As the birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence has long been a major destination for art and culture. The city itself can feel like one vibrant, living museum, with a public space filled with marble sculptures seeming to appear around every street corner. Wandering the streets and gardens of Florence is a must-do, but the city’s museums are also not to be missed. Here are a few tips for prioritizing and planning a successful museum-filled trip.
- It is no secret that the Galleria degli Uffizi is one of the top museums in the world. While no hidden gem, the Uffizi houses some of the most important works of the Renaissance, including Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, as well as works by Leonardo da Vinci, Caravaggio and Michelangelo. The collection’s fame can mean long lines, so be sure to book ahead to skip ahead and get straight to exploring the art-packed rooms. For a small fee, tickets can be purchased online. To book your entrance time and skip the lines, buy tickets here.
- Some of the most famous Florentine works can be found at the Uffizi, but if you are looking for Michelangelo’s David, head to the Academia. Founded in the 16th century as a school of fine arts, the Academia hosted Michelangelo among its early members. The halls of the old drawing school now house many masterpieces, but none more memorable than the striking white marble David. To keep crowds manageable, only small groups are allowed at any one time and like the Uffizi, booking online allows visitors to skip the line and avoid missing out.
- If all that artistic beauty leaves you curious about life in Renaissance Florence, stop off at Palazzo Davanzati for a taste of aristocratic life in the 14th century. An interior-lover’s dream, this museum recreates what a home would have been like at the time, and is even filled with items from the original owners. For just 2 euro, the palazzo offers a peak inside a beautifully preserved private home.
- It can be tempting to try to cram in all the art museums in one go, but better advice might be: everything in moderation. When planning a trip to Florence, if you need a quick art break, pop into the Museo Galilelo (previously the Museum of the history of science). While the Renaissance was a hotbed of art activity, it was an equally important time for scientific discovery. This museum has a world-renowned collection of scientific instruments, and as the new name suggests, it houses Galileo’s telescopes.
- While it is hard to overstate the Renaissance beauty of Florence, a lot has been happening since the historical period as well. After you have taken in the Donatello’s, frescoes, and altarpieces, fashion-lovers can explore a bit of more modern history at the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum. The designer’s genius is on display in the fashion house headquarters located in Palazzo Spini Feroni. The collection showcases drawings, books, photos and most importantly, Ferragamo shoes!
But if a trip to Tuscany is not yet in the cards for the immediate future, you can still enjoy Florence’s top museum from home. The virtual tour of the Uffizi is available online, and allows for a leisurely perusal of the famous rooms, without having to worry about long lines or big crowds!
Natalie moved from California to Italy in 2010, and is the writer behind the blog, An American in Rome. She provides accessible Italian lifestyle tidbits each month for the Mazzoni Wines blog, Live Like an Italian.
Here at Live Like an Italian, we were thrilled to read the news this week that engineers have managed to right the shipwrecked cruise ship Costa Concordia off the coast of the Isola del Giglio.
The island — here’s the Wikipedia entry for Isola del Giglio — is one of the Tuscan coast’s best-kept secrets and one of its most popular seaside vacation spots for tourist in search of undeveloped coastline.
It’s beauty is simply breath-taking and the island’s restaurants, hotels, and other services retain that 1960s small-town feel.
The island is also a favorite spot for scuba divers (see below).
What a thrill to learn that the hazardous shipwreck — a threat to the island’s ecosystem and an eyesore — has finally been righted again!
Above: The famous horse race of Siena, the “Palio di Siena,” held every year in early July and mid-August (image via WikiSiena).
If you’re anything like us, you’re probably Googling around the internet looking for information and updates on the Palio di Siena to be run on Friday, August 16.
We recently came across a wonderful online description of the Palio at WikiSiena (probably the best English-language resource for all things “Siena” that we’ve ever seen).
Here’s what the editors have to say:
The Palio is the most important event in Siena and it has involved the life of Sienese people over time and in many different aspects and feelings: “You run the Palio all year long”, someone says. It is a horse race run in Piazza del Campo and it was born long time ago (the earliest known antecedents of the race are medieval and some present day regulations are still valid since 1644, when it was run the first Palio with horses, as it is run today).
It is held on July 2nd (named Palio di Provenzano, in honour of Madonna of Provenzano) and August 16th (named Palio dell’Assunta, in honour of the Assumption of Mary) and it is run by 10 of the 17 Contrade (city wards) that form the city.
Each Contrada is like a small state, ruled by a Seat headed by the Prior and led in the “carousel” by a Captain, assisted by two or three contradaioli called “Mangini”; their boundaries was established in 1729 by Proclamation of Violante of Bavaria, Governor of the City.
As we gear up for the Palio dell’Assunta this Friday, we’ll be following some of the Italian-language sites that document the events every year (like SienaFree.it; if you do read Italian, have a look at this detailed post, including information on how to attend the events).
And we’ll post the winning contrada and its flag on Friday.
But in the meantime, if you want to read up on this wonderful, historic pageant, take a look a this entry from WikiSiena.
Above: One of the many gorgeous stretches of coastline in Tuscany. Photo via Nautica La Marina.
When people think about summertime beach going in Italy, the famous Amalfi coast in Campania (southern Italy) is the first place that comes to mind.
Few realize that Tuscany has some of the most beautiful beaches in all of Europe.
When the staff at the Tenuta Il Poggione (where the Mazzoni wines are made) takes its summer vacation (the last two weeks in August), most go to Castiglione della Pescaia, about an hour’s drive from the winery.
Above: The Duomo of Milan.
Now that summer travel season is upon us again, we’re going to launch a series of travel tips for your Italian vacation.
First up, is church etiquette.
Italy is a country rich with historic churches, both big and small, containing some of the world’s greatest works of art. Entrance is usually free, costing only a bit of conscientious tour etiquette. Here are our suggestions:
1. Cover your shoulders! Tank tops are frowned upon as are short skirts/shorts. If it’s too hot outside to wear even the smallest cap sleeves, a scarf draped over the shoulders for the duration of the tour will do.
2. Turn off your cell phone, it’s a place of quiet reverence.
3. Photography is almost always prohibited, but check at the entrance. There’s usually a plaque stating the church’s policy on this. When in doubt, leave the camera in your pocket. Just follow the same protocol that you would in any museum.
4. Leave your food and drinks outside.
Just be mindful of these very simple points and enjoy your journey into Italy’s rich historical treasury!
Now that Christmas and Epiphany are over in Italy, it’s time to hit the slopes.
While Italians are historic devotees of sunbathing and beach combing, there is quite a fan base dedicated to skiing.
Italy may not be the first country that comes to mind when thinking of ski resorts, but it certainly has its share of great slopes and glamorous places to see and be seen, even in the Winter.
And don’t forget about all of that beautiful, soul-warming Italian food that will keep you going for daytime skiing and night time dancing.
Image via WheretoSkiandSnowboard.com.
Courmayeur aka Monte Bianco (Mont Blanc): Located in Valle d’Aosta, this is a classic little Alpine village in one of Italy’s stunning northern regions. Along with great slopes, there’s plenty of shopping, nightlife, and great dining.
Cortina d’Ampezzo: This glitzy resort town is in the Northern reaches of the Veneto. Wildly popular, it is also very expensive. Set in the Dolomites, Cortina d’Ampezzo is definitely tops with Italians when it comes to Winter weather destinations.
Matterhorn (Monte Cervino): Also located in the beautiful Valle d’Aosta, this town is situated just on the Italian side of the Swiss-Italian border. The less expensive (and more car-friendly) side of Zermatt, this is a great place to go for cozy comfort, Alpine-style.
Southern and Central Italy
Image via AboutAbruzzo.com.
Roccaraso: Located in beautiful and rugged Abruzzo, Roccaraso is the ski town of choice for Central and Southern Italians. It has a bustling town center and active nightlife. Other surrounding towns with slopes are Rivisondoli, Castel di Sangro, Pescocostanzo, Ovindoli and Rocca di Mezzo, to name a few. Skiing in Abruzzo will reward you with far fewer foreign tourists and constant contact with Italians. The food of the region is especially well-adapted to the cold climate with grilled meats and hearty stews starring on every plate.
Image via HindustanTimes.
Mt Etna: Yes, even Sicily has great skiing! The two towns are Refugio Sapienza and Piano Provenzana. While the slopes probably won’t attract advanced skiers looking for a challenge, it has long and gradual runs well-adapted to beginning and intermediate skiers. Mount Etna is a very active volcano, so the ski-scape is as interesting as it is exciting and different.
Above: The Fiera del Tartufo is one of the many sagre that take place during the fall (it continues through November 18).
Traveling to Italy in the winter can provide you with an array of rewards. Lower fares, fewer tourists and cheaper hotels are some of the obvious.
Fall colors in the vineyards are a sight to see. Warming your hands with a paper cone full of warm chestnuts while strolling through a pizza decorated with Christmas lights is something that everyone should experience.
But if you like organized cultural events, the sagra is for you. A sagra is a festival, usually celebrating some sort of food with accompanying fanfare. Sagre are held year-round and in even the tiniest of villages, but Fall/Winter is the high season. In the winter, there is often a Sagra della Castagna (chestnut), Sagra dei Funghi Porcini, Sagra del Tartufo (truffle), and Sagra del Cinghiale (wild boar), to name just a few.
The celebrated ingredient or dish is served along with simple country wine. There is music, usually typical of the region, and sometimes there are vendors selling toys and candy. Communal tables are the norm and families can eat, drink and be merry while the children play in the festive atmosphere.
It’s a great (and inexpensive/free) way to really soak in the local color while tasting some very authentic and home made food. What could be better than that?
Image via Binocle.
Ahhh, to live like an Italian and take the month of August off! This is a tradition with a long history in Italy as well as most of Western Europe.
On average, the Italian worker gets 42 days of vacation per year, and many of them take the bulk of it (if not all) in August. Ferragosto, August 15, is a national holiday in Italy, and generally marks the start of vacation season.
The productivity of the entire country declines as bodies lie sizzling in the sun to obtain that sought-after bronze glow that every Italian admires.
The risk of finding signs like the one above (chiuso per ferie means closed for vacation) but around such destinations as the Vatican in Rome and the Uffizzi Gallery in Florence you’ll always find restaurants, shops and hotels that accomodate travelers.
Image via Richard Dietrich.
Continuing our series on less-traveled Italian destinations, we should look at the ancient Roman town that lives in the shadow of Pompeii: Herculaneum (Ercolano, in Italian).
The devastating eruption of Mount Vesuvius on that fateful August afternoon on 79 A.D. did not focus its wrath solely on Pompeii. There were neighboring towns that were equally devastated and Herculaneum is an amazing, perhaps overlooked example.
While the buildings of Pompeii and its inhabitants were destroyed mostly by the first stage of the eruption, the population of Herculaneum was spared at this point. The heavy debris and ash that caused the collapse of so many buildings of Pompeii only lightly rained down on Herculaneum, resulting in an evacuation of almost the entire town toward the sea. The later flow of ash and hot gasses slowly filled the buildings from the ground up. Because of this, the structures of the town are remarkably well-preserved.
Once the excavations reached the shore, however, the fate of several hundred members of the population was discovered. A subsequent heat surge sometime in the middle of the night blew through the area and instantaneously killed the people who had taken shelter in the boat houses. Their bodies were carbonized which, along with the debris burial, helped to perfectly preserve the skeletal remains. This was an exciting find for scientists because Romans practiced cremation, rendering typical remains unsuitable for investigation. The unfortunate end of the Ercolani gave forensic investigators the opportunity to glean information such as diet, disease, childbirth, as well as how they died. It was an unprecedented look into the daily life of ancient Romans.
Up to this point, the main cause of death was thought to be suffocation. But, upon further examination of the Ercolani, scientists were able to surmise that it was indeed a pyroclastic surge that was the most deadly aspect of the eruption. Because of the tragic demise of the people of Herculaneum, the entire world has a more detailed account of this catastrophic event that happened almost 2 millennia ago.
If you would like to visit this beautifully preserved Roman town, it is just a 25 minute train ride from Naples on the Circumvesuviana. You won’t have to fight hordes of tourists unloading from multiple buses, as the infrastructure around the area gives little access to major traffic.
For those of you out there who want to take the road less traveled, this is the series for you. For every Uffizzi gallery or Amalfi Coast, there is another, less visited cousin.
We’ll start with the beautiful Island of Ischia (EES-kee’ah), the less famous but no less glamorous sister to Capri. There are technically 4 islands in the Gulf of Naples. Capri, Procida, Vivara, and the largest, Ischia. (We say “technically,” because Vivara is a national park and is attached to Procida by a pedestrian bridge.)
Nicknamed l’Isola Verde (the green island), it certainly doesn’t disappoint with its lush beauty. Although one might think that it’s verdant flora is what gave it this moniker, it’s actually named for the green-hued tufa rock that is its foundation. The surrounding water can rival the limpid, cool green, blue, and deep turquoise of Capri.
Ischia has several sandy beaches and a wealth of thermal water spas. In fact, thermal water is what made the island famous to begin with. Fango, or mud enriched with rich volcanic water is a draw for many each year and is what built Ischia’s traditionally German and British tourism. A day pass for these thermal parks averages around 30 euro. Inside you have access to several pools, natural saunas, lounging chairs, beach, and all of the glorious sea views that you can handle. You can of course pay more for massages or other beauty treatments once inside.
If history is your interest, there is a museum housed in Villa Arbusto in the town of Lacco Ameno that displays one of the purported Nestor’s Cups. Displaying one of the first written records using the Greek alphabet, the island is proud to have found this treasure locally. There is also the Castello Aragonese on the eastern side of Ischia, in the town of Ischia Ponte. The castle is built on a steep volcanic rock that is attached to the island by a pedestrian bridge, hence the name of the town. The first fortifications were built in the fifth century B.C., with the majority of what is seen today being comissioned in the mid-fifteenth century. It is a breathtaking site, both to behold from Ischia Ponte as well as from the castle itself.
Ischia is also rich in shopping and great dining. It’s hard to eat a bad meal! There is fresh fish, high fashion, and a bumping nightlife to suit all tastes.
Though this island isn’t tourist-poor, it definitely is not heavily touristed by Americans. The best times to go are May through July, then September and October. August sees a crush of Italian tourists and hotel rates are highest and beach space is limited. Compared to Capri, however, the hotels are quite the steal. You can even find short-term apartment rentals everywhere if you know where to look.
There is nothing not to love about Ischia, it really has something for everyone. It makes for a romantic vacation for two, as well as a family-friendly destination. Getting there is easy. Just take a ferry or hydrofoil from one of two ports in Naples and within 1 hour you will disembark into a paradise few of your American friends have even heard of.