Wednesday 15 December 2010

The legend of La Befana

The legend of Babbo Natale (Santa Claus) has existed in Italy since the days of World War II. However, there is even a more ancient (and equally popular) Italian Christmas tradition that has its origins traced back to the 13th century: the legend of "la Befana". Every year on the night between the 5th and 6th of January, which is the Epiphany day, (Greek term meaning "manifestation" or "appearing"), la Befana flies on her broom stick to bring presents to children. La Befana is an old hunch-backed lady with a big red nose. She wears broken shoes and a colourful patched dress. The legend has it that on the 12th night of Christmas (January 5th) the three Wise Men, on their search for the baby Jesus, knocked on somebody's door. A woman was busily sweeping her house when they came to her door. They said they were seeking the new King who was born in Bethlehem. When they asked her to show them the way, she replied that she was too much busy. Later, she felt sorry that she had not helped the three Wise Men, so she set out after them. She searched and searched, but she didn't find them. La Befana felt really bad, that's why she is still travelling on her magic broom, every year on the same night, searching for the Christ Child. She carries a big bag on her back full of sweets, which la Befana will use to fill the stockings that children have left by their chimney. The children who have behaved in the past year, will find sweets and chocolates in their stocking on the day of the Epiphany. Those who didn't behave will only get a few lumps of coal. (It's sweet coal and I love it! ;-)).
Here is an Italian nursery rhyme that children usually sing for la Befana
La Befana vien di notte
con le scarpe tutte rotte
col cappello alla romana
viva viva la Befana!
Rough Translation
La Befana comes at night
wearing old broken shoes
dressed with a Roman style hat
long live la Befana!
Author: Sonia Tardetti 

Friday 5 November 2010

Fiera dei Morti, Perugia

The Fiera dei Morti (Fair of the Dead) has been held annually in Perugia reportedly since 1260. The name comes from the timing: the market takes place the first week in November (this year, Nov 1-6), often during All Saints' and All Souls' Days. For six days, hundreds upon hundreds of itinerant shopkeepers, food vendors and craftsmen from all over Italy and even abroad set up stalls and offer their wares. This is the place to find anything, but anything at a great price. There is a festival atmosphere, the vendors are pure theater and haggling is pretty much the norm. The fair is open every day from 9 am to 11 pm.

Tuesday 19 October 2010

Olive picking in Umbria

So many times I've found myself writing about wonderful events and times of the year that are current, here in Umbria and Tuscany. My philosophy has been that our readers might be inspired by these profiles and want to plan trips around them for the following year.

This time, I will talk about olive picking in Umbria. Some agricultural estates in Umbria offer olive harvest holidays, you can participate in the harvest as much or as little as you want and take home extra virgin olive oil from Umbria, which is considered among the best of Italian olive oils.

So, if any of you are coming to visit this autumn, you may want to add this idea to your itinerary.
I hope you enjoy reading this blog article as much as I have enjoyed researching and writing it!
November is the month to pick olives. The earlier the better.

In most Mediterranean areas, olives are harvested in the months of November, December and January. But here in Umbria, where cooler valleys are sometimes touched with early frosts, the harvest can begin as early as the end of October. Our early harvest means that the fruit is less ripe, and therefore produces less oil, making Umbrian olive oil a bit more rare than others. The less ripe olives also account for the prized peppery taste of our oil. Of course, we love this special oil, and its arrival is always cause for celebration.

Olives are still picked by hand, and they are combed from the tree branches with a long instrument that resembles a strange pair of scissors, and then put into baskets. While some areas are using more mechanical methods of harvesting the olives, these are not yet ideal, as they can damage both the olives and the trees. The old method still prevails. In Umbria, the olives are always picked by hand, for Umbrians do not believe that an olive that falls to the ground is worthy of our fine olio; such an olive could be damaged and spoil an entire pressing.

Because it is done by hand, olive harvesting is difficult work. Usually, the entire family, and often their friends, are called upon to pitch in with the farm workers for the harvest. The olives are picked while green and timing is vastly important. Once the fruit is off the trees, it must be rushed to the press in order to avoid spoilage. An olive is 20 percent oil, and while this may not seen like a lot, the high fat content can cause the olives to spoil quickly. Fermentation also becomes an issue once the olives are picked. So, it is on to the presses as quickly as possible.

It takes a lot of olives to produce a liter of oil; about 200 hundred per liter is an average number. However, among the finest oils, it sometimes takes the fruit of an entire tree to produce a liter.
In Umbria, as in most of Italy, the olives are pressed at a communal mill which is called a Frantoio. At the frantoio, many growers bring their olives to be pressed, but each grower is proud of his olives and comes along with them to the mill, to be sure that only his harvest goes into the pressing. Each grower must make an appointment for his pressing, and sometimes his entire family comes along to await the final product.

Friday 15 October 2010

Chestnut festivals in Umbria

October is the month of the chestnut harvest and there are chestnut festivals all over Italy, with small taverns serving excellent homecooked food completely focused on the creative and original use of chestnuts. My favourite chestnut festival is the one that takes place in Preggio (Umbria).

Local residents open up their houses and cook a selection of local dishes, which are served on the streets to hungry residents and visitors. These meals go down a treat with a glass of novello wine (new wine).

All the basement rooms of the old houses of the village open up as tiny restaurants, featuring varied menus that include roasted chestnuts and dishes made with chestnuts. Local artisans display their crafts.

Monday 11 October 2010

Eurochocolate in Perugia

There are few things I can think of that make travel more pleasurable than food – whether it’s trying something new, or tasting an old favorite in the place where it was born. And because so many people around the world are so passionate about chocolate, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Perugia’s annual Eurochocolate festival draws countless visitors from all corners of the world.

Held in October each year since 1993, Perugia’s Eurochocolate chocolate festival has been steadily growing in popularity. Today, it is one of the most important chocolate festivals in Europe and features everything from theatre and music performances to cooking demonstrations and chocolate art exhibits. A highlight for most visitors is the collection of outdoor chocolate sculptures; between all the chocolate used in the artwork and all the chocolate being sold by vendors outdoors, if the weather is warm you won’t be able to walk through town without breathing the chocolate-scented air.

Each year, Eurochocolate has a different theme – in past years it’s been things like “City of Chocolate,” “Chokolate Revolution,” and “Chocolage.” The latter theme was meant to speculate as to the evolution of chocolate, and the promotional photographs included a woman using a chocolate bar as a mobile phone!

Perugia, the capital and largest city in Umbria, was the sole site of Eurochocolate until 2000, when other cities in Italy saw what a great idea it was and decided to get in on the act. Many of those cities have broken away from the Eurochocolate umbrella and have started their own chocolate festivals (such as Turin’s annual chocolate festival, CioccolaTÒ), but one city which remains affiliated with Perugia’s Eurochocolate festival is Modica – their chocolate festival is held each year in March.


Tuesday 28 September 2010

Luxury villas in Umbria and Tuscany required

We are looking for more properties to add to our selection of luxury houses either to buy or for rent in Italy. We are particularly interested in villas in Umbria and Tuscany, but not only. We have collectively been in the property business for nearly 30 years and we know the property business in Italy very well. Maybe you own a gorgeous hilltop Umbrian farmhouse with a swimming pool, or have a lovely stone villa situated in a tranquil corner of Tuscany or Le Marche and perhaps you don’t have the time to use this house as often as you might like. Maybe you are a globe-trotting executive and are unable to make it back to your corner of paradise in Italy for a few years or so. If this is the case and you would like to keep your house in Italy in good condition, then you should seriously consider contacting us to discuss how to place your villa in our portfolio. Your property will feature on our globally recognised website. Are you interested in renting your property to holiday guests during the spring and summer?

Monday 20 September 2010

Home in Italy for rent

Through our website you can browse our properties for rent. We remind you that if you are searching for a particular property that doesn't feature on our website yet, you can send us a specific request and Abode Srl will find the suitable villa rental for you. The goal of our company is to give you the pleasure of renting your Italian dream!

Thursday 16 September 2010

Palio dei colombi in Amelia

The main festival of Amelia in Umbria is the 'Palio dei colombi', which stretches over 2 weeks in late July and early August. The central event is of this boisterous and vivid festival is a contest during which riders on horseback representing the city's five medieval neighborhoods (contrade) compete against one another in a game of quintan. The winner fires a bolt from a crossbow, hits the target and releases a caged pigeon. Easier than it sounds?

Monday 13 September 2010

Festa nella Fratta del '800 - Umbertide

Umbertide had their Ottocento festival over the weekend and it was a rousing good time, the Umbrian town turned into a stage for one of the most interesting historic commemorations of our region. Forgoing the whole Middle Age theme, Fratta (the original name of Umbertide) has embraced the roaring 19th century, a century of great social and political changes which gave birth to the modern era and to a time marked by huge and significant transformations in communication, labour and culture.

The 19th century was a time that deeply affected life in Italy and in the world, including the microcosm of Umbertide which, through evocative scenery and walkers-on wearing period costumes, re-lived the exciting moments that characterised the Italian Risorgimento with all the suffering that came with it. The many initiatives in the programme were grouped into sectors which were mainly cultural events (exhibitions and conferences), entertainment (plays, ballet and music and folk dances) and gastronomy.

This is a festival in every sense of the word- lavish tavernas done up as genteel parlor rooms, can can girls, dance performances, jugglers, young people running in the streets with bayoneted rifles, incredibly good wine. The events scheduled for 'La Fratta dell’Ottocento' began on the evening of Thursday 9th September and continued for four days, with the stage being the entire historic centre and they were undoubtedly approved by the vast crowd that filled the winding little streets on this occasion.
I went home tired, with sore feet and big smile. I love this festa!

Friday 10 September 2010

A corner of Umbria in London

Of Vasco & Piero's Pavilion Restaurant, legendary food critic Fay Maschler recently wrote within a review: The strange name refers to a time in the early 1970s when this restaurant was above the Cinema Academy (sadly no more) and decor as camp as a row of tents was supplied by surrealist photographer Angus McBean. Serenely supervising the kitchen is the venerable chef Vasco Matteucci who imports wild herbs, oil, cheeses, truffles and cured meats from his native Umbria. Pasta is made on the premises and tortelloni - not to be missed - might have fillings as various as wild mushroom, duck, sea bass, or aubergine.Food is simple and good; assemblies on the plate could never be accused of showing off. Eating here is like eating in Italy - and in Soho of old when it was the area you had to visit to find olive oil to buy. Lunchtime attracts media folk, evenings canny politicians. Gordon Brown wooed Sarah here.Terry Gilliam says: 'Which is your favourite London restaurant? Vasco & Piero's Pavilion on Poland Street, W1, because it does brilliant Umbrian cooking and it's always good.' Source:

Thursday 9 September 2010

Is Italian the World's most enchanting language?

English is well on its way to becoming the dominant global language- one out of four of the world's population speak English to some level of competence and demand from the other three-quarters is increasing. English, the world’s most utilitarian language, has infiltrated many realms of Italian life and Italian is becoming a real hotchpotch of a language.

So many English words are replacing Italian words... NO COMMENT! An English expression frequently used instead of the Italian 'nessun commento' (save five letters!)

For example, browse through a typical Italian newspaper and it would be no surprise to read about 'un killer' on the loose who has left locals in a state of 'lo shock'. Thankfully, police have nailed him, putting 'un stop' to his crimewave.

In politics articles 'i business leader'  don’t need un 'poll' to tell that the Government’s committed 'un altro gaffe' and their plans look like being 'un gran flop'!
But enough of politics. Fancy catching up on the football in La Gazzetta dello Sport? Well, il 'derby' last night between i due 'club' di Milan, Inter and AC, proved a real corker, what with both sides pushing each other back with 'il pressing' ‒ until Inter’s Marco Materazzi proved 'il matchwinner' with a header from 'un corner'! But overall it proved 'un match bellissimo' and 'i fans' will be talking about it for days, and thank goodness there were no 'hooligans' at the stadium!

Then there are the showbiz magazines. Even worse. It seems like Geri Halliwell's sporting il suo new 'look ' now that she’s finally bagged herself 'un boyfriend'. Bet she and il suo partner can’t wait to spend 'il weekend' together in un 'resort'. And as for that Posh Spice, well, she’s always been more 'la snob' than la sexy.  A few pages on and there are some prime examples of 'le showgirl', whose names you probably won’t recognise and whose ambitions start and end with appearing on 'un reality show' and then bagging 'un VIP' or 'un pop star' so they can hang out with all the beautiful people and sui loro 'yacht'.  And finally, if you think you need un po’ di 'restyling', the fashion editor’s an expert on 'il beauty' and what are gli accessori must. She’ll tell you all about il new look this summer, which apparently involves applying 'il make-up' only sparingly. I 'colour' for this season 'sono black and white', combining un 't-shirt extra large' with 'un paio di jeans'. This is 'il nuovo trend'!!

Weekend – instead of 'fine settimana' (save 7 letters!)

Welfare – instead of 'benessere', we have a 'Ministero del Welfare' in the Italian Government!!
Briefing – no one word translation in Italian! 'Riunione'? Maybe...
No excuse for mission! Missione in Italian- only one more letter!!

In order to stem the advance of anglicisms a little guide called 'Il Codice Itanglese,' (The Itanglese Code)- has been written. It is a set of rules for the appropriate use of English terms.

Itanglese is the Italian language used in certain contexts and surroundings, characterised by frequent and arbitrary recourse to English terms and expressions.
According to 'Il Codice Itanglese' here is a list of circumstances where Italians should not use an English word-

when only trying to appear more modern or advanced technologically. Rather than going online, in Italian you should go in rete (on the net) to check for posta elettronica (e-mail) or scaricare (download) a file. But why even consider a humdrum English word like 'hacker' when you can stick with the far more dashing pirata informatico (information pirate);

when you are suffering the laziness of not wanting to translate it from the original. Resist such temptations as opting for weekend instead of fine settimana, ok! For bene!, No smoking for vietato fumare, hobby for passatempo or chewing gum for gomma da masticare;

when English words might ruin the grammar or syntax of the rest of the phrase. There’s something jarring about phrases (ubiquitous on signs in Italy) such as 'il pranzo business' (business lunch) or il negozio fashion (fashion shop);

when the original meaning of the English term changes in the Italian. The Italian word ticket, for instance, translates as a medical copayment, not as a biglietto for a museum or movie. In Italian golf refers to a pullover sweater, mobbing to bullying or harassment in workplaces and slip to women’s underwear, not to a slip of the tongue (although it certainly would be);

when the origin of the English word is Latin. Honour word’s roots, and say centro rather than centre, fanatico rather than fan, supermercato rather than supermarket and esame instead of test.

Come on you can make it! Don't give in to 'lo stress'!!

Wednesday 8 September 2010

Buonconvento in Tuscany

Buonconvento is a town in the province of Siena in Tuscany. It's located about 16 miles southeast of Siena in the area known as the Crete Senesi. In Buonconvento you can visit some interesting churches (13th-14th centuries) and in the local museum there are works by artists from the Sienese School of painting. In most of the Buonconvento's 'frazioni' (name given to the territorial subdivision of a  municipality), you can find Medieval buildings and Renaissance castles. For example, the well known Castle of Bibbiano is in the comune (municipality) of Buonconvento.

Tuesday 7 September 2010

Buying a property in Umbria

Tuscany is invariably the number one choice of buyers who consider entering the property in Italy market. However, its neighbour to the east, Umbria, is increasingly winning investors over as it has not suffered from Tuscany’s decades of inexorably rising prices. And in truth, from the moment one steps foot in Umbria, appeal of owning property in Umbria becomes eminently clear. Its centuries of rich history seem to emanate from every cobbled step and church facade in its scenic hilltowns and villages, which are within easy enough reach of one another to be comfortably visited in one fell swoop, even on a relatively brief trip to this part of Italy. In addition it is not overrun by the millions of tourists who flock to Tuscany and consequently is all the more delightful for it. Umbria proudly describes itself as The Green Heart of Italy, and with good reason. Landlocked it may be, but some of Italy’s most stunning landscape is to be found here. Its has 750,000 acres of verdant woodland that includes seven nature reserves. So it comes as little surprise that Umbria is arguably the second most popular region, behind Tuscany, among investors in property in Italy – a trend accelerated when Perugia’s airport was extended in 2006 to take international flights.

In truth, properties in large swathes of Umbria have soared to close to Tuscan levels. Expect to pay about €400,000 for a restored farmhouse in Umbria and around €250,000 for a two-bedroom apartment or house. If you are happy with a fixer-upper, a rustic property to restore can cost under €100,000. But bear in mind you may spend an additional €300,000 bringing it back to its former glory.
However, these average prices do not portray the whole story and there are highly affordable properties available in Umbria if you look in the right places. For instance, on the northern shores of Lake Trasimeno, a one-bedroom property in Tuoro sul Trasimeno can go for just €100,000. Meanwhile, expect to pay €20,000 more for a new-build two-bedroom apartment and €220,000 for a new-build three-bedroom property.

Bear in mind also that the current economic downturn gives buyers the whip hand and smart negotiators can frequently knock up to 10 or 15 per cent off the listed price of a property.
Where in Umbria to buy? This is a region that has not lost its unspoilt charm, boasting a chain of splendid medieval towns apparently unaltered since the Middle Ages – Assisi, Perugia, Spello and Todi chief among them. However, the best thing for any prospective investor is to pay a visit to Umbria to get a feel for it in person. But deciding where to start can often prove a headache as the region boasts numerous attractions. One often preferred option is to base yourself in either Orvieto or Assisi and spend a handful of days, or a week if you have the time, seeing the lie of the land.

Although Perugia is Umbria’s administrative capital, Assisi is its spiritual heart, the town where Italy’s patron saint St Francis set up his religious order in 1209. It now attracts pilgrims worldwide, chiefly for the basilica that bears the saint’s name and is his final resting place. However, if one town in Umbria matches Perugia for religious preeminence it is Orvieto, which looks down from massive cliffs and boasting an amazing cathedral. Other must-sees include Spello, an enchanting town on the slopes of Monte Subasio, Bevagna, which lies on ancient Roman ruins and wine-growing Montefalco, nicknamed “Umbria’s Balcony” for its magnificent views that go as far as Assisi and Spoleto.

Monday 6 September 2010

A woman, a dog and Umbria

Tired of laboring in city cubicles, Justine van der Leun sublets her studio apartment, leaves her magazine job, and moves to Collelungo, Italy, population: 200 souls. There, in the ancient city center of a historic Umbrian village, she sets up house with the handsome local gardener she met on holiday only weeks earlier. This impulsive decision launches an eye-opening series of misadventures when village life and romance turn out to be radically different from what she had imagined. Love lost with the gardener is found instead with Marcus, an abandoned English pointer that she rescues. With Marcus by her side, Justine discovers the bliss and hardship of living in the countryside: herding sheep, tending to wild horses, picking olives with her adopted Italian family, and trying her best to learn the regional dialect. Not quite up to wild boar hunting, no good at gathering mushrooms, and no mamma when it comes to making pasta, she never quite fits in with the locals who, despite their differences, take her in as one of their own. The result is a rich, comic, and unconventional portrait about learning to live and love in the most unexpected ways.

This is the plot of the novel 'Marcus of Umbria: What an Italian dog taught an American girl about love'. The book traces Justine van der Leun's funny and illuminating time spent in Collelungo, a 200-person farming village in central Umbria. The author of the new book Marcus of Umbria, Justine van der Leun introduces us to her former home village of Collelungo in Umbria and what there is to see and do around the more well-known town of Todi.
The effect of this book is utterly charming. I was engaged from start to finish!

Thursday 2 September 2010

The giostra del Saracino in Arezzo

Every year an appointment with the past, history and wars returns: The Giostra del Saracino in Arezzo, running the last week of June and the first week in September.

The Giostra del Saracino 'Giostra ad burattum' finds its roots in Medieval times, it in fact born as a military training exercise, when Christian armies fought the wars of the crusades against Muslims to contrast expansion into Christian lands and domination of the city of Jerusalem.

With the passing of time it took on a meaning of officiality for the nobles. It took place in the occasion of visits by important figures or to solemnize specific civil celebrations. Today the Giostra del Saracino returns as a historical commemoration, on the occasion of the patron of the city: San Donato. The four neighbourhoods of the city participate in the Giostra, corresponding to the Gates of the city of Arezzo: Quartiere di Porta Crucifera, Porta del Foro, Porta Sant'Andrea and Porta di Santo Spirito. The neighbourhood of Porta Crucifera is distinguished by the colours red and green and its main seat is in Palazzo Alberti and it expands into the north east area of the city of Arezzo.

South east there is the neighbourhood of Porta Sant'Andrea with its white and green posters.
Porta del Foro, the third rione, is distinguished by colours yellow and crimson and its seat is in Porta San Lorentino, in the north west area of the city. And finally the neighbourhood of Porta Santo Spirito, in the south west area of Arezzo with seat in the Bastione di levante of Porta Santo Spirito, with colours yellow and blue. The Giostra del Saracino, organised by the Arezzo Municipality, starts in the morning with the 'lettura del Bando', reading of the competition paper by the Araldo, then followed by the re-evocative parade in 14th century costume with over 300 walk-ons and 30 horses, culminating with the "benedizione degli armati" (blessing of the armed) on the steps of the Duomo, performed by the Bishop of Arezzo.

The true tournament takes place in the afternoon when Piazza Grande is entered by the parade carrying the old gonfalons of the city by the orders of the Maestro del Campo. Then follows the display of the Sbandieratori (flag spinners) and the entry of the jousters who come in galloping on the 'lizza', the competition ground. At this point the Araldo reads the 'Disfida di Buratto' (a poetic composition dating back to the XVII century), there is a greeting of arbalesters and halberdiers and finally the authorisation by the Magistrates to run the Tournament and the singing, by the Gruppo Musici, of the 'Inno del Saracino'. Then come the jousters galloping, according to the order with which the knights will have to face each other, as decided the Sunday before the tournament, by a draw entrusted to the 'paggetti'. The objective of each knight armed with 'resta', that is the lance, is hitting an armoured automaton, the Saracino "Buratto, Re delle Indie" which represents a bludgeon armed Saracen. The pair of knights that will have totalled the highest number of points (which go from one to five) hitting the Saracino's shield, will win its neighbourhood the 'Golden lance', the Trophy of the Tournament.

Tuesday 31 August 2010

La Vendemmia (grape harvest time)

September is the month of the grape harvest and of the celebrations dedicated to it.
In some areas of the south, grapes are ready for harvesting in August, and towards the more Northern regions, it can take up until November for the grapes to be ready – it all comes down to ripening of the grape, it must have the right level of sweetness. In Umbria and Tuscany, the grape harvest happens in September, and it is therefore big on the agenda for regions to which wine is very important.

Grape-picking is just the first step and is one of the most celebrated occasions in Italy, extended families and friends get together, in the early morning hours snipping grapes off the vines and depositing them into large tubs or other containers.
Later, the grapes are crushed and made into wine (sorry, no secret recipes here!). If you visit a winery it's just very fascinating to watch the mixture of old tradition and new technology working hand in hand!

Monday 23 August 2010

Palio dei Terzieri in Città della Pieve

Città della Pieve, a Perugia pearl about 90 kilometers north of Rome, has its own frolicking version, highlighted by an archery competition and, on a lighter note, flour tossing.
The Palio dei Terzieri, held on the last Sunday of August, gives Città della Pieve its summer flavour. It is an old Medieval festival- the three town's terzieri (boroughs) Borgo Dentro, Casalino and Castello parade through the streets with about 700 personages in costume, inspired by the works of the most famous figure whose birthplace was Città della Pieve: Pietro Vannucci, known as the Perugino.

Castello symbolises the ancient knight class, Borgo Dentro the middle class, and Casalino or Popolino, are both diminutive references to lower classes.

Medieval towns were strictly divided along class lines, and these distinctions were prevalent until recently. On the morning of the Palio, townswomen dressed in velvet period garb parade past shops and storefronts on their way to the headquarters of the terziere to which they belong. By 3 p.m. the procession begins, led by members of the previous year’s Palio winner. The competitions themselves, which follow the parade, are anything but simple. Among other tests, archers must strike the spinning outline of a bull- adjusted to move at three speeds. While shooting, they must deal with their nerves and whispers and shouts from opposing terzieri. When a winner is declared, organised mayhem begins, with dames, pageboys and the irreverent popolani dancing and shouting.

After the archery contests come the flour wars. Members of the terzieri “attack” one another with small bags of flour, which in a matter of minutes leaves the elegant corso looking like a cross between a mountain slope and a madcap kitchen. The run-up to the Palio sees the opening of the town’s taverna, informal restaurants with local cooks.

Thursday 19 August 2010

Fiera del Cacio in Pienza

In challenges requiring precision and deft skill, it could be said that all it takes is a flick of the wrist, yet watching the participants in this engaging cacio-hurling contest, I think it would be safe to say that it's also worth knowing your cheese?

At the Fiera del Cacio in Pienza, the event is held on the 1st Sunday of Sept, the real attraction is a traditional game of rolling-a-round-of-cacio-toward-the-spindle. The game is simple enough- men at one end, spindle at the other. Points are tallied according to where the cacio landed. All of the elder players are a thrill to watch as they just seem to have that added flair honed into their strategy.

The saying is... the true pecorino is made in Pienza! During the festival you can find all along the main street and in between the alleys branching off, numerous stands of pungent pecorino. Thick strands of pici pasta, chickpea flour, thin anise-flavoured wafers called brigidini, salumi, olive oils, even a cart selling nutella-filled crepes hot off the griddle... all of the things that make Italy such a divine place for the senses are present to amplify the event. Cheese anyone?

Monday 16 August 2010

Trasimeno and the nimph Agilla

Trasimeno is Italy’s 4th lake in size, has tectonic origins and is fed mostly by rain and a few streams. Legend tells of the tragic love story between Trasimeno, son of Tyrrhenus king of the Etruscans, and Agilla, a lake nymph. When Agilla heard that Trasimeno had been called back to his father’s kingdom, and realised their love could not last, she wept so much that her tears grew in size and formed a heart-shaped lake. The other, historical version states that in order to settle the disputes about the boundaries between populations a wedding was arranged between Trasimeno son of Tyrrhenus and Agilla, daughter of Amno, who offered the lake as dowry; it was then named after the groom. More realistically, the name Trasimeno is related to the lake’s geographical position beyond the Imeno, the ancient name of the hill which marks its northern border. The entire Trasimeno area was declared a National Park in March 1995; together with lake Balaton, Trasimeno is one of the few “laminar” lakes in Europe, and is an exceptionally valuable damp area due to its rich flora and fauna. The wide reed areas, its shallow depths and the absence of pollution make this lake one of Italy’s most favourably for fishing. The lake is surrounded by medieval and Renaissance little towns which still preserve all the charm and the history of lake areas: Tuoro sul Trasimeno, Castiglione del Lago, Passignano.

Wednesday 11 August 2010

Sunday 15th of August 2010 Happy Ferragosto!

Ferragosto is the largest summer holiday in Italy, August 15th, to celebrate the Assumption.
Originally, it was the day marking the middle of summer and the end of hard harvesting labour in the fields. In time, the Church adopted this date to commemorate the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, the real physical elevation of her sinless soul and incorrupt body into the heavens.

Most Italians go away for this holiday and the cities empty out while the beaches and coasts fill up. Everyone is at the beach, preparing for the night’s feast, fireworks, and camp-out under the stars. This means that Perugia has been pretty dead, and it's nice to feel like you have the city to yourself but also nice to not feel like there's nothing to do because everything is closed. Some museums are open on Ferragosto and churches will be busy with services. Although cities are half empty, resourceful travellers will find plenty of interesting things to do on this day. Here are some picks.

1) Go see the ostentation of the Madonna’s Belt in Prato. The sacred relic of Prato is displayed to the public five times a year from the pulpit by Donatello on the outside of the Cathedral, amidst much pomp and circumstance. (The Donatello pulpit depicts dancing putti all around, and has been replaced by a copy on the exterior corner of the Duomo; go inside the 'Museo del Duomo' it should be open to see the real thing.)
2) Cure what ails you at a thermal bath establishment. Call to make sure it’s open, and don’t expect to be able to book a massage.
3) Head to Siena for the palio that takes place on August 16th. Festivities start building up the day before.
4) Go to Orbatello to the WWF protected coastal lagoon and see pink flamingos. Then pitch a tent at the nearby Argentario camping village; stay up all night partying and setting off fireworks.
5) Go to any beach in Tuscany or elsewhere. Arrive early and stake your square meter of sand with a tent or other makeshift shelter. Bring a large cooler containing pasta al forno and melanzane (if you’re in the south) or sandwiches (in the north). Now you are living the holiday like a real Italian – congratulations! (I'm a little sarcastic here...)

Actually typical Ferragosto food revolves around fresh, raw vegetables and fruit to ward off the heat. Cold beverages, fruit salads, cold pasta and Pomodori al Riso are almost always on the menu.

Roadside stands selling whole watermelons and/or chilled slices of the fruit are a summer feature throughout Italy. The hand painted signs on country roadside stalls may read the word 'anguria,' but the dialectal term cocomero is watermelon’s name in Rome and its vicinities.

6) The archaeological museums of the province of Bologna are, with only one exception, open this year for Ferragosto.
7) If in Rome, go to the Villa Celimontana Jazz Festival.

I’m running out of ideas… go to church. Churches will be celebrating the Assumption of the Madonna, so around 10am, you can certainly go to a service in the Cathedral of any city or town.

Monday 26 July 2010

Libera Terra (Free land) Mafia free area

In some organic shops here in Italy you can actually find Mafia free area products... which means that these Sicilian, or Pugliese products are guaranteed to be mafia free. They have been produced on land which has been confiscated from the mafia and made for a good cause instead.
Wine, olive oil, pasta, tomato sauce- for such products, the Sicilian sun is itself a guarantee of quality. But those who market such delicacies under the label 'Libera Terra' say their products come with a bonus — the 'taste of freedom.'
'From lands freed from the Mafia', reads the light blue pack of penne rigate pasta on display among dozens of other products in these dedicated shops. To understand that label, travel 250 miles as the crow flies south, to Sicily.

A short ride from Palermo a group of young people cultivate about 490 acres of land once owned by some of the most ruthless Mafia bosses. They belong to an umbrella organization called Libera and are led by Don Luigi Ciotti, a priest who has dedicated his life to the fight against organised crime in Southern Italy. In 1995, Libera collected 1 million signatures to prompt the Italian parliament to pass a law allowing properties confiscated from convicted mobsters to be used for socially useful purposes.
The cooperative’s most successful product is a wine label, 'Centopassi' ('One hundred steps'), named after the film about a Sicilian journalist killed by the Mafia. But the cooperative grows a diverse group of crops, including wheat, melons and lentils. It is one of five co-ops that sell goods under the Libera Terra ('Free land') label, including two others in Sicily, one in Puglia and one in Calabria. The final products are sold nationwide through fair trade and organic food chains, cooperative supermarkets and three dedicated shops: in Rome, Naples and Palermo.

I have just tried this white wine from guess which town? CORLEONE!!! well balanced and pleasantly floral...

Wednesday 21 July 2010

Weekly Markets in Italy

The markets in Italy, ranging from flea markets to antique and food markets to those holding a variety of crafts, all tell an interesting and unique story as interested onlookers and potential buyers stroll by. Fit for those who indulge and bargain hunters alike, the numerous types of markets can be enjoyed and visited by every kind of tourist with a curious appeal for a taste of the unknown gems each market holds. Italian goods are renowned for their quality, design and style, with every town offering unique craftsmanship.

Friday 16 July 2010

House prices finally decreasing to normal level

It is currently a good moment to purchase a property in Italy. Because of their cultural richness Tuscany and Umbria have a very stable real estate market. The fact that in Tuscany and Umbria properties are very much request by foreigners and that the local government has very strict rules and laws regarding new buildings, has brought the house prices from 2000 until last year, before the global crisis, to a non realistic level. At the beginning of the crisis most house owners refused to decrease their prices, hoping that the economic crisis would last only a short time.

A lot of owners realise that nowadays and also in the near future, selling their properties at the original price is impossible. For this reason some of them have already started selling their properties at a price, much more reasonable and even at a price much lower than the market value, in order to get rid of them. However it must be said that we are talking in the first place about home owners of an abandoned property, which every year is getting worser and in these difficult times it’s better not to speculate.

Here is an example of a large price reduction:
The property in the picture was in the beginning for sale for 2,200,000 €. The owner reduced the price to 1,900,000 €. In the future I’m sure that more and more home owners will follow this strategy for the simple fact that the last 5 years the prices have increased in absurd way and that no one is prepared to pay the prices of about 2 years ago.

Tuesday 13 July 2010

Palio di Siena

What is the “Palio di Siena“? The simplest answer is a horse race held in Piazza del Campo in Siena twice a year, on July 2 and August 16, in which 10 historical quarters of the city, or Contrade, compete to win a silk banner portraying the Virgin Mary called the “Palio“.

The simplest answer might not be the most suitable though, because nobody who has been to Siena even just once would agree that the Palio is just a horse race. For the people of Siena, the Palio is a cult, it is a matter of life and death, something absolutely serious.

City life revolves around it: the contrade prepare the competition meticulously throughout the year.

The Palio as we know it dates back to the 17th century. The celebrations go on for 4 days. On the first day (June 29th and August 13th), the training trial takes place very early in the morning. On the same day, the “tratta” (literally, the “trade“) begins, that is the operation through which the horses are assigned to the 10 contrade competing. Once a horse has been assigned to a contrada, it is entrusted to a person called the “barbaresco“, who, accompanied by the people of the contrada (or “contradaioli“), takes it to its stable. Then in the evening, there is the first of the 6 trials that take place before the actual Palio.

The barbaresco escorts the horse to Piazza del Campo followed by a large group of contradaioli singing traditional songs. It is possible to see the trials by sitting on the stands placed around the perimeter of the square. This first trial is meant to test both the horse, which cannot be changed anyway, and the “fantino”, the jockey, who can be changed up until the day of the Palio. The contrade enter the Piazza in the same order as on the day of the Palio.

On the second day (June 30th or August 14th), at 9 am, there is the second trial. The third trial is in the evening.

On the third day, the day before the Palio (July 1st and August 15th), there is a fourth trial at 9am and then, around 7pm, there is the “prova generale“, the general trial. The prova generale is preceded by the traditional “carica dei carabinieri” on horseback. After the prova generale, every contrada has a dinner where contradaioli, the Captain of the contrada, the jockey and even tourists party together. After the dinner the captain of the contrada goes to meet the captains of the friendly contrade to form alliances against the enemy contrade. All the agreements are verbal.

On the day of the Palio (July 2nd and August 16th), at 7:45 in the chapel next to the Town Hall, the Archbishop of Siena celebrates the “Messa del Fantino“, the mass for the jockeys. At 9am there is the “provaccia“, literally the “bad trial”, which received this name because the contradaioli are generally not very interested in it. After the provaccia, the jockeys and the captains go to the Town Hall to register the jockey and the jacket with which he will ride.

Around 3pm, after the ceremony of the comparsa’s dressing, both this latter and the horse are blessed by the priest of the contrada church: the priest closes the blessing by telling the horse “vai e torna vincitore“, “go and come back a winner”. After the blessing ceremony, the contrade’s comparse and the town’s minor figures dressed up in historical costumes walk through the center stopping to perform their flag-waving show in Piazza Salimbeni opposite the Casino dei Nobili, in front of Palazzo Chigi Saraceni and by the Duomo.

Around 2:50 pm, the flag-wavers’ procession leaves the courtyard of Palazzo del Governo in Piazza del Duomo and goes to Piazza del Campo. Around 4pm the parade in historical costumes enters the Campo. At 7pm the “drappellone“, the drape, is brought to the judges’ box while the 17 “alfieri“, the flag-wavers, perform their show. The Palio follows immediately after.

A mortar is fired and the horses enter the square from the door called Entrone. Every jockey receives a whip which is used to “spur” the horse and to hamper his rivals. The jockeys then move towards the “mossa“, that is the spot where the “canapi“, the ropes that mark the starting line, are pulled. The order in which the horses are supposed to enter the ropes (i canapi) is regulated. The different contrade are drawn and called by the “mossiere“, the person who start the race.

When it’s time the horse of the last contrada takes a run-up and enters and the race begins. If the start is not valid, the “mossiere” stops the race and the ritual of the entrance in the “canapi” starts all over again. This can take some time, because while waiting, the jockeys talk to try and make alliances. If the start is valid, the horses have to run three times around the square. It is the horse that wins, even if it gets to the finishing line without the jockey, or as they call it, as a “cavallo scosso“.

The celebrations begin immediately, with the contradaioli jumping over the fence to touch the winning horse and jockey and of course to get the Palio. They bring the Palio to Provenzano in July and to the Cathedral in August to sing the Te Deum to thank God for the victory. The official celebration is in September and it’s called Cena della Vittoria. It’s a street party with lots of people, music and good food. And of course the guest of honour: the horse!

Thursday 24 June 2010

Villa Palmieri: the villa where the famous Boccaccio's novel, "The Decameron", is set

The Villa Palmieri, is a patrician villa in the picturesque town of Fiesole that overlooks Florence, Italy. The villa's gardens on slopes below the piazza S. Domenico of Fiesole are credited with being the paradisal setting for the frame story of Boccaccio's Decamerone.

The group of storytellers stay in two villas above Florence which have been determined to be Villa Palmieri in Fiesole, and the Podere della Fonte, or the so-called Villa del Boccaccio near Camerata. Villa Palmieri is open to visitors, and it’s gardens during Boccaccio’s time are described in great detail in The Decameron at the beginning of Day Three.

“Whereupon they went to a walled garden adjoining the palace; which, the gate being opened, they entered, and wonder-struck by the beauty of the whole passed on to examine more attentively the several parts.
'It was bordered and traversed in many parts by alleys, each very wide and straight as an arrow and roofed in with trellis of vines, which gave good promise of bearing clusters that year, and, being all in flower, dispersed such fragrance throughout the garden as blended with that exhaled by many another plant that grew therein made the garden seem redolent of all the spices that ever grew in the East.
'The sides of the alleys were all, as it were, walled in with roses white and red and jasmine; insomuch that there was no part of the garden but one might walk there not merely in the morning but at high noon in grateful shade and fragrance, completely screened from the sun.
'As for the plants that were in the garden, 'twere long to enumerate them, to specify their sorts, to describe the order of their arrangement; enough, in brief, that there was abundance of every rarer species that our climate allows.

'In the middle of the garden, a thing not less but much more to be commended than aught else, was a lawn of the finest turf, and so green that it seemed almost black, flanked with flowers of, perhaps, a thousand sorts, and girt about with the richest living verdure of orange-trees and cedars, which showed not only flowers but fruits both new and old, and were no less grateful to the smell by their fragrance than to the eye by their shade.
'In the middle of the lawn was a basin of whitest marble, graven with marvellous art; in the centre whereof--whether the spring were natural or artificial I know not--rose a column supporting a figure which sent forth a jet of water of such volume and to such an altitude that it fell, not without a delicious splash, into the basin in quantity amply sufficient to turn a mill-wheel.
'The overflow was carried away from the lawn by a hidden conduit, and then, reemerging, was distributed through tiny channels, very fair and cunningly contrived, in such sort as to flow round the entire lawn, and by similar derivative channels to penetrate almost every part of the fair garden, until, re-uniting at a certain point, it issued thence, and, clear as crystal, slid down towards the plain, turning by the way two mill-wheels with extreme velocity to the no small profit of the lord.
'The aspect of this garden, its fair order, the plants and the fountain and the rivulets that flowed from it, so charmed the ladies and the three young men that with one accord they affirmed that they knew not how it could receive any accession of beauty, or what other form could be given to Paradise, if it were to be planted on earth.”

The villa was certainly in existence at the end of the fourteenth century, when it was a possession of the Fini, who sold it in 1454 to the noted humanist scholar Marco Palmieri, whose name it still bears. In 1697, Palmiero Palmieri commenced a restructuring of the gardens, sweeping away all vestiges of the earlier garden to create a south-facing terrace, an arcaded loggia of five bays and the symmetrically paired curved stairs that lead to the lemon garden in the lower level. The often-photographed lemon garden survives, though postwar renovation stripped the baroque decors from the villa's stuccoed façade. Villa Palmieri has suffered from having been a 'show-place' and the alterations of many owners to suit the fashions of their day, so that little of its original character remains.

The Villetta, an outbuilding formerly part of the extensive Villa Palmieri grounds, was purchased in 1927 by Myron Taylor, the American ambassador to the Holy see, who recreated a Beaux-Arts version of an Italian terraced garden and named it Villa Schifanoia. This portion is erroneous here, as in so confused the Villa Palmieri with the Villa Schifanoia.

Villa Schifanoia was built over the remains of the ancient Villa Palmieri. The main core of the villa, of 15th-century origin, belonged to the Cresci family until 1550. It has changed hands many times over the centuries, and seen many alterations and additions, such as the family chapel, built in the mid-19th century, and the large gate from which the avenue leads through the garden and up to the main entrance of the villa and a small two-storey outbuilding known as la villetta. In 1927 the property passed into the hands of Myron Taylor, the United States Ambassador to the Vatican during the pontificate of Pope Pius XII. Taylor restored the villa to house his own art collection and also laid out a beautiful Italian-style garden on the generous stretch of land on the south side, divided into three elegant parterres edged with box hedges and arranged around a series of small fountains. The beautiful formal garden is enlivened with statues and other stone decorations, small pools and fountains, of which the one on the upper terrace is skewed off the main axis. In 1986 the villa was bought by the State and converted into a European University Institute.

Wednesday 23 June 2010

The Market of the Gaite in Bevagna

The colours of Bevagna among workshops and age-old trades. The daily life of the Middle Ages is the theme of the Market of the Gaite (Mercato delle Gaite),which takes place in Bevagna from 16 to 25 June. For the event the town is divided into four districts : San Giorgio, San Giovanni, San Pietro and Santa Maria which compete against each other in the recreation of craftsmen''s workshops and trades of the period. The taverns, open during the festivities, give the visitors the opportunities of tasting Umbria''s delicious cuisine in an informal but characteristic setting. The painstaking historical research and the enthusiasm of the Bevagnese have enabled the market to recreate the intense atmosphere of the world of the cratsman with its sounds and images recalling the bygone era. In the small workshops of the hemp worker, the potter, the dyer and the smith skilled craftsmen create products employing exclusively the art and techniques of the Middle Ages. Walking along the streets of the centre you easily reach the main square of Bevagna which with its medieval character provides the scenario most appropriate for the Market of the Gaite as well as the setting for the most representative moments, such as the opening and closing ceremonies and the contest between the districts.

Friday 18 June 2010

Villa Altachiara in Portofino

Villa Altachiara was built in 1874 by Henry Herbert the 4th Earl of Carnarvon on a promontory near Portofino. It was the home of the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, who is better known as 'Lord Carnarvon', Howard Carter's sponsor in the discovery of Tutankhamun's Tomb. Thanks to him the property became very popular. In 2001 the mysterious death of Countess Vacca Agusta made headlines all over the country and now the luxurious villa in Portofino where the countess lived her last hours before falling to her death from a cliff near her house is up for sale!

Built at the turn of the last century, the villa comprises 30 sumptuous rooms and it is surrounded by a huge beautiful park (35,000 square metres in size).
The house also features a swimming pool and private heliport. From its luxurious rooms furnished with antiques one can enjoy one of the most breathtaking views of the Italian Riviera. Villa Altachiara was put up for sale in 2009 for €34m. It is a very posh villa with a mundane trail of owners- On the death of the 5th Earl, the villa passed to one of his other sons Aubrey Herbert.
By 1933 Villa Altachiara was rented by Elizabeth C Patterson, who made it available to the Indian mystic Meher Baba and shot the film 'Western Disciples Visit India and Portofino'.

The house was bought by the beautiful Countess Francesca Vacca Agusta who disappeared on January 8th 2001. Did she fall? Was she murdered? It was 3 weeks before her body was found, washed up 200 miles from Portofino on the French coast. There were no signs of blood on the cliff face, but reportedy blood was found on the terrace and divers retrieved her ripped bathrobe from the sea of the cliffs. The autopsy concluded that there was no water in her lungs and that she had died of a serious head injury sustained before she entered the water. The verdict was that her death could have been caused by 'accident, suicide or homicide'. There are reports that she had been drinking heavily on the evening of her death so an accident would seem plausible; however, the shape of the cliffs means she would have hit rocks at least three times on her descent and there was no evidenceof blood on the cliffs. Some observers believes this proves she neither fell, nor was pushed but was murdered on the terrace and then her body was deposited in the sea.

Her brother believes she was murdered and her lawyer, Ennio Amodio, said: 'In light of what the French authorities have ascertained, the theory of homicide becomes more likely. The injuries to the head may have been caused by being struck and not by a fall.' Villa Altachiara is a beautiful seaside retreat, with elegant Victorian interiors, perfectly restored, open in all their bright beauty.
This is an exceptional house on the promontory above Portofino, one of the most panoramic spots on the Tigullio Gulf. Villa Altachiara is one of the loveliest oasis of charm in the world!

Friday 11 June 2010

Featured property

This luxury Todi villa is situated on a hill top and it dominates the underlying valleys and hills and offers magnificent views in all directions. The villa, easily accessed by an asphalt road, guarantees total privacy. The beautifully kept lawns, multicoloured flowerbeds and hedges are all within the fencing that surrounds the estate. Built into the top and side of a hill, the villa is on three levels and has several entrances, most of which open onto the porticos that surround it. These porticos are ideal for enjoying meals and admiring the panorama. The house is exquisitely furnished with art collections and antique pieces. Most of the ceilings are wooden beamed and the handmade terracotta floors are set in traditional designs. A short flight of stairs leads from the living room to a sitting room in an open gallery overlooking the formal dining hall with its beautiful ceiling. A huge majolica stove is set between the French windows that open onto the portico facing the pool. The kitchen has a central island and is completely decorated with ceramic tiles designed by the owner, while at one end of the kitchen there is a breakfast niche surrounded by glass bay windows with a door leading to the garden.

Tuesday 8 June 2010

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Friday 4 June 2010

The infiorata in Spello

Spello in Umbria will hold its infiorata from 5th to 6th June this year, covering all its streets with elaborate pictures created from flower petals. This is a competitive infiorata so the townsfolks work in teams and prizes are awarded in several categories. At midday on Sunday 6th June a bell will ring in Spello and this is the signal for the Bishop to begin his procession through the town.

The Infiorata of Spello is an historic religious evocation, taking place between May and June, in the day of the Corpus Domini. In ancient times the streets of the city were adorned with flowers for the passing of the procession, then from year to year people begun to make the flower adorning more and more artistic. From simply throwing flower petals on the street they started creating drawings and nowadays the infiorata have reached a very high artistic level. The people of Spello work all the year long for the preparation of their infiorata (flower adorning) gathering flowers and leafs in any season. Most of the work is done in spring indeed in the period preceding the event, groups of people are committed in flower gathering on mount Subasio. The preparation of the drawing and the flower gathering takes several days. Some flowers are used fresh, while others are dried to obtain different chromatic scales. Usually the drawings have a religious subject and are made by nationally renowned artists. The infiorate are created on the street.

The infiorata of Spello starts the Saturday preceding the religious celebration, and goes on all the night until 8 o’clock in the morning. During this night the little streets of the historical centre of Spello are animated by thousands of people who want to se the way drawings are made. The entire town of Spello gets involved in The infiorata from the youngest to the elderly, and people divide into groups or teams to work together to try and create a winning design. Children as young as 6 join in by helping to collect the flowers, which are then taken apart and sorted in color shades by older members of the team. Once work has been completed and the awnings come down the streets of Spello fill with people admiring the colourful spectacle. On Sunday morning the jury judges and awards the best infiorata, just before the procession passes over them. This event is considered the most famous of Italy in its kind.

Tips for Attending Spello's infiorata - I was uncertain exactly what time viewing would be allowed and arrived in Spello at 8am last year. The streets at that time were packed and parking difficult. I would certainly try to be in Spello by 7am on the Sunday, or even earlier and I believe the large canopies would still be up not allowing much of a view of the larger designs as they were just removing them when I arrived. Be prepared for heavy crowds along the narrow streets and dress comfortably. I spotted a number of tourists wearing very uncomfortable looking high heeled sandals having great difficulty handling the uneven cobblestone streets. The crowded atmosphere would be a pickpocket's dream environment, so keep valuables in either a fanny pack worn in front, in a purse worn across your chest in front, or in some other safe fashion. As well, the crowds were so thick in some areas that I really could not imagine pushing a stroller through Spello with babys or young children.

If you are in Umbria on the Sunday after Corpus Domini do make an effort to travel to Spello for this event as it really is worth seeing. If I were you I would make a point to attend this event if possible.

Thursday 3 June 2010

Truffles in Umbria

Rossini called them the "Mozart of funghi". Italians have dubbed them the "diamond of the kitchen". Gastronomes describe them with words such as pungent, earthy, musky, savory, odiferous, intoxicating, heavenly and sinful. For centuries they have been considered addictive aphrodisiacs. They grow wild, they are difficult to find and they are quite expensive. They are truffles, the Mediterranean equivalent of fine caviar, and more of them are unearthed in Umbria than anywhere else in Italy.
To be in Umbria in October and November during the height of the truffle harvest is to experience food, festivity and sport in enchanting doses. There are nearly 10,000 registered truffle hunters in the province and the rivalry between them is passionate. Truffles grow four to eight inches underground attached to the roots of certain trees including oak, poplar and chestnut. Hunters use dogs and sometimes pigs to sniff them out. It is like panning for gold.

Getting involved in the truffle harvest can range from taking part in an actual truffle hunt with an expert and his dogs, to visiting a full-up festival where truffles of every variety are featured along with spreads of wonderfully prepared local food, to enjoying the delicacy on your own over a quiet meal at home. Truffles are celebrated not only in Umbria but also in Piedmont at Alba, in Le Marche at Acqualagna and in Tuscany at San Miniato. Umbrian truffle centers during the months of October and November include Norcia, Città di Castello, Apecchio and Gubbio, to mention but four. To find a comprehensive overview of truffle-related tours and events be sure to get your hands on The Italian Truffle Guide, prepared and edited by the Touring Club of Italy.

Tuesday 1 June 2010

Getting married in Tuscany

'Rod proposed to me in December of 2009, following a gorgeous day of skating in London,' says happy newlywed Jenny. 'He had planned to propose in the restaurant but a group of loud tourists made him wait until we got home to our flat, where he presented me with a ring- a beautiful solitaire set in white gold.'

Jenny, English, from New Castle, and Rod, half Italian and half English, were married this spring in Tuscany. Soon after the engagement, they agreed they’d get married Italy, partly because Rod’s father would be unable to travel to the UK, but most importantly, because Rod grew up near Cortona which was the perfect setting for a wedding. I am very organised,' says Jenny, ‘some might say a control freak! And I like to have things well planned. With 80 guests arriving from various locations, we decided to set up a website via and gave the address to all our guests via the invitations. The website gave lots of travel advice, a list of local hotels at various costs and information on how to get from the airports etc. It also had a forum where our guests could co-ordinate shared lifts, travel together and so on.

Jenny and Rod both agreed they didn’t want a religious, church wedding so they immediately knew it was going to be a civil ceremony. Originally they had set their hearts on doing everything in one venue (i.e. ceremony and reception), but this wasn’t possible for the date they wanted. However, after some research, they came up with a good alternative. Now all they had to do was finalise the details.

But even the most organised souls have pre-wedding nerves. Jenny remembers: 'I think my big panic moment was about two months before the day, when there still seemed like a lot to do, but after our trip to Italy three weeks before the wedding, I managed to calm down. Though even then there were some iffy moments. Jenny and Rod wanted to visit the town hall in Cortona where they were going to be married. 'It was a gorgeous, rich red room,' says Jenny, 'but it was set up like a huge meeting room.

When we asked if they’d be reorganising the hall before our wedding, they said no, and that the room would stay as it was. I had sudden visions of my wedding photographs with people crouching behind microphones and with a fax machine in the background. I was trying to hold it together but could almost feel my bottom lip start to tremble. Rod saw the look on my face and said, ‘Just leave it to me.’ He went off to talk to the gentleman from the comune who listened carefully to him. He disappeared, then returned a few minutes later with a key, and let us view another room full of light and beautiful chandeliers and frescoes. And when he saw how much we liked it, his face lit up and he said, ‘Just leave it to me’. The gentleman’s name was Signor Fioravanti and he must have taken a shine to us, as he was as good as his word.

'I had decided early on that I didn’t want a strapless dress,’ says Jenny, ‘but at Berketex Brides, the assistant said she’d like to suggest a few dresses to me that she thought would suit me. One that she picked out was the Angelique model, but as it was strapless, I didn’t think it was going to be right. It was the first dress I tried and as soon as I put it on, I felt absolutely amazing in it! It had a Hollywood glamour feel to it that suited my personality and style and both my mum and I just loved it.

As it was too early to make a decision, I decided to look around, but 18 months and plenty of dress shopping later, I went back and bought the very first dress I had ever tried on. And it was so amazing to wear it on the day. It really was The One!

'The days running up to my wedding were part of what I enjoyed most,' says Jenny. 'My mother, my sister-in-law and I got to do lots of girly things, and pampered ourselves in Tuscany while my husband ran around ticking things off his husband todo list, like chasing up the best man, and rounding up errant DJs. And in the evenings we had lots of family dinners with Rod’s uncles and aunts who live near Siena, and I was happy and relaxed and not the least bit nervous. 'Jenny decided on a theme of deep red roses for her wedding, so she used the red detail for the bouquet, the flower-girl dresses, her hair accessories, the flower decorations at the Town Hall and the reception. She also had silk red rose petals scattered at the Town Hall and around the wedding cake.

'Our wedding in our beautiful hall at the comune was perfect, 'she says, 'and, much to our pleasure, our friend Mr. Fioravanti was present. And in a gesture of incredible generosity, he brought a bottle of chilled champagne from his own house to serve Rod and I and our two witnesses after the ceremony, and gave us special ornamental silver serviette-rings that used to be given to all couples that got married in Cortona as a memento. And at that point we invited him to our wedding reception and dinner and were delighted when he turned up later with his wife!’

Jenny and Rod’s reception was held in the gardens of a private Tuscan villa, a place they’d had their eye on for some time. 'To be honest,' says Jenny, 'Rod and I had visited the villa various times through  and had really set our heart on getting married there, but it was booked solidly and it was impossible to find a date that suited us. We had really wanted to get married and have the reception all in one place.

'About half way through our wedding day, our photographer said to us that if we didn’t get away for an hour or so we wouldn’t see each other at all. He was right. So we took off for a walk through Cortona. I slipped on a pair of flip flops under my wedding dress and Rod carried my shoes in one hand and our white wedding umbrella in the other! We stopped off for a coffee in a bar and everyone cheered. Then we went into the piazza where everyone clapped and shouted ‘Auguri!’ We just felt like superstars!

'You know, if I hadn’t come to Italy to get married, I would probably have had a really nice wedding day somewhere in England, but this way it really changed my whole experience. Looking back, I couldn’t have had a better day, and most of what made it so special was Italy, its wonderful generous people, and its unique heart.'