriturismo, run by Nunzio Marcelli, in the Majella National Park’s Sagittario Valley.

Our day took us with the shepherds high into the majestic Abruzzi Apennines.

Oh what a day we had. The weather was spectacular. The views were the kind that made you want to slap yourself to make sure you weren’t dreaming. The two shepherds were kind young men who seemed happy to have us along for the journey. Or course, the real stars were the flocks of goat and sheep.

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Bologna is One of Italy’s Finest Treasures

Bologna, Italywise

Elegant arches.

I’ve been making all sorts of wonderful new friends here in Italy. And one, Chris Cutler, is a delightful woman I met through my contacts (thanks to our mutual friend Novelia Giannantonio) in Sulmona, Abruzzo. Chris has been leading tours in Sulmona, but she also leads tours in Bologna. She is passionate and incredibly knowledgeable about both places. We first developed a relationship via email, and then I had

Bologna, Italywise

Chris Cutler knows Bologna like the back of her hand.

the good fortune to spend a day with her in Bologna, and to be shown around and given great insight into this wonderful city – one that is rich in history, architecture, art, education AND food! I’m amazed, and saddened, that so many people overlook Bologna when planning their Italian itineraries.

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Rocca Calascio in Abruzzo Will Take Your Breath Away

Rocca Calascio, Abruzzo, Italywise

A window to the drama of the Apennines

I’ve returned recently from my second trip to Abruzzo. If you read my previous post on Sulmona, you’ll know that i’ve been chomping at the bit to return and explore further. Tops on my list was a visit to Rocca Calascio.

Rocca Calascio, which sits at 4,790 ft, is the highest fortress in the Apennines.

I made the journey with my friend David, who was kind enough to play tour guide and navigator. Having him along was a real treat, because he clearly loves these mountains and the treasures they contain. As we departed Sulmona early in the morning David lamented the overcast and rainy weather that seemed to have rolled in overnight. I, too, was feeling like the day would be a bust. After all, I’d been told Rocca Calascio is one of the most stunning places in all of Italy. Why else would the movies Lady Hawke and The Name of the Rose have featured it so prominently?

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Folegandros – Let Your Soul Breathe and Your Spirit Soar

 

Folegandros, Greece

Yes, this was my daily view at Anemomilos Apartments, Folegandros, Greece.

I’m launching a new category for blog posts entitled “Italy’s Neighbors.” While the benefits of living in Italy are plentiful, one HUGE one is how easily I can hop around to neighboring countries.

I’ve spent the last several years tackling the logistics of moving to Italy and setting up my home. So, I had neglected returning to one of my favorite places on earth – Folegandros, in the Cycladic Islands of Greece. I’ve been there six times now, and we’re already making plans to return next year. I promise you, this island is THAT incredible and well worth your efforts to get there.

Why do I love Folegandros so much?

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The Dark Side of Venice – Photography by Giacomo Fornari

 

Venice, Italywise

Venice Night by Giacomo Fornari

I am fascinated with the dark side of Venice. Perhaps, this is the primary reason it remains my favorite city in all of Italy. Long ago I learned to leave the heavily touristed thoroughfares behind to wander and explore the endless maze of narrow streets and alleys. A person doesn’t have to go far to begin experiencing the spooky and mysterious aspects of this one-of-a-kind city. It’s no wonder that Italy has inspired so many dark (and often disturbing) books and movies. For classic film buffs there is the cinematic masterpiece Don’t Look Now. Who can forget the knife wielding drawf? When I’m wandering the seemingly deserted areas of Venice at night, I half expect such a figure to emerge from the darkness. Lucifer’s Shadow, a book by David Hewson, is a well crafted tale of murder and intrigue in Venice. And I’m itching to read more of his books.

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The Contours of Man and Mountain – Photo by Jed

Dolomites, Italywise

I don’t consider myself an accomplished landscape photographer. My fascination with people and stories of everyday life have been my focus. However, on our one day excursion up to the Dolomites, which was just one and a half hours’ drive from Treviso, I gave myself to focus on landscapes, for a change, and see what presented itself. Being a novice in this regard, I had absolutely nothing to lose.

So, I took some of the advice I’ve given in earlier emails about finding your voice, and..

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Venice – White Coats in Readiness – Photo by Jed

Venice, Italywise

White Coats in Readiness

Often I visit the archives of photography I’ve done many years ago to see how my style has evolved, and to see if there are some gems that still stand out to me. Here is one that I took at least sixteen years ago using conventional 35mm film (Fuji Velvia 100) when I didn’t have the luxury of confirming I had the shot, as I envisioned it, on the spot. Oh how photography has changed with the advancements in digital technology.

Normally I stay far away from Piazza San Marco in Venice, feeling a bit claustrophobic, and so outnumbered by the throngs of tour groups – now made even more challenging with the proliferation of cruise ships docked close by. Consequently I seek out more opportunities in the in-between hours of activity – either crack-of-dawn, when it’s virtually deserted, or late afternoon when many people are sleeping off the excesses from earlier in the day.

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Fall into the Warm Embrace of Sulmona, Abruzzo

Sulmona, Italywise

Sulmona is set amongst the majestic Morrone mountains.

Just a week ago I made my first journey to Abruzzo and the wonderful town of Sulmona. Boy, did I get lucky. You see, Abruzzo, hadn’t really been on my radar, with the exception of sadly noting the devastating earthquake in Aquila in 2009.

The universe works in mysterious ways, and my new mantra is allowing the river of life to take me to new places and experiences. Trying to overly orchestrate life if for the birds. Serendipity is my friend, and I’m discovering magic, indeed, can happen in our lives if we just get out of the way.

Sulmona, Italywise

Sulmona’s finest ambassador, Novelia Giannantonio

So, the universe brought me Novelia Giannantonio. She found me through my blog and began writing me and weaving her magic spell to coax me to come to discover the warmth and beauty of Sulmona, which is in the heart of Abruzzo. My busy schedule was threatening to delay a trip there indefinitely. But, thanks to Novelia’s kind persistence, a small window of opportunity presented itself, and I seized the moment, and booked train tickets for a two-day stay in Sulmona.

In typical fashion, as I quickly learned, Novelia sprang into action, helping me to secure a beautiful place to stay in a 16th century structure (next time, with more notice, I’m booking Novelia’s beautiful penthouse!). She and her kind husband Peppe insisted on meeting me at the Pescara train station. She also informed me, quite proudly, that she had included me in a very special guest list for a private concert by an amazing soprano singer who was coming from Modena (more on that later in this post).

I could not have been welcomed more enthusiastically to Sulmona. What did I do to deserve this kind of good fortune? Novelia and Peppe were my loving shepherds for the two days of my visit. Feeding me (quite deliciously, I might add – Novelia is an AMAZING cook), giving me a guided tour and history of the town, and introducing me to their circle of friends, which included a delightful community of expats (from New Zealand, Australia, Scotland, the U.S. etc.). Incidentally, several of the expats were a tad afraid of my exposing their hidden treasure in this remote corner of Italy.

If you read no further in this post, I encourage you to reach out to Novelia through her website about her sweet penthouse, the “House of the Heart”, which contains her full contact information. I can vouch for her enthusiasm and desire to welcome everyone with open arms. Novelia clearly loves her Sulmona!

I hope you find this post compelling and informative – without being cumbersome. My challenge is the abundance Sulmona offers – which is ironic since my stay was so brief. Novelia and I agreed that this “maiden voyage” was simply my antipasto, and a return trip in early autumn, is in order.

So, now I endeavor to hit the high notes of things to do and experience in Sulmona. Again, my thanks to Novelia for providing me so much information to share. If you wisely decide to include Sulmona in your explorations, you will not find a better guide.

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A Dream Tuscany Cycling Trip – Women’s Quest

Tuscany Cycling Trip

Twice I have been given special dispensation to hang with the gals, get an amazing workout, and eat sinfully, all while soaking in the Tuscan countryside as part of the Women’s Quest Tuscany Cycling Retreat. I’ve been one lucky fellow.

This year’s Women’s Quest Tuscany Cycling Retreat is September 11-18

I love getting the word out on special resources available to people considering coming to Italy and doing something extraordinary. This Women’s Quest Cycling Trip certainly fits the bill. Sorry guys, this year’s trip IS a women’s trip. BUT, in 2017 the schedule includes a Tuscany Retreat that is Co-ed! Woohoo!!!

I know Women’s Quest pretty intimately because, as part of my former job in California, I participated in doing a story about Women’s Quest and the numerous life-affirming trips they offer. The Founder and Leader of Women’s Quest is the inspiring Colleen Cannon, World Champion Triathlete (1984) and two-time US. National Champion Triathlete (1988 and 1990).

Don’t think about being intimidated by Colleen’s rock star status in the triathlete world – though she, and her incredible staff, will help you explore and push your boundaries. In my opinion, the universe sprinkled fairy dust on Colleen, and you will feel the magic of her guidance and mentoring.

Don’t just take my word for it, read the testimonials!

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10 Reasons You’ll Fall in Love with Treviso

Treviso, Italywise

Maybe I’m biased, since we now live in Treviso most of the time, but I believe Treviso is one of these best cities in Italy. You won’t find it listed on the hot lists of most tourist itineraries. However, if you carve out time in your schedule to come to Treviso, or to make it your base of operations while in Veneto, you won’t be disappointed. I quickly became enamored with Venice’s northern cousin. This post is to tempt you to do the same!

prosecco, Treviso, ItalywiseProsecco. You’re in the bullseye of its production (and mastery).

You’ve hit the jackpot if you are a fan of this sparkling Italian wine. Yes, in Treviso, you’ll find yourself smack dab in the thick of Prosecco production. I’m blown away by the prolific displays of this wine at the local markets, and finding a tasty prosecco for under 5 euro a bottle is pretty easy. And, this wine is abundantly available on-tap in most restaurants. People in the Veneto are known for their love of drink (and ability to hold it) and drinking prosecco, whether alone, or as part of a spritz, seems encoded in the genes of the locals.

My adoration of prosecco is reason alone to be in love with Treviso. Pair it up with cicchetti and the love affair deepens.

Cicchetti

Cicchetti, Italywise

Cicchetti with bacalà

Many people refer to cicchetti as the Italian version of tapas, or small bites, which are served in  “bàcari”, cicchetti bars. These places abound, making it easy to have a quick lunch or dinner. Mainly this tradition is fueled by a love of communing and socializing, and starting mid-day it isn’t unusual to see people with drinks and small plates in hand, spilling outside these establishments into the alleyways.

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