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Thursday, 31 May 2012

Eating with the Stars

Article first published as Eating With The Stars on Technorati.

Nowadays, a conversation about food generally means sharing the latest diet miracle trick or focusing on what is deemed healthy and what is not. This is of course important in a world where obesity and its related health problems are dramatically rising. However, there is a certain sadness to realise that often the notion of pleasure associated with eating has disappeared. There is one country that remains faithful to its culinary culture tough, and that is Italy. This explains why food plays such a big part in movies set in this country or featuring Italian characters.

Going back to the fifties and sixties, a prime example is "La Dolce Vita," directed by Federico Fellini and starring Anita Eckberg and Marcello Mastroianni. You can literally smell the aroma of the pasta dishes served in the Roman trattorie and it is a struggle not to get ravenously hungry. You would love to try these recipes yourself? You can still find them on the Internet today.

A bit closer to us, can you recall the famous quotes from Enzo, played by Jean Reno, one of the main characters in "The Big Blue", released in 1988 and a fantastic box-office success for director Luc Besson? Enzo is adamant that "pasta has to be eaten al dente" or is genuinely scared about his mother's wrath: "She will kill me if she catches me eating pasta in a restaurant!".

And how about the ragù sauce, prepared and served to her family on Sunday nights by Sophia Loren in the 1990 film "Sabato, domenica e lunedi"? The famous actress is actually a skilled cook in real life and has published a few recipe books. And one of the sayings attributed to her tells us: "Everything you see I owe to spaghetti".

"The Big Night" is a 1996 movie with Tony Shalhoub and Stanley Tucci. It recounts the story of two Italian immigrant brothers in the fifties struggling to keep their New Jersey restaurant afloat. The older one is the masterful cook who cannot bring himself to offer the mediocre meals that make a neighbouring place so successful. The younger one is the restaurant manager desperately trying to save their business. Without giving too much of the plot away, the key moment is the preparation of a mouth-watering feast, the central piece being a form of timballo, an elaborate baked pasta dish.

Last but not least, "Eat Pray Love" is recent enough for the story and pivotal scenes to still be clearly present in our minds. Julia Roberts, playing author Elizabeth Gilbert, spends time in Italy, India and Bali. How not to love the scene where she is so enjoying her pizza in Napoli that her line is: "I am in love. I am having a relationship with my pizza."

That bit of movie dialogue sums it all up, does it not?

Fotolia 18818667 XS

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Trulli - The Typical Stone Houses of Apulia

Article first published as Trulli - The Typical Stone Houses of Apulia on Technorati.

As you arrive in the Itria Valley, a part of the Apulia region in Italy, it is impossible to miss the Trulli, the typical stone houses specific to this area.

Their cone-shaped roofs are covered with layered flat stones, their spire soaring against the mostly blue skies. The walls are normally whitewashed, but can also show the dry stones used to create these unusual houses. The buildings can often been found in groups of two to five or more. And finally, you cannot help but notice the various, mostly Christian, symbols sometimes painted on the roofs: for example, a heart pierced with an arrow has nothing to do with love, but is the representation of Our Lady of Sorrow, or a dove calls to mind the Holy Spirit.

The architecture of these homes is pretty basic. The material used is limestone, which can be found in plentiful quantity in that region. The stones are set to create two rows in a circular shape, to which the conical roof is then added. This structure does not allow for multiple floors, and means that the house will remain comfortably cool in the summer and will be relatively easy to heat during the cold season. Corbelled blocks on the inside, topped with a finishing stone, and slats on the outside render the roof watertight.

Various conjectures have been uttered over the years as explanations for such a simple way to build a house. The fact that the construction could be dismantled quickly and without hard work, therefore stopping inspectors from spotting it and asking for high property tax to be paid, is the most probable.
There are several towns or villages famous for Trulli houses, which are protected under the UNESCO World Heritage law. You should be aware of that fact if it is in your plans to buy and renovate such a house, as you will have to comply with many regulations.

And should you want to avoid the main, bustling tourist places such as Alberobello, you can still find plenty of hidden gems. Beautifully restored houses are available and will offer you a truly relaxing, magical holiday. They offer all the modern commodities while retaining original characteristics. You can therefore enjoy cooking meals in a state of the art kitchen while going to sleep in a cosy, stone alcove. Open fires are the norm, and often an outside swimming pool has been added, perfect for either a summer or a winter stay. You will have the feeling of having been forgotten by the entire world, but gorgeous beaches and restaurants offering superb food and wines will never be far away.

Pretty heavenly region and accommodation, is it not?
trullo angeli 13 web 

Paradise on Earth - The Amalfi Coast

Article first published as Paradise On Earth - The Amalfi Coast on Technorati.

Chances are that even if you have never actually visited some of the gorgeous places populating the Italian Amalfi Coast, you are aware of what they look like. Why? Because they are regularly featured in magazines and used as shooting locations in movies. "The talented Mr. Ripley", "Under the Tuscan Sun", "Only you" or the older "Beat the Devil" are a few examples.

The Amalfi Coast is located in the southern part of the Italian "boot" just around the corner from Naples. It is about 70 m long and ends at Positano, a stunning cliff-hanging town with breathtaking views over the sea and natural caves to discover. Its mix of white and colourful buildings as well as the luxuriant gardens sporting green Mediterranean plants, lemon trees and beautiful flowers make it an enchanting place to visit.

Amalfi is the biggest city. This does not mean that you will find it intimidating. On the contrary, its numerous alleys and steps give Amalfi a romantic and intimate feel. 57 steps will take you to Saint Andrew, the impressive cathedral overlooking the main Piazza. The town is also a good base for a visit to Capri.

Sorrento is located on its own peninsula with a panoramic view on Naples and Mount Vesuvius. Its lovely harbour is ideal for an evening stroll enjoying one of the many ice-cream flavours available. The petrified city remains of Pompeii are also close by, as well as the site of Herculaneum.

Ravello is another village on the "to visit" list. Situated at a great height above Amalfi, most of the visitors come during the day, so if you are after tranquillity at night, this might just be the place for you. Villa Rufolo and its amazing gardens, which so impressed Wagner, are well worth some of your time. A music festival is also organized there, starting early in April.

Travelling along the Amalfi Coast is relatively easy as means of transportations are plentiful. Visiting by car is of course one of them, and you will no doubt enjoy the stunning scenery as you drive along the coastal road. If you arrive by plane, you will most likely land in Naples. If you do not fancy renting a car, then trains, ferries and buses will be on offer to take you to your chosen destinations.

As it is understandably very popular during the summer season, you may prefer to visit it in spring or autumn, or even in winter when the temperatures remain pleasant. You will then avoid the crowds and inflated prices, and enjoy a more peaceful atmosphere. Whatever season you choose, you can be sure that you will not be disappointed.
il giardino 14

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Egadi Islands - Favignana

Favignana, Marettimo and Levanzo are the names of the three principal Egadi Islands, located off the magnificent western coast of Sicily. This article focuses on Favignana, the largest one.

It is situated between Trapani and Marsala, and its proximity to Trapani international airport makes it easily accessible, while remaining unspoilt. It has a land area of about twenty square kilometres and the two plains on either side of a chain of hills have given Favignana its "butterfly" nickname. A tunnel running through the hills connects the two parts. The island is composed mostly of calcareous boulders, and visitors are also usually fascinated by the "cave di tufo", huge cavities which are the result of years of quarrying. These gaping holes can surprisingly conceal a precious area of greenery, or be filled with pretty pools of sea water. The most wondrous can be found around Scalo Cavallo, Bue Marino and Cala Rossa. The rugged coastline means that the beaches are often small and sometimes hard to access, but Favignana is a sought-after spot for all types of diving activities. Its turquoise waters have been protected by a marine reserve and there is no shortage of diving centres.

The main town, also called Favignana, is where the ferry stops. Built around a pretty port, it is dominated by Santa Caterina Fort, once a Saracen observatory post, nowadays in military hands. Facing the sea, the heritage of the rich Florio family, which used to be active in the production and export of Marsala wine as well as tuna fishing, can be found. It takes the shape of the Palazzo Florio and the tonnara (tuna fishery). Tuna fishing is still going strong, Favignana being one of the few places in Italy where the bloody mattanza method is still alive. It is however a historic ritual performed every year in May or June, and one of the principal tourist attractions.

Apart from scuba diving, snorkelling and swimming, other options include boat tours and cycling. You can hire your own craft, or participate in an excursion. Boatmen will also come to you spontaneously in the harbour, with ideas of a trip to secluded beaches or around the island. You can book a fishing trip too. With its flat landscape, exploring the island on a bike is popular. If you did not bring your own, you can hire one at a low cost without problem, and either set off alone or join a guided tour.

For sustenance, you have a choice between shops selling everything from tuna steaks to take-away pizze, or a wide range of restaurants. The prices are fair for a touristic place, and if you like fish and seafood you will be in heaven.

Are you after authenticity and unpretentious beauty? Then Favagna is for you.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Casa Olivi in the Marches, Italy

Published in Travel Files

A Week in Casa Bramasole

casa bramasole neu 101 Driveway 

Article first published as A Week In Casa Bramasole  on Technorati.

More and more articles are being published about the way social media now affects our lives. Twitter and Facebook are still the leaders, but new possibilities are emerging every day. We tend to spend more and more time interacting with our virtual "friends" online. But how about our real life friends? Do we still have time for them? How would you say an experience such as described below compares with how popular one can be on social networks?
Our group of four friends were driving through the dark oak forest. We finally came to a clearing and there it was, the house! We got out of the car and took the time to admire the myriad of lights around Lake Trasimeno below us. We then looked for the key that would open the beautiful Umbrian property in front of us and quickly found it. We had of course seen lots of photos of Casa Bramasole but the reality surpassed what we had been expecting. We immediately felt welcome as we entered the old converted farmhouse, while retaining its original features of old beams, terracotta tiles and brickwork. The colourful flowers and fresh fruit waiting for us in the dining room were a nice and thoughtful addition.
As we entered the spacious kitchen, we realised that this was where we would spend most of our stay. On top of the two dishwashers, massive fridge and freezer, a surprise was waiting for us: a Pavoni coffee machine! This completed the feeling of belonging that we had experienced as we had first walked into Casa Bramasole. Once the bedrooms, all different, were attributed, we set out on a complete tour of our home for the week. All the rooms were absolutely gorgeous and fireplaces could be found in the kitchen, bedrooms and living room. We were ravenous by then and the oak logs were quickly thrown into the barbecue on the terrace. We did not even wait for the fire to completely turn to embers to cook the impressive steaks we had bought on the way in Tuoro. The result was heavenly: Tender and juicy meat, eaten with tomato and garlic bruschette.
The following morning we fully discovered the unbelievable view on the lake below and the nearby hills. We were very lucky with the weather and were able to enjoy the outdoor swimming pool and to eat outside, except for one evening when we gathered around the big wooden table and ate by candlelight. The whole week was a culinary festival: mushroom risotto, steaks alla Fiorentina, homemade pasta filled with ricotta and basil, zabaione, berry tiramisu and apple tart, accompanied by local white and red wines. That last dessert we savoured in the TV room, just so we could say we had used all of these stunning rooms at least once. This part of the house was once a pigsty and the original arrow slits gives it a special atmosphere.
As we were about to leave we all stated how much we would love to come back. Perhaps this time in the winter? If only for the opportunity to snuggle up on one of the big leather sofas in the living room, with logs blazing in that enormous fireplace.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Il Paradiso

These are the impressions of a client of us staying in Casa Bramasole in 2011:

Bistecca alla Fiorentina

Article first published as Bistecca alla Fiorentina on Technorati.

Tuscany is famous for its many wonderful aspects. Stunning landscapes of rolling hills, cypress trees, fields of poppies and sunflowers and glorious sunsets. Old barns and farms converted to magnificent properties while retaining their original features. Glimpses of life in the Middle Ages and even the Romanesque and Etruscan eras through its impressive and well-preserved cities. Nature in most of its forms with a gorgeous coastline and sandy beaches, majestic mountains, parks and reserves. Art everywhere and well-being for the body and the mind through luxurious spas.

Then of course there is the Tuscan cuisine and one of the trademark dishes of this fantastic area in Italy is the simple but delight for the senses "bistecca alla fiorentina" (beefsteak Florentine style). It is so famous that it even has its own Facebook page. What is so special about it? Well, first this is a T-bone or porterhouse steak that obligatorily comes from either the Chianina or Maremmana breeds of cattle if you want to stay true to the tradition.

The Chianina breed is the most common one. It was in earlier times raised as draught cattle but is now principally used for meat. It is the largest and a very old cattle breed, having been raised in the regions of Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio for over 2'000 years. The Maremmana breed gets its name from the region where it is reared in western central Italy, and has an unusual skeletal build that gives the animal its distinctive appearance.

The preparation of this huge and thickly cut piece of meat – usually meant to feed two people – is very simple, but for the desired result it is crucial that one uses the best ingredients and pays attention to all the details. You will be able to find slightly different versions calling an extra ingredient or two such as a hint of honey or a drizzle of first class olive oil. However, for the base recipe you will need only sea salt, crushed black pepper corns and garlic. The salt and pepper are sprinkled on both sides prior to cooking, but for the garlic, it depends on the chosen way. You may rub it before the steak is seared or added afterwards on the side that has just been cooked. The same goes for that drizzle of olive oil.

The seasoned steak should be put on a wood- or charcoal-fired grill for the best outcome, but should you not have one available searing in a hot frying pan can also be done. The meat has to remain quite rare, and you will be surprised at the mind-blowing burst of flavours once you start enjoying it. As a side dish, Tuscan beans or a crispy green salad are best, and a nice glass of red wine will be the finishing touch.

bistecca fiorentina klein

Sunday, 20 May 2012

The Fortified City Of Lucca

Article first published as The Fortified City of Lucca on Technorati.

One of the most lovely cities of Tuscany, Lucca is located under the impressive Apennines mountains, with Florence and Pisa close by. The main feature of Lucca, which makes it so special and charming, is that it is hidden behind an amazing wall system. Built in thousands of red bricks produced for this purpose only, these walls were meant to protect the city during the Renaissance era. Four kilometres long, they are still intact today and have gained the love of inhabitants and tourists alike.

You should be aware of the fact that car traffic is prohibited in Lucca in practically all streets except for residents. Why not then enter the city through the Porta Santa Maria, the northern gate, which will take you to a typical piazza with charming cafés and… bike shops! You can then rent a bicycle to move around the city at a faster but still leisurely pace. You can access the top of the walls by steps or ramps in several spots, and you will discover that the old road has been turned into both a bike lane and a promenade. An ideal way of discovering the views over the ancient city rooftops, amphitheatre, towers and many churches, or the hills covered in olive trees and vineyards in the background. You may also want to stop and sit on one of the many benches available to immerse yourself even more in the beautiful scenery in front of you. You also have the possibility to enter or leave the old town by following the damp passages underneath the walls.

After shopping on the Via Fillungo, a visit to the Caffè Di Simo, the oldest café in Lucca might appeal to music lovers. It is said that Puccini not only was a regular visitor but that he also composed parts of his famous operas there while sipping expressos. Caffetteria San Colombano, an airy place with glass walls situated close to the train station, is also recommended. The Piazza Napoleone hosts the Summer Festival every July, a popular musical event. You will also be in prime position to look at the Palazzo Ducale and the Theatro del Giglio. The first building now hosts city offices, and the latter is still in operation today.

As you make your way around Lucca, it will be difficult not to be drawn to the magnificent villas and their courtyards. Palazzo Pfanner, which belonged to a family of silk merchants, and its gorgeous gardens are well worth a visit. Last but not least, the Torre Guinigi, adorned by oaks growing at its top, is a must see. You will most likely not be able to the see the trees from the streets below, but climbing the tower will offer you another great vantage point to admire Lucca.

lucca fotolia

A Trip to Italy with Jamie

Article first published as A Trip To Italy With Jamie on Technorati.

Is it still necessary to present Jamie Oliver? The talented chef, who started his career at Neal’s Yard and The River Café before setting up on his own, has become a star. Restaurants, TV shows, a foundation, campaigns to promote healthy eating, kitchen accessories and food range, the list is endless. Of course, there are the cookbooks. Almost twenty of them.

One of my favourites is “Jamie’s Italy”. It starts with the book cover. Jamie may be English, but it looks like his heart belongs to Italy. The chef is obviously very relaxed, sitting outside on a red stool against a wall whose paint has seen better days, his foot propped up against an old Fiat Cinquecento. He is eating spaghetti coated in a tomato sauce, and the expression on his face says it all. It gives you the urge to open the book and start cooking straight away.

To gather the recipes, Jamie embarked on a tour of the country in a VW bus with a kitchen built in a trailer, allowing him to easily cook wherever he stopped. Tuscany, the Marches, Sicily, etc, Jamie clearly had a genuine and deep connection to the people he met during his peregrinations, as the photos attest. A lot of smiles and hand gestures going on, and touching moments such as Jamie observing an old man repairing his fishnet, pouring a glass of wine for a shepherd or making pasta with four generations of women. When I browse through this publication and take the time to look at the pictures, it makes me want to visit the night markets of Palermo to taste these chickpea fritters or to enter a pasta competition in Le Marche!

The book delivers more than 120 of classic and new recipes, classified under:
Antipasti (Starters)
Street Food and Pizze
First Dishes (featuring soups, pasta and risotto)
Second Dishes (featuring fish and meat)
Side Dishes

“Jamie’s Italy” focuses on authentic, mouthwatering food, best eaten with family and friends. Italians “Mamas” revealed their pasta making secrets to Jamie and owners of “agroturismo” inns welcomed him into their way of life. The warmth of the exchanges Jamie had with locals also transpires in the writing and the way the recipes are introduced. Yes, this love of food and sharing makes its way into your home too. I have yet to try all the recipes, but the ones my family and I already prepared received high praise, from us as well as from our guests. Needless to say, only empty plates and dishes were returned to the kitchen.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

The Trabucchi - A Fishing Experience

Article first published as The Trabucchi - A Fishing Experience on Technorati.

Imagine that you are on holiday in Italy. It is a gorgeous summer day, the sun is shining brightly in a perfect, cloudless sky. You have rented a convertible, the roof is of course open, and you are driving along let's say the Gargano, a magnificent coastal area in northern Puglia. Suddenly, a funny wooden structure attracts your attention. You decide to stop the car and investigate.
It turns out to be a rather basic pier, built with wooden planks and poles, and held together with ropes and galvanised wire. The uneven footbridge takes you to a platform, where a lonely shack stands. All around the hut, masts reach out over the sea. A more thorough inspection reveals a quite complex structure, orchestrated by an impressive number of wires and pulleys. The nets folded on the timber faded by the sun and the rain solve the mystery: this is a fishing device.

Turning around, you notice a small building very close to the fishing pier. It does not look like a house, rather like a very simple restaurant. As you want to find out more about your discovery, you decide to go in and enquire. The owner and his wife are very welcoming. You order some rosé wine and as the restaurant is empty except for you, the couple joins you at the table. They speak some English and are happy to answer your questions. First of all, you learn the name of this peculiar machine: a trabucco. It is said that this fishing technique was invented by the Phoenicians. Back in the 18th century, it was a popular way of catching the fish as it was not dependent on unpredictable weather. It was built out of pine, a hard wood also resistant to salt. It took several men to operate a trabucco as some had the duty to watch when the fish banks were approaching and others to manoeuvre the structure. Nowadays, the function of the trabucchi is no longer economic, but cultural, and a popular tourist attraction. Not too many of them have their own eating facility and most catches are destined to local, typical restaurants just like the ones you have already enjoyed during your stay.

The afternoon goes by quickly, and soon it is time to think about dinner. You simply do not want to leave this lovely place, and therefore ask the owners if it is possible to eat. You are lucky, fresh fish was indeed caught today, and it is quickly grilled for you and served with fragrant bread and a crisp salad, while the vibrant evening colours slowly turned to dark ink. After a last espresso, you leave the couple that now feels like your new friends, and you promise to come and visit them again.

Pasta, Pasta

One of the many aspects of Italian culture that is famous worldwide is its impressive food offering. Who has never tried a fragrant pizza coming out of a wood-fired oven, or a steaming pasta dish featuring a delicious, flavoursome sauce? Exactly, so here are a few pasta facts for you.

It is said that Marco Polo was the person who introduced pasta in Italy when he came back from his adventures in China. The Venetian explorer may well have brought back pasta with him, but the fact is that it was present already in his home country. There are tales of the ancestor of the pasta, called "lagane", also made out of wheat and reminiscent of lasagne, as early as the Etruscans. Noodle certainly showed up again during the invasion of Italy by the Arabs, a few centuries later. Since then, the production of fresh and dried pasta has been thriving, becoming more and more popular.

Dried pasta is ideal to store due to its keeping for a long time, and it is simple and quick to prepare. The next big step in the history of the pasta happened in the nineteenth century, when it found its ideal match, the tomato. Today, at least three hundred and fifty different shapes have been accounted for in Italy. And if you add to this count the various regional versions, who knows how big the number is going to be? Conchiglie, linguine, farfalle, orecchiette, to name but a few, their exotic-sounding names add to the enjoyment of eating them. There is also a reason why pasta is shaped differently: it is to marvelously marry with the sauce accompanying it. The long sort, spaghetti for instance, is best eaten with light and airy sauces, using a tomato or olive oil base. The flat sort, think tagliatelle, is perfect for thick, creamy sauces. As for the tubular version such as penne, they will go best with a chunky topping. And finally, there is also a wide variety of stuffed pasta – spinach and ricotta filled ravioli, anyone? – and soup pasta, beloved by children when alphabet- or star-shaped!

If you are feeling adventurous, why not try some unusual recipes? For vegetarian options, go for sun-dried tomatoes and tofu, pesto with a twist as you add avocado to that classic dish, or pumpkin, sage and walnuts. With fish, try scallops in an orange sauce or tuna, artichokes and peppers. And for meat lovers, hot chicken and tomato sauce or, as a winter dish, cabbage and spare ribs!

So, are you hungry yet? Then you might want to go and hunt in your cupboards, it would be surprising if they do not hold at least one packet of pasta…

Barbecue Italian Style

Article first published as Barbecue Italian Style on Technorati.

At first, we were a bit cautious: Would this gorgeous, spring weather last, or was it just a couple of nice, sunny days before falling back into winter mode? By now, we are no longer hesitant and are enjoying the bright and pleasant days. And what comes with the warm season? Barbecue time, of course!

In Italy, visitors are usually surprised by the vast range of recipes for open air grilling, and during the summer, a lot of restaurants will have this type of cooking on their menu too. Meat of course plays a big part, and it could not be easier and quicker, as pieces of beef, pork or poultry will as a rule not be marinated. Sea salt and black pepper, a small amount of pure olive oil, perhaps a quick rub with a garlic clove or a sprig of rosemary, and they are ready to be thrown onto the open fire.

Sausages are also very popular. They often contain only pork, although sometimes beef will be added. Hot and milder versions are available, depending on the chosen seasoning: Chilli flakes, fennel seeds, salt, black pepper, garlic, red wine vinegar, sugar, onions, parsley, anise seeds or paprika, the number of varieties on offer is seemingly endless! And as Italian sausages are most of the times raw, the barbecue method is a good way of ensuring that they will be cooked through.

Freshly caught fish is another beloved choice, and as a lot of Italian regions have a seacoast, there is no risk of a supply shortage. The secret of fish grilling is quite simple: It must be as fresh as possible, the grill very hot and you must constantly keep an eye on it while it is cooking. A whole fish is a better option than fish filets as it is easier to keep in one piece, and the use of a fish griller is a good idea.

Grilled vegetables as starters (antipasti) or side dishes (contorni) are also a must. Aubergines, zucchini, peppers in all colours, onions, mushrooms and artichoke hearts are a good selection. Once ready they make a colourful display on a big plate and only a drizzle of olive oil, salt, pepper and a garnish of basil leaves or bits of oregano are required before the dish makes its way to the table.

Slices of fresh ciabatta are a simple but tasty addition. They can also be dipped into a high quality olive oil, sometimes with a little bit of salt and pepper added. This type of bread can also be used to make bruschetta, which will be topped with a mixture chopped fresh tomatoes, basil and garlic. Grilled focaccia, a flat, round bread, is delicious too.

Now all that is needed is for this fantastic weather to last!


Casa Olivi

im Blog:

Casa Olivi: Markus Reuter Photography-WMG 2012 catalogue

casa olivi: Markus Reuter Photography-WMG 2012 catalogue

Arena Sferisterio – A Summery Suggestion

Article first published as Arena Sferisterio - A Summery Suggestion on Technorati

With spring in full bloom, longer days, warmth and sun, a subject comes up regularly in conversations. You can hear people sitting at a café terrace on a balmy evening asking their friends:
So, what are your plans for the summer? Yes, it is that time of the year again, the time to plan your holidays.
How about you? Have you already made your choice? Are you an active person who is going to spend two weeks climbing mountains, eager for the exhilaration to kick in once you get to the top? Or do you feel that you deserve a real break and will be enjoying the sun on a white sandy beach somewhere, breaking the day with the occasional swim in a crystal clear sea? Or then again you are into music and culture. If that is the case, then the Macerata Opera Festival could be the perfect event for you. Macerata is a lovely historical town in the Marche region. Situated between the Chienti and Potenza rivers, it has been built on two levels. The old part sits at the top of a hill and the recent buildings occupy the plain, with a lift connecting the two. There is plenty to see, but you should definitely not miss the Loggia dei Mercanti and the Church of Santa Maria delle Vergini, where you can admire a Tintoretto painting.
Every year, Macerata hosts an opera festival, which takes place in the Arena Sferisterio. This monumental neoclassical arena, which can sit up to 4'500 spectators, was originally in the 1820s a stadium where handball games would be played. When football took over as the nation's favourite sport, Arena Sferisterio was then turned into an opera venue. Its place as one of the favourite locations for this type of musical performances remains unchallenged still today.
The programme is being held this summer between July 20th and August 12th. It features four representations each of Verdi's La Traviata, Puccini's La Bohème and Bizet's Carmen. No need to present these pieces, as they have their place in the pantheon of the beloved and well-known operas. Even if you have enjoyed one or all of them before, perhaps it was not in an open-air setting? Then you should consider attending the festival, as you will without a doubt find it a magical experience.
The Marche has been given the name of new Tuscany, and it is not difficult to understand why. Its landscape is utterly beautiful, and there is no shortage of gorgeous properties to rent or hotels full of charm. Apart from Macerata, towns such as Treia and its collection of Renaissance and classical paintings displayed in the Town Hall, or Urbino and its magnificent Palazzo Ducale, are well worth a visit too.
Tempted yet?