Tuesday 20 December 2011

Winter Solstice celebration

The Winter Solstice has been celebrated in some way or another for thousands of years. In the Northern Hemisphere, the winter solstice is often connected with various religious holy days. Pagan religions associated the winter solstice with significant life changes, intricately linked with the universe and fates that determined the future and effected those lives.

This significance can also be found in the Southern Hemisphere, where the Winter Solstice takes place in June. For science-enthusiasts the winter solstice is an interesting astronomical occurrence that offers an opportunity to celebrate what we have managed to learn about the cosmos and affords us an excitement of space exploration and the complexity of the universe. Winter Solstice marks that day when there is less daylight than at any other time of the year. We commonly refer to it as the shortest day. The Summer Solstice, on the other hand, is the day with the most daylight (the longest day).

The exact date and time of the winter solstice, while always occurring within a day or two of December 21, changes from year to year because of the difference between a calendar year of 365 days, and the solar year of 365.26 days - the exact time it takes for the Earth to make one trip around the sun.

You are invited to celebrate the winter solstice with poetry and song in Assisi. Bring a favourite winter poem to share, if you like, or simply come and listen in candle-lit dark and enjoy the peaceful quiet of the house where we are meeting.

Thursday 15 December 2011

How to avoid getting 'hit by air' in Italy

Many Italians, it seems, are prone to a particularly wide range of winter illnesses, helped apparently by an in-depth knowledge of human anatomy. More than a decade living in this country has led me to a shocking conclusion. Being Italian is bad for your health. As winter draws in, those around me are suffering from a range of distinctly Italian ailments, that make our limited British colds and flus sound as bland as our food. As I cycle around the medieval streets of my adoptive home town of Bologna, I smile to myself, marvelling at the fact that I am still wearing a light-weight jacket at this time of year.

No translation
 My Italian counterparts are less fortunate.
They have their woolly scarves and quilted coats out and are rubbing their necks, complaining of my favourite mystery Italian malady "la cervicale". "Soffro di cervicale (I suffer from cervicale)," they tell me, making it sound particularly serious. Most people over the age of 30 seem to have the condition, but I am still at a loss as to what exactly it is and how to translate it. I have looked it up in the dictionary and found "cervical" - an adjective referring to the cervical vertebrae, those little bones in the back of your neck - but as an ailment, there is simply no English translation. We do not have it! The British also do not seem to have the sort of exceptional knowledge of their own anatomy which Italians have.

Benefits of ignorance
Soon after I moved here, I remember a friend telling me he was not feeling very well. "My liver hurts," he said. I have since been assured by doctors that you cannot actually feel your liver, but what really struck me was the fact that he knew where his liver was. We British, in contrast, are a nation staggeringly ignorant of our anatomy. Italians can also tell you if the pain is in their stomach or intestine - and can even specify whether it is colic or colitis - but to us it is all just "tummy ache". Yet although I should feel embarrassed about my inability to point out the exact location of my gall bladder, I am not. Why? Because I think it makes me healthier. After years of first-hand experience of the delicate Italian constitution, I have come up with a theory about why we British are so much sturdier. If you cannot name it, you cannot suffer from it. If you do not know where it is, it cannot hurt you. Among my Italian friends I am considered something of an immuno-superhuman. I can leave the gym sweaty to have my shower at home and not catch a chill en route. I can swim after eating and not get congestion or cramp. I can walk around with wet hair and not get "la cervicale". I even brag about it. At restaurants I will say: "Let me sit in the draught. I'll be fine. I'm English."

'Mustn't grumble'
I ran my theory past a Sicilian psychoanalyst and he said I had a point. For example, the British do not have a term for a "colpo d'aria". It literally translates as a "hit of air" and seems to be incredibly dangerous for Italians.
They can get one in their eye, their ear, their head or any part of their abdomen.
To avoid getting a colpo d'aria, until at least April, they must never go out without wearing a woollen vest, known as a "maglia della salute" (a shirt of health). British mums hold their kids' jackets so they will not get hot and sweaty while they run around and play. In contrast, the parks here in Italy are filled with pint-sized, quilted Michelin men, zipped up to their noses to stop the air getting in and hitting them. Italians are brought up to be afraid of these health risks, while our ignorance of their very existence makes us strong and fearless.
It is a question of etiquette too. We are a nation that "mustn't grumble", trained from an early age that the only answer to "How are you?" is "Fine, thank you." Our vocabulary reflects this. Whether we have had a cold or spent six weeks in intensive care, we will tell you we have been "a bit poorly".

'Change of season'
But last week I experienced a moment of panic. I woke up feeling weak and nauseous.
What if that cultural difference was actually contagious? What if years in the country had changed my constitution and I too was suffering from another common Italian health hazard, "the change of season"? I tried to convince myself that lack of sleep was to blame, but I was not certain.
Later that day, I bumped into a neighbour and confessed that I was feeling "a bit poorly".
"Ooh," she said, looking concerned. "I went to the doctor yesterday and he told me there's a 48-hour stomach flu going around." Then her face brightened up. "But don't worry, you're English so it'll only last 24 hours for you!" And suddenly - superhuman status restored - I felt a whole lot better.

Wednesday 14 December 2011

On 13th of December is Saint Lucia's day: Christianity and Paganism intermingle effortlessly

Saint Lucy (283–304), also known as Saint Lucia, was a wealthy young Christian martyr who is venerated as a saint by Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, and Orthodox Christians. Her feast day in the West is 13 December; with a name derived from lux, lucis "light", she is the patron saint of those who are blind. Saint Lucy is one of the very few saints celebrated by members of the Lutheran Church among the Scandinavian peoples, who take part in Saint Lucy's Day celebrations that retain many elements of Germanic paganism. Saint Lucy is one of seven women, aside from the Blessed Virgin Mary, commemorated by name in the Canon of the Mass. Hagiography tells us that Lucy was a Christian during the Diocletian persecution. She consecrated her virginity to God,[3] refused to marry a pagan, and had her dowry distributed to the poor. Her would-be husband denounced her as a Christian to the governor of Syracuse, Sicily. Miraculously unable to move her or burn her, the guards took out her eyes with a fork. In another version, Lucy's would-be husband admired her eyes, so she tore them out and gave them to him, saying, "Now let me live to God".

In Italy St. Lucy is called Santa Lucia. St. Lucy’s Day is observed throughout the country, but is especially honored in Sicily. The day has traditionally been celebrated with bonfires, processions, and other illuminations. In Sicily St. Lucy, dressed in a blue cloak showered with stars, and her donkey Castaldo bring gifts to children on the eve of her feast day. Children leave their shoes outside on St. Lucy’s Eve in order to collect her offerings. Sicilians also remember the miracle that St. Lucy performed when famine struck the island. According to legend, hunger had weakened so many that the people of Syracuse went as a group to the church to ask the saint to deliver them. While they were praying, a ship loaded with grain sailed into the harbor. For this reason Italians celebrate St. Lucy’s Day by eating a boiled wheat dish called cuccia or cuccidata. Lucy is the patron saint of the Italian cities of Syracuse and Milan.

Scholars agree that the legend of St. Lucy contains more fiction that fact. Nevertheless, her cult flourished in Syracuse as early as the fifth century. In the sixth and seventh centuries it spread to the Italian cities of Rome and Ravenna. Eventually her fame stretched across Europe, and she became one of the most popular saints of the Middle Ages. Artists often depicted her carrying her eyes in a dish or holding the palm of martyrdom and a lamp. Some portrayed her with a sword thrust through her throat. People invoked the aid of St. Lucy for afflictions of the eyes and throat. Although her feast day currently falls on December 13, before the sixteenth-century Gregorian calendar reform, St. Lucy’s Day fell on the winter solstice. Legends claimed that the saint blinded herself on this, the shortest day of the year. In fact, her name, Lucia, comes from the Latin word for “light,” lux. Thus, many old folk customs invoked Lucy as a symbol of light, especially the light that coincides with the lengthening of days after the winter solstice.

St. Lucy’s Day is especially celebrated in the country of her birth, Italy, and in Scandinavia. How did this Italian saint develop a following in the land of the Vikings? When the people of the cold, dark North converted to Christianity around 1000 A.D., they acquired a special fondness for the saint whose feast day marked the return of the sun and whose name itself means “light.” Over the centuries they kindled many flames and fires in her name. At one time people in northern Europe lit “St. Lucy’s fires” on the evening of her feast day. They threw incense into the flames and bathed in the smoke, which was said to protect one from witchcraft, disease, and other dangers. While this was happening, others played music to accompany the sun’s changing course. An old Scandinavian custom forbade all turning motions on St. Lucy’s Day, including spinning, stirring, and working a grindstone. Superstitions warned that these circular motions might interfere with the sun’s change of course.

Folk belief also hinted that miracles occurred at midnight on St. Lucy’s Eve. The few souls awake and alert at this potent hour might hear cattle speaking or see running water turn into wine. In past times many believed that the saint had the power to shorten the winter season. This belief led to the custom of writing her name and drawing a picture of a girl alongside it on doors and fences in the hopes that the saint would hasten the end of winter. Another old custom encouraged people to keep a candle burning in their home all day long on her feast day.

Sunday 11 December 2011

Weddings and castles

Italy’s castles provide accommodations embedded with history. It’s one thing to tour a castle which is like touring a museum and quite another to actually wake up in one, to dine in one and to be able to tell friends about your experience. Castles are a great place to stay for history buffs as well as the hopelessly romantic.
In fact, one of Hollywood’s most romantic marriages took place in an Italian castle. Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes were married in Castello Odescalchi in Bracciano on the southern shores of Lake Bracciano in the Italy’s Lazio region. Recently, it was the venue chosen by Croatian heiress Petra Ecclestone to businessman James Stunt. The reported $5 million wedding ranks it ahead of Kate Middleton and Prince William’s nuptials as well as those of Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries.

Castello Odescalchi is about one hour by car from Rome and can also be reached by a commuter railway line that runs between Rome and Viterbo. Castello Odescalchi is one of the most beautiful feudal mansions in Europe. Although it does not operate as a hotel, but rather as a museum, it offers tours of the castle and is a spectacular venue for weddings and receptions. The bride and groom can spend their first night there.
Italy has some 200 castles including those privately owned and sometimes open to the public for special occasions. Of course, not all of Italian castles have overnight accommodations.


Italy’s Umbria region is home to the Monterone Castle that has guestrooms and other hotel amenities. It is located just under two miles from the historical city of Perugia, which can be reached via train from Rome. Monterone dates back to the Thirteenth Century and is believed to have a Knights Templar connection that made it a convenient stop over for knights enroute from Rome to Perugia. The Templar church of San Bevignate is just a mile away.

Accommodations at the Monterone Castle have all of the conveniences of a modern hotel, yet each guestroom is steeped in historical stories and artifacts. If you book the Dragon Room you should be prepared for an additional occupant, because it is said to be the abode of the castle’s ghost.
Guests will enjoy the property’s expansive terraces with views of the Umbrian countryside and a lovely rose garden with some two hundred roses. They can also relax by the pool, in the Jacuzzi or enjoy the wellness area. Just outside the castle walls guests can stroll through a tree studded park shaded with oaks and olive groves. When you’re hungry you don’t have to dash into Perugia. There’s a Michelin star restaurant in the castle that offers, in addition to its regular menu, special tasting menus and wine pairings.

Monterone Castle is the perfect place to stay for exploring the ancient city of Perugia, which dates back to the year 205 BC when it was known as Perusia. Today it is a vibrant cultural center known for art and music and chocolate as well as Etruscan history. It is home to the annual Umbria Jazz Festival, the largest jazz festival in Italy (usually held in July) and the Eurochocolate Festival in October. Likewise, it is possible to also visit Assisi and Deruta. Getting to Perugia from Rome, about 100 miles away is best by train or by car. The journey from Rome to Perugia offers a beautiful drive through scenic countryside.

Wednesday 7 December 2011

Castello di Casole (Siena)

As autumn turns to winter at Castello di Casole and its Casali (Farmhouse) owners savour the season's best - porcini mushrooms, pumpkin-filled ravioli and the hearty Tuscan bread soup "ribollita".

Aside from the tremendous construction progress at the estate, especially at Hotel Castello di Casole, we are excited to share that we have now sold all available interests in Casale Poggio alla Corona and Villa Scuola, as well as all resale interests. 

There are still interests available in Villa Sant'Antonio, a three bedroom villas near the hotel scheduled for completion in Summer 2012, and in The Bargagli Penthouse, scheduled for completion in Spring 2012. 
Clearly, the international appeal of Tuscany and the allure of the Castello di Casole estate supports a never ending interest from a global market. If you would like to learn more about our current and future offerings, I would be pleased to hear from you and welcome your phone call or send us an email at info@abode.it

Tuesday 22 November 2011

King of a castle at Palazzo Santiterzi

Thanks to Tony Blair and the Islington set, the summer holiday in Tuscany is probably doomed forever to the realms of cliché. But there is a way to escape the clutches of caricature. If the boutique hotel in Florence has become too predictable and the rustic villa in the countryside beyond parody, then why not defy every chattering class convention - and shack up in a palace.

Committed republicans may be put off by the very word, so perhaps we should speak instead of the palazzo. Ours was in the village of San Gemini, roughly half way between Rome and Perugia in Umbria, which, as everyone knows, is the new Tuscany. Or rather not in it, but towering over it: this palace was so palatial it had its very own tower, complete with belfry.

It was so vast, the natural impulse each time we headed up the narrow village streets towards the front door was to dissolve into giggles: surely all this cannot belong to us. The thrill of a spell of palazzo living is the sheer absurdity of it. You step through one of those doors-within-a-pair-of-wooden-gates on to a courtyard expecting to find a dozen neighbours, only to discover it's just you. You're like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, scampering from room to room marvelling at the lunatic extravagance of space.
It turns out the Palazzo Santiterzi, recently restored by the Grandjacquet family, could just as easily have been split into three capacious apartments. Instead they have kept it intact as a house, complete with ancient stone staircases and enough room to get genuinely lost. Navigating your way around requires serious orienteering skills, and more than a few self-created landmarks: if that's my beach towel on the landing, this must be the way to the kitchen.

Actually, there are three kitchens, to serve the seven bedrooms. (Or is it eight?) To prevent confusion, the best way to view the palazzo is in zones. There's the outside zone, complete with garden and swimming pool: small and shaded under stone arches, it's less a place to turn laps than a Roman bath.
Just around the corner there's a deck - also sheltered - featuring a hammock and, best of all, a long, long dining table. It could only mean one thing: the perfect space to re-enact those countless olive oil adverts British TV has sadistically taunted us with for decades. You know the kind of thing: sun-kissed, leathery-faced elders with grandchildren clambering joyfully on to their laps, gesticulating wildly as they sip red wine on a warm Italian evening - and served steamingly delicious rigatoni by the gorgeous young woman purporting to be their daughter. At last, that would be us! We would be that teeming, warm-hearted family dining alfresco night after night! (Sure enough, we pulled it off - once).
Of course, the outside zone has its own "summer kitchen" and bathroom. If the weather's good, you could stay there all day and forget about the rest of the pile that's yours, all yours.
To get to it, you have to walk through a kind of indoor courtyard-cum-cavern - which the Italian conservation authorities ruled must stay unaltered - before heading back inside the house proper. There you'll find the living room zone (enormous, with two bedrooms adjoining) or the kitchen zone (superbly appointed, with three bedrooms nearby) or the upstairs, TV-room zone (another mini-home, with its own kitchen and two bedrooms). It's less a holiday hideaway, more an Umbrian Millennium Dome.
Of course, the only way to make sense of such a laughably generous place is to share it. Don't invite one set of parents, invite both. And their friends. Soon you understand why the aristocracy went in for those month-long house parties ("We're summering with the Santiterzis this year"): unless they're full of people, a palazzo feels echoingly empty. These big houses need big crowds.

And if the family do come, it will be like no gathering that's gone before. Instead of the usual Christmas psychodrama - rows in the kitchen, tempers fraying in the queue for the bathroom - suddenly everyone will be getting on. Why? Space. In a palazzo, no one crowds anyone else. Everyone has a place they can retreat to - usually complete with its own shower, bath and reading room.
It makes the perfect venue for an extended family - or a Big Chill style adventure for a large gang of friends. The first people to rent out the Palazzo Santiterzi were a dozen Scottish women, for an extended hen night. Now that's the idea. (It makes financial sense, too: bring 12 people and the Palazzo costs about as much per person as a motel). There are other plusses to palace living, too. Unlike the classic Tuscan/ Umbrian holiday (remote villa, garden, pool), a palazzo comes with a village attached. If you're holidaying with young children, that counts as a major advantage: an afternoon gelato does not involve a trek down a dirt-track in the car, but a mere stroll with the push chair. Fresh bread or a quick top-up on the vegetable supply do not entail a day's outing but a morning errand. And you never forget which country you're in. "The house can't become England," says Simon Ball, one member of the Anglo-Italian family which runs the holiday rental firm Tuscany Now. So often villas become sealed-off little embassies of Blighty, but that's not an option if you're in the heart of a village. "You're surrounded by Italians," says Ball. "You walk out and it smells Italian."

You need to be careful, though. It's all too easy to start swanning around town like the local laird. Shopkeepers, promising to deliver groceries, ask where you're staying. When you whisper "palazzo" it's hard not to see a tiny bow of the head, and a move to the back room to unfurl the red carpet.
After all, you are, if only for a week or two, heir to centuries of history. The Palazzo Santiterzi has a rich lineage, dating back to the early 17th century. The great Canova used it as a summer residence - even doing the odd bit of home improvement: the cornices on the windows and towers are still said to bear the artist's signature. He sold it to the Santiterzi family who held on to it until the last war - when their aviator son Alessandro was shot down. Broken-hearted by their loss, the boy's parents bequeathed their home to the air force widows' association as a summer residence. When there were no more widows left, the Grandjacquet family bought it, restored it - and made it available to vacationers like us. But they left the bust of Alessandro by the front door, a reminder of a son who will remain "forever young". So to stay in the palazzo is to be at the heart of San Gemini. The present owners are the power behind the product that made the village famous - San Gemini mineral water. They are also the benefactors who restored one of its great treasures, the splendid 11th- century Abbey San Nicolo - whose stone interior, crafted in part from Roman ruins, now serves as a wedding venue most weekends.

That's not the only draw. San Gemini itself is a charming place, where the afternoon can be whiled away on the piazza as teenagers gossip in huddles and their grandparents do the same. Carlo Petrini, the founder of the "slow city" movement - aimed at curbing the hectic madness of modern urban living - came from here and the town has clearly taken his teaching to heart. Any slower and San Gemini would go backwards.
The ancient city of Carsulae is a short drive away, with ruins still visible, if mercilessly exposed to the baking heat. Do a quick tour there and you can reward yourself with lunch at Antica Car sulae - a gem of a restaurant, disguised as a roadside caff. The whiz behind their delicious bruschetta and mouthwatering fagioli? One John Paterson, a Brit brave enough to have come to Italy to open up a cookery school. But put aside the selling-sand-to-Sahara gags and sample his cooking: in a fortnight his was the best Italian food we ate.

The geography is kind, too. You don't need to be in the car more than an hour to reach a pristine little village like Montecastello di Vibio - which boasts the Teatro più piccolo del mondo, the smallest functioning theatre in the world - or a jewel of a city such as Todi. And Perugia remains one of those Italian delights, a university town of good restaurants, fine shops and world-class coffee. Even Rome and Florence are reachable (just south or north on the A1). And when you return from a hard day's tourism, you can always take a glass of cool white wine from the palatial fridge in one of your palatial kitchens, head to the top of the belfry and watch the Umbrian sunset - master of all you survey.

Friday 18 November 2011

We have launched our new website

Hello, and thank you for taking the time to visit our blog. Today, we at Abode are proud to have launched our new look website.  It was important for us to have a new site. Our feeling is that our website is not only a place where you can find out about us and our Italian properties, but also an important communication portal for our clients. Again, thank you for stopping by the new www.abodeitaly.com We hope that you will come back again and always find new beautiful houses.

Wednesday 9 November 2011

Together forever... lovers holding hands for 1,500 years discovered in Rome grave

Laid out side by side and holding hands, these 1,500-year-old male and female skeletons are surely a sign of eternal love if ever there was one. The lovers were probably even ‘looking into each other’s eyes’ when they were buried in the 5th century, during the final days of the Roman Empire.

The extraordinary discovery was made by archaeologists excavating an Ancient Roman palace in the Italian town of Mutina, known today as Modena. Anthropologist Vania Milani said:  ‘It was a very touching and beautiful sight to see.

‘The woman’s head is turned towards the man and they were holding each other’s hands. ‘I suspect the head of the man was also turned towards the woman at the time of burial and that it was probably resting on a cushion which then decomposed over time and caused it to roll away. ‘They would have been looking into each other’s eyes at the time of burial in a sign of eternal love.’

Although not much is known about the couple, a picture is emerging. A bronze ring found among the  woman’s bones, for example, suggests they were married.
And they were probably also of noble birth as citizens of Mutina – famous for its pottery centre which made lamps for the Empire – were usually wealthy.

With the number of plagues that ravaged Europe during this period, it has also been suggested that the couple died close to the same time. Their remains will be displayed in a museum near the town next year. The tomb was one of 11 found at a depth of around 10ft. Another one housed three male  skeletons, all horribly mutilated – one was a teenager found with his skull between his legs.

It has been suggested the trio were slaves executed by their master. However, Mrs Milani said evidence of slash wounds suggested they were victims of murder. It is not the first time ancient multiple burials have been discovered in Italy. In 2007, a couple were found dating back 5,000 years, also near Mutina.

Friday 4 November 2011

Ben-Hur, La Dolce Vita, Cleopatra... All were filmed at Rome's legendary Cinecittà Studio. As it opens its doors to the public, we tell the story

 There's a scene in nhis 1987 film Intervista, where Federico Fellini is describing to a Japanese film crew a dream-sequence scene he is about to shoot. "I found myself in a dark place," says the renowned Italian director, "unsettling, but at the same time familiar, with never-ending walls." Perched on high, he watches as lights fire up across the landscape in front of him, wisps of dry ice and wind sound effects accompany an aerial view of ochre buildings and pine trees that spread out. "Is the territory below a prison, university campus or nuclear bunker?" asks Fellini, before answering his own question. "It's Cinecittà."
Pronounced chee-nay chee-TAH, which translates as "cinema city", the subject of Fellini's film is a sprawling 40 hectare (99 acre), 22-studio complex, located 9km south-east of Rome. Since it opened in 1937, it has established itself as Europe's largest, most iconic film studio - a place that has inspired cinema legends, from the 1950s neo-realists to today's Hollywood greats, including Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen; and where over 3,000 films have been shot, 48 of which have won Oscars.
This month, film fans are in for a rare treat. To mark the 74th anniversary, the studio is opening its doors to the public with a host of exhibitions and shows. Until 30 November, visitors on the Cinecittà Si Mostra tour can move amid epic sets and diva's wardrobes, and wander between 1930s pastel villas, cavernous soundstages and atmospheric sets - including a fibreglass Broadway and an Ancient Rome.
People talk about the golden age of Italian cinema in the 1950s and 1960s, when films such as Fellini's La Dolce Vita won world acclaim, cementing Rome's status as a buzzing city full of beautiful people. The studio was at the centre of this movement, but it wasn't only Europe's finest directors and actors who flocked to the hallowed gates on Via Tuscolana. Cinecittà also attracted American film makers, which is why it became known as "Hollywood on the Tiber".
Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck whizzed around the city in Roman Holiday (1953), hanging out with Sophia Loren and Errol Flynn. William Wyler shot MGM's Ben- Hur there in 1957, with a then record-breaking $7m budget: shooting Charlton Heston's Circus Maximus chariot race took over five weeks and involved 15,000 extras. Cleopatra (1963) was a money-haemorrhaging, 30-month saga (budgeted: $2m; actual: $44m) that spawned Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor's boozy love affair.
It's all a far cry from the origins of the studio. In the 1930s, Italian futurist artists were embracing the new dynamic medium of cinema and then prime minister, Benito Mussolini, recognised it could be a powerful ideological weapon. So, in 1936, he decided to build a studio. The new Cinema City had everything for film making - theatre studios, technicians, artists, a cinematography school - and, headed up by politician Luigi Freddi, the complex began to churn out propaganda films at a rapid rate. This went on for several years until, in September 1943, as World War II approached its peak, the studio was closed after Allied bombing reduced it to near ruins. By then, some 300 Fascist films and historical dramas had been shot.
But this wasn't the end - in fact, in many ways, it marked a new beginning for Cinecittà. In the aftermath of the war, and with no studio to shoot in, a new wave of Italian directors hit the streets instead. This inspired the neo-realist movement, where film makers such as Roberto Rossellini and Luchino Visconti shot documentary-style films depicting the harsh reality of post-war Italy. The success of these films helped sow the seeds for a new film industry; and when, in the 1950s, the studio was rebuilt, Fellini and a number of other directors were on hand to take advantage, ushering in what become known as the golden age of Italian cinema.
It was during this time that Franco Mariotti would regularly cross Rome to visit the studio, for a chance to catch a glimpse of a film being shot - or even gain a small role. Today he is Cinecittà's cultural ambassador, but back then he was one of many people drawn by the allure of the studio. Cinema was a potent escape from the harsh post-war realities for the people of Italy, and while Fellini was filming the Oscar-winning La Strada in 1954, Mariotti got a bit part in Carmine Gallone's Casa Ricordi.
In between his ceremonial duties at the recent Venice Film Festival, we caught up with Mariotti, who recalls Fellini's spiritoso (witty) side and an obsession with hair loss. "'Mariottino,' he would say (Fellini loved the diminutive), 'when did you lose your hair and how did it happen?'" Mariotti also waxes warmly about Fellini's impact. "He went around observing humanity, then painted pictures on the screen, inventions so vivid they became reality."
Indeed, Fellini relished the on-set circus. In Damian Pettigrew's illuminating documentary Fellini: I'm a Born Liar (2002), Donald Sutherland describes the director on the set of Fellini's Casanova (1976) as "a martinet, dictator, Tartar, demon… tormenting everyone. The first five weeks of shooting were hell on earth. He was the medium and I was the mannequin."
Behind-the-scenes footage shows Fellini's hands-on approach and brusqueness. He would shout instructions hysterically and manhandle the actors and extras. Fellini said, "Puppets are happy to be puppets, if the puppet has a good puppeteer."
Today, Fellini's presence is everywhere on the Si Mostra tour. There's Venusia's colossal crowned head - seen emerging menacingly from the Venetian lagoon in Casanova - plonked by the pavillion Palazzina Presidenziale. Inside are more surreal props and sculptures, made by members of the De Angelis family, who have been working here for 70 years. Historic costumes in nearby Palazzina Fellini include Sutherland's dandy Casanova garb and Anita Ekberg's La Dolce Vita dress. Nino Rota's emotive soundtracks, which captured Fellini-esque magic and nostalgia, chime around every corner. Fellini's reconstructed office from Teatro 5 - the legendary 2,787m2 soundstage that was most favoured by the director - has his hat, scarf and coloured pens.
For production director Maurizio Sperandini, the artisan ingenuity at Cinecittà lives on through today's impressive sets. "Life at Cinecittà is always frenetic," he says. "There are sometimes four sets being built simultaneously by a group of 50 full- timers plus temps. For the Rome TV set we had 200 workers, including carpenters, painters, scaffolders and painters." Building a 19th-century Broadway for Scorsese's Gangs of New York was "the most challenging", but one of Sperandini's career highlights came on the set of The Life Aquatic (2004), when the director, Wes Anderson, asked him to demolish the wall of Teatro 5 so his new lens, shipped from LA, could film the entire cross-section of a 50m-long ship.
"I said it wasn't possible. Not even Fellini would have asked such a thing. There was panic. I proposed that we move the ship back five metres, but it seemed impossible without dismantling it - lights, fittings…" Then, using a special system of hydraulic pistons usually employed for raising bridges, Sperandini's crew shifted the ship 10cm at a time. "In less than 48 hours, we managed to move it five metres. Wes Anderson and the American producers were amazed."
Of course, these days times are tough, even in the multimillion-dollar film industry. However, Cinecittà hopes tax breaks will woo more international film makers back - Woody Allen and Bertolucci have both just shot films here. In the meantime, the studio can cherish its position as the birthplace of Italian cinema and the place where Fellini plied his trade. "For me, every journey starts and ends at the studios of Cinecittà," the director said. "It's my ideal world. The cosmic space before the Big Bang."

Thursday 13 October 2011

Head for the hills to find value for money, fresh air and community spirit

Sue Childs, a teaching assistant from Reigate, Surrey, has the best of both worlds (England & Italy-Umbria) with a 3,250-square foot apartment in a renovated 400-year-old olive mill at Rancale in Umbria. Her two-bedroom apartment, one of eight restored properties, was bought last May for £250,000. Now, it is valued at more than £360,000.
'Just because we are in rural Italy, that doesn't mean we can't get to lots of places,' insists Sue, who is in her late 40s. 'We have lovely vineyards and walled towns nearby.'
Her three children aged 23, 20 and 17, love taking photos of old railway stations and discovering small local bars and cafÈs. Umbertide is the nearest big town, a 15-minute drive, with ten restaurants and other services.

Getting there is simple too. Sue flies from Stansted to Perugia, a two-hour flight. 'If I leave early in the morning, I am in my apartment by midday.'
Paul Belcher, managing director of Ultissimo Ltd is selling the three remaining homes at Rancale from £240,000. 'The coast gets busy in peak season with tourists, but loses its soul in the winter. Restaurants are open year-round near Rancale, which has more of a community, he says. 'Often, the Italian coastline is spoilt,' says Roger Coombes from Cluttons Italy. 'During the Mussolini era, train lines were placed close to the beach and concrete motorways run alongside.'

He is selling a restored rambling five-bedroom farmhouse with an outbuilding that could be converted into a guesthouse. It's set among rolling vineyards and olive groves and has views towards Orvieto.
'The price is £770,000 and the owner will negotiate further for a quick sale. You need to spend about £85,000 to finish off the exterior and the garden, but this would be an investment that would bump up the value to more than £1 million.'

Tuesday 4 October 2011

Amanda Knox verdict is not universally welcomed!

I'm completely convinced that Amanda Knox participated in the murder of Meredith Kercher. The evidence against Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito is overwhelming. They gave completely different accounts of where they were, who they were with and what they were doing on the night of the murder. Neither Knox nor Sollecito have credible alibis despite three attempts each. They kept telling everyone a pack of lies!! Amanda Knox voluntarily admitted that she was involved in Meredith's murder in her handwritten note to the police in 2007. She accused an innocent man, Lumumba, of murdering Meredith despite the fact she knew he was completely innocent. She didn't recant her false and malicious allegation against Lumumba the whole time he was in prison. A powerful lobbying campaign by her family played a big part in changing perceptions of Knox from the promiscuous "Foxy Knoxy" of early media reports and the cold-blooded portrayed by prosecutors. She's not an angel is she?

Monday 3 October 2011


If Italy were a dartboard, the city of Perugia would most likely be its bull’s-eye. Equidistant from Florence and Rome in the bucolic, central Italian region of Umbria, Perugia is an enchanting hilltop city with a compact historic center that is a rambling maze of medieval streets. Although many associate Perugia with the controversial murder trial of the American Amanda Knox, this forward-thinking city maintains a friendly appeal. In 2008, an eco-friendly high-tech light rail line called the MiniMetrò made its debut, zipping visitors into the city center from outer areas and keeping its historic streets mostly car-free. Instead, the streets jam with visitors during two popular annual events: a summer jazz festival that attracts the music world’s biggest acts, and Eurochocolate, a huge autumnal chocolate festival that this year runs Oct. 14 to 23.

Tuesday 27 September 2011

Italy in October

During the earlier times it was considered that the month of October in Italy is the beginning of slow season, since the prices use to fall and a large number of tourists used to fly back. Those days have become history in the superior tourist towns. Both April and October are considered as one of busiest ones in Italy and one should not assume that these two months there will be quiet; on arriving you will be surprised to know that tourists are still present during that time.
June or July will have more tourists compared to October, however crowds are attracted to the pleasant weather of the country and this weather is throughout the country during the month of October, relatively the prices for hotels and for flights drop, so it becomes a perfect combination of great weather and inexpensive prices. This is one of the reasons it's getting more favorable to visit Italy during the month of October.

Weather in October

October is one of the best months of all to visit Rome and major towns. There are plenty of sunny days in October all over the country which are known locally as "ottobrate romane". In October, the temperatures start getting low, especially at night in Northern Italy due to the higher altitudes. In comparison to June and July, the tourist season is comparatively lower in Italy in October, though there would definitely be tourists in the larger cities. In October, autumn is in full swing in Italy and do expect a lot of wet days and sudden showers, especially in northern and central Italian regions. However, southern Italy would be still warmer so those who are looking for a few warm days can head to the beaches and the sea side resorts where the days would still be warmer compared to northern Italy.

Northern Italy the temperature climbs down quite steeply in October. In Milan and other parts of Northern Italy, the average temperature would remain between 7 and 18 degrees Celsius (44 to 64 degree Fahrenheit). In October, there will be many wet days and the nights tend to be much colder.

In Central Italy including cities like Rome the temperature climbs down by a notch, approximately between 13 to 23 degrees Celsius (56 to 71 degree Fahrenheit). In October, there are plenty of rainy days in comparison to the past few months so it's best to be equipped.

In Southern Italy and the seaside resorts, including Palermo, the temperatures begin to climb down but the days are still quite warm. In October, the temperatures remain between 19 to 23 degrees Celsius (66 to 74 degrees Fahrenheit). Even in Southern Italy, there are quite a lot of rainy days in October.
In October, throughout Italy precipitation is quite common.

Where to Visit in October

Depending on the interests and likings, visitors can choose their destinations for travel in Italy in October. While October is Italy is mainly famous for its many amazing food festivals, those who are not particularly interested in these festivals can visit central Italy or southern Italy, especially Sicily in October, since these would still be a bit warmer.The beaches in Sicily offer many good options for those who love water sports or just want to spend a day swimming. Northern regions would be much cooler, though there wouldn't be enough snow in order to enjoy skiing, so it's best to not visit Piedmont or the Dolomites in October. Central Italy is a very good option: Perugia, Todi, Umbertide, Cortona.

Monday 12 September 2011

KALLISTI art exhibition in Migianella

Let us introduce you to James Kingdom Smyth, a young talented artist, who is going to give a show at the Garden Gallery, Castello di Migianella, Umbertide. The art exhibition will run from the 16th to the 18th of September from 1pm to 5pm.

Wednesday 7 September 2011

The star pianist Mariangela Vacatello will be performing at the Sagra Musicale Umbra

Mariangela Vacatello is one if Italy's brightest pianists. When she visits the Sagra Musicale Umbra on Sunday 18th of September, she will perform a Liszt programme including the beautiful 'Sei Consolations'. Mariangela Vacatello has made much of her name through her love of Franz Liszt. The stories speak not just to her early attraction to the composer, but to the drive and talent that have pushed her along her fast-rising career.

Mariangela Vacatello has a technique that is extraordinary even by today’s standard of widespread virtuosity. She is a true musician, not just another of the acrobats being turned out by the thousands in the musical mega-factories. In her playing one hears the great pianistic traditions melded with the freshness of an individual approach. She is a true artist of the piano who recalls to mind the great women pianists of recent and not so recent generations.

Sunday 18th of September in Terni in the Auditorium Gazzoli in the Blue Hall at 5pm.

Monday 5 September 2011

The upper Tiber Valley and The Burri Collection

While Central Tuscany has a magic that cannot be matched with towns like Siena, Cortona, Pienza, Montepulciano, and Montalcino, you'll be sharing this magic with many tourists and woefully few Italians. Nearby, in the Upper Tiber Valley of Umbria, a drive of an hour or less from the towns above, there awaits a magic that is different, but equally as special. Don't come to this region expecting to share your experiences with other English-speaking tourists. This is where the language heard most often is Italian and so are the tourists.

The Upper Tiber Valley is the northernmost Umbrian territory. Wedged between Tuscany and the rugged mountains of the Marches, this region has a unique cultural and social character. The people of this region have been master hunters and gatherers for centuries. Wild mushroom varieties (porcini), tartufo bianco e nero (white and black truffles), cinghiale (wild boar), coniglio (rabbit) are foods typically found on kitchen tables. The Tiber River runs through the entire length of the valley for 50 kilometers and provides the valley with great fertility. Still largely farmed with tobacco, each year sees more fields turned over to produce and feed for livestock.

There are eight leading towns in the region. The hill towns of Citerna, Montone, Monte Santa Maria Tiberina, and Pietralunga are sleepy hamlets with magnificent views with one or two good places to eat and some memorable art in their local museums and churches. Their real attractions, however, are the vistas from each town, the joy of the winding drive up to each hilltop location and searching out a place to sample the local food and wine. Città di Castello, Lisciano Niccone, San Giustino, and Umbertide are valley towns bustling with the energy of daily Italian culture and are the leading towns for art, culture, great restaurants.

The Albizzini Palace Foundation in Città di Castello holds The Burri Collection. The artist Alberto Burri was a resident of Città di Castello and one of the major leaders of contemporary art. The works in the Alberto Burri museum tell the story of an artist who lived in his own head, making work that followed its own potent logic.

Tuesday 23 August 2011

Italian property

Can you still save money in Umbria by restoring a property yourself? Many buyers over the last decade or two indulged their property-designing fantasies and save money in the long run, ended up woth a beautiful, bespoke home that was worth much more than the total they'd invested in it. The consensuos view is that these days are now gone. With restoration costs across central Italy much higher that they were, it's generally agreed that whether you buy and  restore or buy ready restored, you're going end up paying roughly the same in the end. In some cases, a ready restored house might even offers a better value- especially if it's been gorgeouslly done and the vendor is looking for a quick sale, as some foreign vendors usually are. The difference in price between buying and restoring is often negligible; it normally depends on other factors which you feel is the best way to go. One of the biggest factors influencing price in Umbria is, of course, location. Medieval hill-towns are among the region chief's attractions and the most popular towns are naturally the most expensive- Orvieto, Spoleto, Todi, Perugia, Assisi. You could save money by going for one of Umbria's less known, but equally stunning, Medieval gems, such us Montefalco, Spello, Santa Maria Tiberina, Pietralunga etc. For buyers who are hoping to offer holiday rentals, the whole Umbria remains one of Italy's overall best bets for rental interest. You might resonably expect to garner more than 1000 euros per week for a cottage with pool in high season. Umbria shows little sign of waning in terms of its visitors appeal and holiday bookings have remained largely unaffected since the onset of the recession. People still want to come here as much as ever!

Monday 22 August 2011

I Vinarelli di Torgiano - painting with wine in Torgiano

Last night in Torgiano in Umbria, dozens of artists painted with watercolours diluted in wine, after a pleasant dinner together at a long table in the centre of Torgiano. Torgiano is a beautiful town about 15 minutes from Perugia. This year's edition of the Vinarelli painting, will run from August 11th to 25th.

Wednesday 17 August 2011

Castel Rigone concerts

Castel Rigone is hosting a series of concerts dedicated to young musicians entitled Festival Internazionale Giovani Concertisti. The performances take place on the historical piazza of Sant’Agostino. The musical agenda is under the watchful care of M° Giorgo Porzi and will include eleven concerts featuring various type of musical groups: trios and quartets, national and international orchestras with soloists of great renown. The beauty of the monuments and landscape, the summer weather and verdant nature all come together for an unforgettable musical event that is the pride of the Trasimeno. The orchestra of the F. Morlacchi Conservatory of Perugia will be among the performances not to be missed, and there will also be no lack of operatic music, so appreciated by the growing public of all ages and countries.

Wednesday 10 August 2011

The Night of the Shooting Stars (Night of the Feast of St. Lawrence or La notte di San Lorenzo)

In Italy there is a tradition celebrated every year August 10th and up to the dawn of 12th called the 'Saint Lawrence Night'. Legend has it that during this period of the month there is a strong shooting stars activity (Perseids) and everybody during these summer nights looks up to the sky waiting to see one falling. If you are so lucky to see a shooting star, you can make a wish as folklore says that wishes made when seen such a star come true.

Arts guide: exhibits in Italy

The following is a city-by-city guide to some of Italy's art exhibitions: AREZZO - Palazzo Vescovile: Giorgio Vasari, 'Santo E' Bello'; religious works; until December 30.

FLORENCE - Palazzo Pitti, Museo degli Argenti: 150 artworks from Kremlin Armoury; until September 11.

MILAN - Anish Kapoor, sculptures and installations at two venues: Rotonda until October 9 and Fabbrica del Vapore until January 8.

ROME - MAXXI: Chinese Architectural Landscapes; until October 23.

- Colosseum: Nero; until September 18.

- Palazzo Doria Pamphilj: 'Vanitas': Lotto, Caravaggio, Guercino in the Doria Pamphilj Collection; until September 26.

- Musei Capitolini: 'Portraits, The Many Faces Of Power', 150 Roman heads, busts, statues ranging from early terracotta works to deified images of imperial rulers; until September 25.

- MAXXI: Michelangelo Pistoletto, From One To Many, 100 works, 1956-1974; until August 15.

TURIN - Reggia di Venaria: La Bella Italia, celebrating 150th anniversary of Italian unity; 350 works tracing various ex-capital cities including Florence, Turin, Milan, Genoa and Naples as well as Rome; plus art giants like Giotto, Donatello, Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, Titian, Tiepolo, Canova, Bernini; until September 11.

VENICE - Biennale showgrounds: 54th edition of international contemporary art show; 83 artists, until November 27.

- Museo Correr: Julian Schnabel, 40 works, until November 27.

- Punto della Dogana, Francois Pinault Foundation: 'Praise of Doubt', 60 works by 20 contemporary giants including Maurizio Cattelan, Jeff Koons, Jeff Bauman, Adel Abdessemed, Marcel Broodthaers, Dan Flavin, Thomas Schutte and Charles Ray; until December 31, 2012

Friday 5 August 2011

David Cameron rents luxury 18th century villa in Tuscany for family holiday

The Prime Minister has rented an 18th century villa near the town of Mercatale Valdarno in the Chianti region, where his neighbours will include the pop star Sting.

Mr Cameron, his wife and three children will share their holiday with two other families. They are paying £5,800 as their share of the 11,000 euro a week villa.
The estate is owned by winemaker Lucia Sanjust Bazzocchi, who with her son Luca produces Sangiovese and Merlot grapes from 77 acres of vines.
The rural area of Italy became known as “Chiantishire” after the regular visits by New Labour acolytes and Mr Blair, who was nicknamed “Tuscan Tony”.
Mr Blair drew criticism after accepting free stays in villas owned by a Tuscan aristocrat and his former ministerial colleague, Geoffrey Robinson.

Downing Street aides were yesterday keen to stress that Mr Cameron was paying the market rate for his villa. He is expected to travel to Italy via a budget airline in the coming days.
The Daily Telegraph can disclose that the Camerons are staying on the “Petrolo estate” in a villa which comes with a swimming pool, tennis court and billiards room. There is also a vineyard and olive mill at the property and several lakes in which guests are invited to fish.

According to the villa’s website: “The Petrolo Estate is situated among the green olive groves, active vineyards and beautiful oak woods. A place full of charm and history.
“The estate has as its landmark, the Tower of Galatrona. The Tower's foundation dates back to the Etruscan and Romans and the Estate's best wines are named ‘Torrione’ (big tower) and ‘Galatrona’.”
The villa was built between 1700 and 1750 and is surrounded by a large private garden.
The interior is full of antiques and the walls decorated with both old masters and modern paintings. There is also an imposing chandelier in the property.
The estate is located in the Arno Valley, close to the town of Figline Valdarno, where Sting and his wife Trudie Styler own a luxurious former hunting lodge and an estate that produces organic wine, olive oil, salami and honey.

It is on the opposite side of the Chianti region from Cusona, where Mr Blair and his family spent summer holidays as guests of Prince Girolamo Strozzi and his wife, Italian aristocrats.
The fortnight stay in Tuscany is the first proper foreign holiday the Camerons will enjoy since the election more than a year ago. Last year, they holidayed in Cornwall as Samantha Cameron was heavily pregnant.
She gave birth early to the couple’s fourth child, Florence, during the holiday who was given the middle name Endellion, after the village St Endellion where they were staying. The family are expected to return to Cornwall for a second holiday at some point this summer.
The Camerons were forced to abandon another holiday to Thailand last Christmas because of violent uprisings in thecountry.

The Prime Minister treated his wife to a weekend in Granada in April to celebrate her 40th birthday, but the trip was largely overshadowed after the couple were followed by Spanish paparazzi.
Nick Clegg, the deputy Prime Minister, is understood to have already left Britain for a holiday in Spain with his family. There is expected to be a period in August when both the most senior figures in the Government are on holiday, and William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, will effectively be in charge.
However, Mr Cameron has repeatedly stressed that he is still running the country wherever he is in the world.

Thursday 4 August 2011

Sun at last!

Judith talks about the beautiful Umbrian countryside. She and her husband bought a little house in Castel Rigone, while they are building their own villa on the Tuscan border.

"Well, here I am in Umbria, the green heart of Italy and, as expected there are wall to wall blue skies, burning heat, warm welcomes and stunning views, which are, of course very green!  The house wasn't as bad as expected . A couple of hours did the trick this time and none of it too laborious - think it's getting used to us now and we are becoming friends! We are in a small medieval town called Castel Rigone. Somewhere we used to escape to in the afternoons to get away from the heat when I came with my parents many years ago. It was rather silly then yesterday to do the opposite and leave our hilltop paradise to go down to a lakeside town.. 32C in the shade and not much of that! Amazing how one forgets just how hot it can be!  I did persevere and had a good wander up into the beautiful, quaint streets of the old town of Passignano, think the gym must have done me quite a lot of good as all the steps didnt seem to bad! This was followed by a gentle stroll along the lake side where the gentle breeze was very welcome and then my first gelato of the summer.  Lago Trasimeno is one of the largest and most beautiful lakes in this part of Italy. Many interesting and lovely, un-spoilt towns nestle along its borders, Castiglione del lago, San Feliciano, Torricella, S, Angelo. Passignano is one of the largest and this year was voted the best town to live in out of the whole of Italy! Guess it does have everything - an enchanting older town, beautiful lake, parks, quaint little restaurants,  a ferry linking it with other lakeside towns and the two main islands and an accessible railway station.  It also boast one of the best gelato bars in the area - hence the picture!  My favouites are tiramisu and caramella together. Today is the start of our town annual festa dei barbari - Festival of the barabarians!  take part every year and keep coming back for more!" Judith B.

Festival delle Nazioni (Festival of Nations) - Città di Castello – August

Each year the Città di Castello chooses a different country as a theme and the town’s shop fronts enter into a competition to show off that year’s theme. Performers, choirs and orchestras from the designated country are invited throughout the summer to perform and show off their relative talents. Previous years have seen Città di Castello full of the sounds from Spain, Israel, Britain and Russia all giving concerts, many of them free, in the piazzas and theatres around the town. This festival of chamber music runs from 23rd August to 4th September. http://www.festivalnazioni.com/en/

Sunday 31 July 2011

Scarzuola – Surreal Umbrian Architectural Folly

The site at Scarzuola started out as a simple wooden shack in the Umbrian countryside, a tranquil, remote residence for the wandering St Francis, south of Perugia. It was here that in 1218 he planted a bay tree and a rose bush and then a fresh, bubbling spring promptly erupted. Over time St Francis’s humble dwelling grew into a monastery and today in the church’s apse you can still see a 13th century fresco of the saint levitating.

In 1956 the famous Milanese Architect, Tommaso Buzzi acquired the eight hundred year old complex at Scarzuola, by which time it had fallen into decay and was in much need of repair. Buzzi set about creating his own perfect, if not surreal, city around the grounds of Scarzuola, incorporating the original buildings; he added many ingenious designs and touches of his own.

 The result is an eccentric and fascinating city of dreams that expresses Buzzi’s many influences, classical and renaissance references as well as surrealistic and fanciful juxtapositions. His wonderfully innovative folly is a combination of the existing ecclesiastical buildings from the convent, which became the sacred city and his own secular works that make up the Buzziana. This is complete with seven theatres, a tower of Babel, an acropolis and a maze of staircases.

Buzzi populated his landscape around Scarzuola with symbols, poetic passages and enigmatic icons, all full of personal meaning and mystery. Everywhere you look there are sculptures, fountains and pools all elaborately decorated. Visitors are taken down tunnels into Cypress filled glades, up winding staircases and onto panoramic terraces; the walker faces constant choices, poems and monsters in their entertaining exploration. The whole experience at Scarzuola is a trip into the creative genius of Buzzi and the references in which he found importance.

After his death in 1980 Buzzi’s cousin, Marco Solari took over management of the site and today he shows tourists around his uncle’s magical world. In Scarzuola, Buzzi has left us with a marvellous collection of buildings, part childhood puzzle and part intellectual game but either way a fantastic vision in the landscape. Scarzuola is not open directly to the public but visitors interested in wandering around the interesting grounds of Tommaso Buzzi’s fabulous creation can arrange an appointment. The site of the Sacred City and Buzziana can be found near the village of Montegiove, Montegabbione in the Umbrian hills south of Perugia.

Friday 22 July 2011

Casa Vissani

My dear friend the journalist Susan Chenery, discovers the consuming passions of the restaurateurs at Casa Vissani.
The great chef is almost a parody of what you might expect an Italian chef to be: large, operatic, prone to dramatic gestures. It is like listening to an aria that gets louder and louder - he claps his hands, stretches his arms wide as if he is on the stage at La Scala.

"For me, cooking is from the heart," Gianfranco Vissani booms. "There are so many feelings and emotions and colours, it is like a painting that takes hours, like Picasso, then you have to create a Rembrandt. But where a painter's work stays, mine is gone."

If it was not for the exhaustion etched into his face, the dark circles under the eyes common among chefs operating at the highest level, he would be a comic-book chef.

There have been rumours of flying plates, which Vissani, a big, powerful man in expensive shoes, denies. "I have a heart, so I don't throw plates," he says. "We are a family here."

We set out in a state of delicious expectation but we're somewhat frazzled by the time we arrive very late at the two Michelin-starred Ristorante Casa Vissani, near the Umbrian town of Orvieto, having taken a wrong turn and gotten lost on the way.

Vissani has been described by Food & Wine magazine as one of the "hottest chefs alive", part of a generation of restaurateurs as "glamorous as rock stars". Italy's L'Espresso magazine named Casa Vissani the best restaurant in the country. In a food-obsessed country where daily life revolves around the table, this is really saying something.

His theatrics, even for Italy, are well known from his television programs, newspaper columns and books - and from his celebrity and political friends. You don't keep a man like this waiting.

"I am not interested in that," he says of the "hottest chef" label. "That is not important. It is the person who counts and I am still the same person." Then he waves his arms around wildly and bellows, "Actually, people who say that can f--- off."

Casa Vissani is not where you go for traditional Umbrian food, which can be bland, unimaginative and conformist; Umbrians can be rigid about their food and suspicious of change. "A lot of Italian people love me and a lot of Italians hate me," Vissani says with some relish.

Although he uses "only pure" Umbrian produce, it is restructured and interpreted in a way that is pure invention.

He is passionate about his ingredients. "Genetically modified food will kill people," he says. "Each ingredient is important, each one has a story and you have got to be able to taste every ingredient."

Vissani's voice moves up several octaves. "It doesn't matter how much it costs, it has got to be the best with no chemicals ... We must respect every living thing and cook it in a way that is right for it, at the right temperature. We give ourselves to the people who come here. We make passionate love in the kitchen every night."

We drive up to a daunting locked gate and we're buzzed in. Beyond lies a low-slung building beside Lake Corbara with walls covered in jasmine. This was once a summer seafood shack owned by the maestro's father. It already looks expensive, as a small battalion of black Armani-clad staff ushers us in.

The kitchen can be seen from the dining room through windows dressed with picture frames, wherein white-hatted chefs glide in clusters, like a living painting. The decor is beige and formal.

"Vissani is a volcano of ideas," our waiter says. "He writes the recipes without ever tasting them because he understands the basic ingredients. When he explains a dish, he is discovering it in that moment. He never repeats the same dish. It is continual change."

And so, to the food. We order a tasting menu, which changes every month. The bread is made of acorn flour; the raw sea bass is infused with broom flowers and sits in walnut sauce; there's lettuce jelly; lobster with liquorice and pecorino paglierino foam. Vissani hovers at the table over the baby pork - "It has been on the grill, in the oven for hours and then a hair dryer" - with a coffee sauce.

Each dish is a series of small orgasms of flavour. In the middle of this procession, though, is a lasagne of rice flour, with puffed rice with caviar and broccoli with chocolate drops, to which I take an irrational dislike.

An impressive array of local cheeses, the piece de resistance, arrives in a large wooden box at the table. Each cheese has been turned into a cupcake: pecorino with plain chocolate; with liquorice; with rose petals.

Late in the evening, as we sample the sixth dish, Vissani settles in an armchair and shows us an antiquarian book of recipes in Latin, written by chefs in pagan pre-Roman times. These were the days when diners gorged themselves so much they had facilities set up in the next room, so they could purge and keep eating. Vissani regularly translates from it. Another book from the 16th century contains the recipes of a chef to the popes and Catherine de Medici.

Clearly, he is drawing on ancient recipes. "My secret is the preservation of ancient flavours," Vissani says.

By now it is very late and we are starting to feel like part of the Vissani family. The chef's son, Luca, runs the restaurant. Vissani has his feet up, smoking, expounding.

And then the bill comes and the tidal wave of warmth and bonhomie turns into a financial tsunami. It is almost €500 ($660), which, admittedly, includes a bottle of 2000 Lungarotti San Giorgio. Was it worth it? Well, it took 30 chefs to make those cheese cupcakes.

During the global financial crisis, Vissani realised this type of dining was beyond most people, in a country where the average wage is €1500 a month. As well as the "big offer" tasting menu at €155 a person, there is a "small offer" tasting menu at €100 and five-course tasting menus three days a week called "L'hour" (1-2pm, €30 a person for lunch and at 8.30-9.30pm, €50 a person for dinner. I probably should have gone for that.

From Rome, take the train to Todi or Orvieto (about 40min). Then take a taxi (15min) to Ristorante Vissani, about €20. Bookings are essential, phone +39 074 495 0206, see casavissani.it.
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Wednesday 20 July 2011

Interview with Abode

The article below has been published in the July 2011 issue of Capital.
Capital is a business and finance monthly based magazine, featuring articles by certified business experts about global house investments etc.

" Nell'Italia centrale una delle agenzie immobiliari più attive a livello internazionale è Abode che gode di un rapporto professionale con Knight Frank, una tra le agenzie leader nel settore immobiliare del Regno Unito. Che cosa emerge da questo osservatorio? L’acquisto di una seconda casa, sia esso per la realizzazione di un sogno o per puro investimento, comporta un’analisi attenta da parte dell’acquirente. Il tipo di soluzione più ricercata per chi desidera comprare una seconda casa, è solitamente il tipico casale rustico umbro o toscano, situato in campagna che offre privacy e tranquillità. In base alla nostra esperienza, comprare una seconda casa in un luogo tranquillo e ritirato, rappresenta il desiderio della maggior parte dei nostri clienti. Altra caratteristica fondamentale è che il casale sia privato e lontano dai rumori della città, ma al tempo stesso vicino ai servizi e a siti di interesse turistico. In generale vengono preferiti paesi caratteristici dove poter degustare i prodotti tipici del luogo, alle grandi città. Quasi tutte le nostre proprietà sono costituite da una casa padronale, una guest house e un giardino ben curato con piscina. Per quanto riguarda lo stile vengono preferite raffinate dimore dove un’eventuale ristrutturazione ha preservato le antiche caratteristiche delle case coloniche, mantenendo viva la tensione dualistica tra ciò che è nuovo e ciò che è originario. Tutti questi elementi costituiscono indubbiamente un eccezionale “buen retiro” in Italia per potenziali acquirenti di fascia medio-alta.

Le location che negli ultimi anni sono emerse maggiormente, sono quelle nelle colline dell'Alta Valle del Tevere in Umbria al di sopra del lago Trasimeno: un'area caratterizzata da un magnifico paesaggio collinare incontaminato e rilassante dove il panorama è costituito da verde a 360°. Il paesaggio in questa parte dell’Umbria è prevalentemente collinare e le vigne e gli ulivi sono la principale coltivazione. In tutte le stagioni lo spettacolo è di quelli rari: il verde degli ulivi è interrotto qua e là dal rosso delle vigne, creando un panorama di ineguagliabile bellezza. E’ qui che sono inseriti quasi tutti i nostri casali. A conclusione di questa seconda domanda, si può solo aggiungere che la zona dell'Alta Valle del Tevere è molto di moda per la nostra clientela. Anche la campagna circostante Cortona risulta essere un luogo particolarmente amato dai nostri clienti, d’altro canto Cortona è una delle città toscane di maggior pregio sia artistico che ambientale. Una località che ci sembra meno richiesta e popolare è quella sul confine tra l’Umbria e le Marche.

E’ da oltre 20 anni che clienti stranieri comprano ville e casali nell’Alta Valle del Tevere. L’acquisto di una proprietà in questa zona della regione Umbria, può sicuramente rappresentare una buona mossa. Case e immobili sono ancora economicamente convenienti, con prezzi molto più vantaggiosi rispetto a quelli della Toscana più conosciuta e ormai piuttosto inflazionata. Inoltre c'è l'imbarazzo della scelta per quanto riguarda le proprietà in vendita nelle zone di Città di Castello, Santa Maria Tiberina, Montone, ad esempio: casali, ville, case di villaggio e ruderi da ristrutturare. Quindi l’Alta Valle del Tevere è sicuramente fra le aree più interessanti come rapporto qualità/prezzo.

Abbiamo riscontrato una riduzione dei prezzi degli immobili del 20% negli ultimi due anni. Per quanto riguarda le correzioni di prezzi, si può dire che i proprietari di immobili che si impegnano veramente a vendere, devono adattare i prezzi alle nuove esigenze del mercato. Il mercato immobiliare nell’Alta Valle del Tevere offre a disposizione di compratori provenienti da altre regioni d’Italia o dall'estero abitazioni che, come già accennato sopra, si pongono in competizione con la Toscana, mantenendo un valore più contenuto. Quindi in Umbria in generale, ma in particolar modo nell’Alta Valle del Tevere, il mercato sembra essere rimasto più forte. Le persone che si rivolgono al nostro sito sono per lo più acquirenti internazionali, abbiamo una pagina google.com numero uno nella classifica per i beni di lusso in Italia e il nostro sito web viene continuamente aggiornato.

Il nostro blog permette a chiunque di rispondere a qualsiasi domanda sull'Italia e sulle proprietà in Italia. Consente inoltre di saperne di più su usi e costumi degli italiani soprattutto in Umbria e Toscana, sui loro tic e luoghi comuni. Il nostro sito rappresenta sicuramente un punto di riferimento importante per i nostri clienti ed è proprio grazie a questo che stiamo attirando sempre più compratori provenienti da tutto il mondo. Di recente è online anche il nuovo sito in italiano (http://www.abode.it/italiano.php) per chiarire che anche i clienti italiani, sempre di fascia medio-alta, si rivolgono alla nostra agenzia immobiliare".

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