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An Insider’s Guide to The Most Fascinating Festivals in Italy

Tourists come from all over the world to celebrate Carnavale in Venice and to watch Siena’s famous horse race, the Palio. Italy’s lesser-known festivals offer unique experiences of the essence of Italy. They range from the unconventional to the sublime. Here are some Italian festivals you will never forget.

Opera Extraordinaire

The Puccini Festival is a festival in Italy that takes place in July and August attracts 40,000 music lovers to the open air theater in Torre del Lago. The theater is on the lake that inspired much of the maestro’s music and near the Villa Mausoleum where Giacomo Puccini lived and worked. Each year, several of Puccini’s operas are performed by world-renowned opera singers and conductors. An extraordinary experience is arriving at the theater by boat across the lake, imagining the composer’s ears tuned to the lap of water, the birdsong, and the rushing wind.
Torre del Lago is less than three miles from the magnificent beaches of Viareggio on the Tuscan Riviera and 11 miles from Lucca, Puccini’s boyhood home. Lucca is a walkable city surrounded by medieval walls that celebrates its famous native son with daily concerts in an ancient, deconsecrated church. His home, now a museum, houses a piano Puccini played when he was a boy. On display is Turandot’s elaborate, original costume. Manuscripts, letters, opera scores, and other memorabilia are stored in archival drawers, and walls are covered with paintings of ancestors and photographs. On one wall, the Puccini family tree shows they were a musical family back to the 1700s.

Happy Birthday to Rome

Rome’s Birthday (Natale di Roma), April 21, is a city-wide party and exhibition celebrating the founding of Rome by Romulus in 753 B.C. Fireworks explode over the Tiber River, the city twinkles with torches and colorful lights, museums are free, and restaurants outdo themselves with Roman feasts. This Italian festival also includes a costumed procession, involving more than 2,000 gladiators, legislators, vestal virgins, and priestesses, starts and finishes at the Circus Maximus. Historical reenactments, including gladiator, fights can be seen in every ancient piazza.
Reserve a table at Spirito Di Vino for ancient Roman dishes made with fresh ingredients and served in an ancient Roman building. A favorite is pork shoulder prepared according to the recipe of Gaius Matius who was a friend and cook of Julius Caesar. To walk on a Roman street, ask to visit their wine cellar.

An Epic Food Fight

Ivrea in the Piedmont region of northwestern Italy is known for what may be Italy’s largest food fight, The Battle of the Oranges. In the three days leading up to Fat Tuesday, townsfolk dressed in medieval battle attire reenact the 12th-Century rebellion with citrus fruit instead of weapons. Participants of nine squads run through the streets hurling oranges or tossing fruit from “battle busses.” Each year, 500,000 pounds of oranges are splattered all over town. After the three days of carnage, one of the generals ends the war. A massive funeral for the slain is held on Fat Tuesday.
Spectators can wear a red hat to mark themselves as a bystander and noncombatant or stay safe from flying pulp by sheltering behind the nets that protect Ivrea’s buildings. Dessert lovers do not leave town without sampling the famed Cake 900, a chocolate cream sponge cake.
Surprisingly, Ivrea is a UNESCO World Heritage site, but not for its ancient history. The city was developed in the 20th-Century as a testing ground for Olivetti, the manufacturer of typewriters, mechanical calculators and office computers. UNESCO describes the city as “a model social project” expressing “a modern vision of the relationship between industrial production and architecture.”
Industrial advances have not erased Ivrea’s ancient piazzas and its skyline of stone towers and red-tiled roofs. The castle dates back to 1395 and has four stone towers and a large courtyard. It was used as a defensive post, a royal residence, and finally a prison until it was renovated in 1970 to host exhibitions and performances. The cathedral that dates back to the 4th Century A.D. is built on ruins of a Roman temple. Parts of the original structure survive, including the crypt. The church maintains most of its 12th Century Romanesque appearance.

Snake Handlers’ Parade

The small medieval town of Cocullo in the Abruzzo Mountains has an annual centuries-old festival celebrating St. Dominic whom locals believe protect them from wild animals and physical ailments. This Italian festival held in May is not for the faint of heart. It involves snake handlers competing from March to be named for catching the most serpents. Some snakes measure more than six feet long. They are kept alive and their fangs removed.
On May 1, following an early morning Mass in the town’s small church, locals ring a small bell using their own teeth to protect them against toothaches for the following year. Soil is blessed to be spread over fields as a supernatural pesticide and fertilizer. The wooden statue of Saint Domenico is taken out of the small church, and the snake hunters drape their snakes over the statue and his jewel-encrusted gold frame. The statue is paraded through the streets with the snakes writhing all over it in a procession that includes a brass band, clergy, and laypeople in traditional dress.
The few restaurants in Cocullo are booked by locals far in advance of the festival, but food vendors abound to feed the hoards of visitors. There are no reports of death by snakebite.

Venice’s Marriage to the Sea

On the last weekend in May, Venice celebrates its nautical prowess and closeness to the sea with processions of boats from St. Mark’s Square to the Port of St. Nicolo. The “wedding” ceremony dates back to the 1100s when a splendidly attired doge would ride an elaborately decorated boat and throw a wedding ring into the sea. The tradition continues with the mayor of Venice tossing the ring with these Latin words: Desponsamus te, mare, in signum veri perpetuique domini (We wed thee, sea, as a sign of true and everlasting domination).
In this Festa della Sensa teams of boats compete in river races, and thousands line the waterways jousting for a good view of the regattas and processions of boats and characters in historical costumes. The Festa culminates at the church of St. Nicolò, and a market of traditional foods and crafts is held in the nearby square.
Italy is known for its exuberant festivals, and one of the lesser-known Italian festivals could be the highlight of your European adventure.
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The Most Romantic Places in Italy to Take Your Significant Other

Romantic Italy Getaways

A romantic trip consists of relaxing on the coast of Italy and taking in the breathtaking views, tasting new foods, and staying at amazing resorts. There is love in the air at all times, and you will feel it as soon as you arrive. From activities for couples to quiet time spent with just one another, Italy has it all. Before you plan your next romantic getaway, here are some options that you must add to your itinerary.

Venice

Many couples dream of visiting the city of Venice and taking a romantic gondola ride back in time in this gorgeous floating city. Enjoy the stunning architecture that you will see, and view Venetian art from the 14th to 18th century at the Church of the Frari. You can also choose to take a boat ride to the nearby islands for an experience that will live in your memory forever.
Get in tune with one of the world’s most famed lovers, Casanova, as you enjoy wine at Do Spade bar on Calle de Spade, where he met his own lovers near the Rialto Bridge. When evening arrives, enjoy a candlelight dinner by the water at Riviera, a waterfront terrace situated on the Giudecca Canal. The city of Venice is full of romantic Italian history that is perfect for any couple in love.

Capri

Nothing says romance quite like a trip to Capri. You’ll soak up ocean views as you enjoy your time at this picturesque location. Enjoy the ruins of the ancient complex of Villa Jovis, the main residence of Tiberius in Capri. You can take a quaint chairlift ride to the peak of Capri and enjoy the scenery, even catching a glimpse of the entire Bay of Naples. Don’t leave this location without a visit to Grotta Azzurra, a sea cave that contains a blue light that gives the cave a surreal feel. At the end of the day, be sure to enjoy a meal at Villa Margherita, an Italian seafood restaurant where you can have a quiet evening with your significant other while feeling as if you are the only two people in the world.

Lo Smeraldino Amalfi Restaurant

No trip to Amalfi would be complete without a romantic meal at Lo Smeraldino Amalfi Restaurant! You can enjoy seafood like you never before have, along with meat dishes and vegetables to please all tastes. With magnificent views throughout the space, the restaurant features a menu with local flavor. After dinner, spend some time on the terrace overlooking the sea for an experience that will live in your memory for years to come.

Orange Garden

Make time to spend at the Orange Garden in the city of Rome. Walk up the Aventine Hill and along Via di Santa Sabina, where you will find Rome’s “secret keyhole” at the end. This is where the adventure truly begins. Look through the keyhole and see the Knights of Malta’s garden St Peter’s Basilica in perfect view. The Orange Garden, also known as Parco Savello, is surrounded by some of the most magnificent churches in the world. Sit and enjoy the view of the Roman skyline while taking in the aromatic scent of the many orange trees. Or, sit on the terrace over the Tiber River and watch the sunset over St. Peter’s Dome. You’ll get lost in the enchantment of it all!

Ancient Greek Theatre of Taormina

The Ancient Greek Theatre of Taormina is atop a hill on the eastern shores of Sicily. Sitting 250 meters above the Ionian Sea, Taormina is without a doubt one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The Greek Theatre dates back to the third century BC and is still used for performances to this day. Sit and take in the views of Mount Etna and enjoy the beauty of your surroundings. On any given day, you are sure to see many couples strolling hand in hand at this romantic destination.

Juliet’s Balcony

For those visiting Verona, this is not a spot to be missed! What says romance better than Juliet’s balcony? You’ll feel as if you are in a fairytale as you see this amazing building that dates back to the 13th century, and is arguably one of the most romantic spots a couple could go.

Florence

The city of Florence is known for main squares and cobblestone streets that are illuminated by soft lamplight. When the time comes to enjoy a meal for two, there are restaurants with a romantic ambiance, such as Verrazzano, where you can look across the table and into the eyes of your loved one. Enjoy stunning views, a rustic environment, and of course, plenty of wine, as you dine at this enchanting spot.

Atrani

The smallest city in all of Italy, Atrani is the perfect place to enjoy a day with the one that you love. In this quaint village, you’ll see mountains as well as medieval watchtowers. Although the town is quiet and intimate, there is still a friendly feel so that everyone feels welcome. Atrani has distinctive architectural features, including Collegiata di Santa Maria Maddalena, established in 1274.
You won’t want to miss the opportunity to visit this breathtaking church with its 16th-century bell tower and overall beauty. On the 22nd of July every year, you’ll see the Festival of Santa Maria Maddalena, a religious precession followed by fireworks on the beach. While in the village, spend some time at the picturesque beaches, with a luxurious feel and unique black sand. At night, you can see the lights of the city reflected in the water, for a view that is truly unmatched.
Italy is a country in which to make everlasting memories. With no shortage of amazing places to stay, see, and dine at, it is quite an experience to explore the country with the one you love.
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A History Lover’s Guide to Bologna, Italy

Bologna, Italy is a country of rich culture and ancient civilizations. Many localities not just centuries ago, but ages ago – literally. This makes it a history lover’s paradise – with plenty of places to gaze in awe at the majestic structures of years past.

A History In Brief

Bologna, Italy has origins tracing back to the Bronze age. After a population of unknown origin settled the area over three thousand years ago, they slowly began to develop their own culture.
By the Iron age, they were authentically known as the Villanovan Civilization and had greatly influenced the distinct culture you see today – not to mention left behind some of the historical sites you can witness.
As with all other great culture-rich regions, there were outside influences through the years leading to today. The first influence came from the Etruscans around the 6th Century BC. In 350 BC the Celts conquered the area and dubbed it Bologna, meaning “city.”
Two hundred years later the region was conquered by the Romans and officially adopted into what is now modern-day Italy.

Modern Notoriety

The ancient city of Bologna is modernly known as the center of Italian culture and artistic heritage. Both the Caracca and Reni Schools for the arts were founded there.
In 2000 the city was given the title of “European Capital of Culture.” In 2006 it was called a “city of music” by UNESCO.

Must-See Historical Sites

There are numerous examples of well-preserved architecture throughout the city which history lovers will not want to miss.
The amazing thing about ancient buildings, sites, or even artifacts is that they provide a living example of history. It takes the black and white pages of historical text and turns it into something substantial.
A word of warning: it can be very overwhelming for the first-time history traveler. In a good way, of course.
Quadrilatero
A bustling modern world sitting inside this old, compact Roman district. As you walk streets which have stood for centuries, you can peruse market stalls, cafes, and delis. You can find beautifully maintained examples of historic architecture anywhere you look.
Torre Degli Asinelli
Built in 1119, these twin towers are considered the region’s primary tourist attraction. Like the tower of Piza, these towers both lean considerably, thanks to a shifting layer of earth as the towers settled. You can even walk up one tower, although the other has been closed for quite some time because it is far too slanted to be considered safe.
San Colombano Collezione Tagliavini
A restored church with original frescoes and a medieval crypt, this place is a history lover’s paradise. Housed inside the beautiful building is a collection of musical instruments dating back to the early 1500’s. Unlike many other churches, photography is welcome here. You may also luck out and witness one of the unscheduled concerts hosted here.
Basilica di Santo Stefano
There were originally seven interlocking buildings built here, but now only four remain. Each building presents an opportunity to view religiously-themed art housed in historic architecture. The main building, for example, is called the Church of the Crucifix, where Jesus is depicted hanging on the cross while his mother watches. The solemn morbidity of the scene is an accurate depiction of the local religious beliefs.
Basilica di San Petronio
Although construction began over 700 years ago, this church remains unfinished. As it stands, it is the sixth largest church in all of Europe, despite sections of missing façade. One can’t help but wonder just how big the church was meant to be.

Must-Visit Museums

Lamborghini Museum
This unique attraction portrays the history of Italy’s infamous (and much sought after) luxury car company. Among the numerous cars on display, there is an original 350 GT from 1964.
Gelato Museum Carpigiani
Did you know that people ate frozen desserts all the way back to ancient times? No? Then you have to taste test – I mean, visit – this delicious museum. Not only will you learn about the ways people would make and eat frozen desserts, but you’ll also get to eat some yourself!
Museo della Storia di Bologna
This museum is perfect for people of all ages. The last 2,500 years of Bologna history is in a chronological showcase of interactive 3D displays. It brings the region’s history to life.

Must-Eat Indulgences

No trip to a city nicknamed “La Grassa” (AKA “The Fat One”) would be complete without indulging in some of the foods that have historically defined the culture. Some dishes are very local while others are Italian classics born from this region.
Tagliatelle al ragu
Known to the rest of the world as Bolognese, this is the culinary masterpiece which  the region gastronomically famous. The best place to get it? Trattoria Anna Maria. The food is always handmade, using authentic cooking techniques – all overseen by Anna Maria herself.
Seafood Pasta Dishes
Although the region of Bologna is very heavy in meat dishes, seafood has become an integral part of the diet also. Much of this is thanks to a Sicilian influence. Speaking of Sicilians, Da Maro restaurant operates a family of them. You can get a plate of pasta con le sarde or a variety of other seafood dishes – created with locally caught fish!
Tortellini
This is the most famous dish originating from the region, and the best place to get it is in the Trattoria Meloncello. This eatery has been around for over a century (which is how you know the food is good)! If the tortellini in brodo isn’t your thing, the gnocchi comes highly recommended!
Antipasti
Traditional Bologna fare features an array of delicious appetizers before the main course. At Ristorante Alice you can choose a bowl of antipasti filled with locally sourced cured meats, Pecorino cheese, chickpeas, marinated eggplant, and balsamic vinegar.
Between the fantastic historical sites, unique museums, and delicious culinary indulgences Bologna, Italy is a history lover’s paradise. Don’t miss the experience to immerse yourself in the rich culture of the region during your next Italy vacation!
 
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Jason’s Next Journey: Luxembourg, Germany, and Italy

Gearing up for our next big adventure in-country as they say.
We have some exciting insider looks coming your way while we’re filming our upcoming travel episode shorts and we’re getting really excited to share it with you. On this go round we’ll be visiting the duchy of Luxembourg, experiencing a river cruise on the Moselle and Main rivers through Germany, and capping it off with a visit to Italy where we’ll see Florence, Sienna in the heart of Tuscany, and the wonders of Rome.
Stay tuned, it’ll be a fast and furious good time.
For LIVE photos, video and updates, follow me on Instagram.

 

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Eating your way through Italy

Feast Through Italy

The food alone is one of the best reasons to visit Italy, as the list of mouthwatering delights is endless! Continue reading our “Foodie’s Guide” for a taste of Italy that will be the ultimate in culinary experiences!

Naples for Pizza

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Naples Pizza

Let’s start with the city where it all began. Pizza got its beginnings in Naples, and this amazing Italian creation has been a favorite for many years. By the late 18th century, the people of Naples were adding tomato sauce to their flatbread, and thus, this tradition got started. When you arrive in this incredible city, head straight to Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba for a slice that will knock your socks off! Established in 1830, Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba is the oldest pizzeria in the world. Here, you will find traditional Neapolitan pizza, which has a thin, chewy crust covered with a robust tomato sauce and a light layer of cheese. You’ll see why eating pizza is an absolute must while in Naples!
Another staple in this Italian city is coffee. Known mostly for espresso, you’ll find countless cafe’s lining the streets of Naples where you can enjoy this hot beverage at it’s finest. Most often brewed by hand, you’ll want to do as the locals do, and quickly drink your espresso sweetened with plenty of sugar, then be on your way!

When in Rome

Pasta alla Carbonara

Whether you are spending the day in Rome or you will be there for a few days to weeks, the food is not to be missed! Roman cuisine is known for being simple and bursting with flavor. Famous for pasta dishes, as well as vegetable and offal stews, you’ll need extra time in Rome just to try all of the delicious food offerings. “Must-try” foods in Rome include the following: Suppli’, a deep-fried delight filled with mozzarella cheese, and covered in risotto, egg, and tomato sauce, Crostata di Ricotta, which is the Roman version of the traditional cheesecake, the ever-popular artichoke, and many more.
While artichokes are enjoyed worldwide, Italy is responsible for over two-thirds of the world’s production. Be sure to try thePasta alla Carbonara, which is spaghetti topped with a sauce made of pecorino cheese, eggs, black pepper, and bacon. Some restaurants to go to while in this fantastic city? Try Angelina, located nearby the Trevi Fountain, Glass, fine dining in the heart of Rome, or Salotto 42, which is convenient to the Pantheon.

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Gelato

Of course, no trip to Rome would be complete without gelato. The first gelato was made by the Romans when they decided to add fruit to snow from the mountains for a unique frozen dessert. Gelato, the Italian version of ice cream, is rich and decadent and comes in an array of flavors, including strawberry, chocolate, and lemon. The most popular flavor in the city? Pistachio!

Eating in Venice

Be prepared for Italian food as you’ve never had it before. Venice is known for specialty foods that you absolutely must try while there. The cuisine consists of flavorful dishes made with fresh fish and vegetables. Sarde in Soar, a sweet and sour dish made with fried sardine fillets marinated in vinegar, onions, raisins and pine nuts, dates back to the Middle Ages and continues to be a Venetian favorite to this day. With another staple of the region being rice, it only makes sense that Risotto is a specialty of Venice. One of the most widely served versions is seafood based risotto, made from squid ink that appears jet black. Don’t let the appearance of the dish startle you. This is by far the best risotto you’ll ever eat!
With the Venetian Lagoon being home to crustaceans, Venice is a seafood lover’s dream. Small green crabs, called Moleche, are a seasonal delicacy that is eaten after the shell is shed. These crabs are used in all sorts of fried dishes and salads.
No Venetian meal is complete without Baicoli, a dry, oval-shaped ship biscuit that is perfect for dipping into cream and enjoying with coffee. Most importantly, don’t forget the wine! The region has a varied landscape and is home to many red and white varieties. Some of the best wines to accompany all of the fresh fish in the region are Soave, Valpolicella, Amarone, and Orto di Venezia.

The Region of Tuscany

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Focaccia Bread

Arriving in Tuscany is an adventure in itself. Suddenly, you find yourself surrounded by an incredible amount of food that you must try before leaving. Like most regions of Italy, Tuscan cuisine is made from simple ingredients, such as legumes, cheeses, fruits, and vegetables. One of the local favorites, focaccia, found its way onto Tuscan tables over 2000 years ago. Focaccia is a bread is baked on hot coals or on a hearth. Eat it alone, dipped in oil and herbs, alongside a dish of pasta, or use it for a sandwich. No matter how you slice it, there is no wrong way to enjoy focaccia, and Tuscany is the best place to get it. Don’t forget one of Tuscany’s best offerings, the salumi and cheese.
When enjoying a meal in Tuscany, it is best to start with an antipasto with cured sliced meats. Tuscans are known for excellent soups, so fill your bowl with ribollita, a vegetable and bread soup, or the best tomato soup you’ve ever had. Pasta lovers can delight in tagliatelle al Tartufo, which is pasta covered in a truffle sauce, or pappardelle alla Lepre, wide egg noodles in a sauce made from wild hare. Whatever your preference, the pasta in Tuscany is not to be missed. Which restaurants to try? How about Bracali, a lovely restaurant with homemade cuisine, Caino, known for locally-inspired dishes, or Piccolo Principe, with an open kitchen and flavorful meals.

Bologna and the Emilia-Romagna Region

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Prosciutto

Also referred to as the “Breadbasket of Italy,” this region is famous for some of Italy’s most well-known pasta dishes. Dining in Bologna will allow you to taste some of the best lasagna, gnocchi, tortellini, and ravioli you’ve ever had. Eat like a local while in Bologna and the Emilia-Romagna region at one of the many porticoes that line the streets, and don’t forget to head to a local cafe for a cappuccino that you won’t believe. With the Italian nickname of the city being “The Fat One,” it is no surprise that this region knows what good eating is all about!
Along with the pasta dishes, don’t forget the prosciutto, made from cured and salted pork and sliced thin. Paired with cheese and olives, you’ll want to sit and eat this food all day! The perfect place to do just that? Dal Nonno, where you’ll get the best prosciutto in the region. All in all, the food in this region is something to indulge in and remember.
Now you know why Italy is known for being a country where great food is of utmost importance! Make sure you are ready to eat like never before when you visit Italy. Taste the local cuisines that every region is famous for, and see why Italy is the ultimate foodie’s dream!

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Don’t Leave Rome without Visiting its Peaceful Places

Rome

The glories of the Colosseum, Piazza Navona, and Vatican City are worth a few selfie-stick puncture wounds, but wandering off the tourist trail can bring you to quiet, fascinating, historic places where you have room to experience them. Get a good map, a bus/tram/Metro pass at tourist kiosks or shops with a large black T, and discover the essence of the Eternal City in peace.

Millenniums of Music

St Cecilia’s Basilica in the Trastevere section is rooted in the Third Century and tourist-deprived today. The courtyard with its fountain topped by an ancient Roman urn is surrounded by fragrant roses and a few benches. This is a serene place to enjoy a gelato or a few slices of carry-out pizza. Once rested and refreshed, venture inside. The interior of the church is a yawn of baroque, but the 9th Century mosaic in the apse depicting the Second Coming gleams and glitters. The altar, with its Guido Reni 1630 paintings, Saints Valerian and Cecilia and Decapitation of Saint Cecilia, and its 1282 Baldacchino by Arnolfo di Cambio are among Rome’s finest treasures. Stefano Maderno’s hauntingly beautiful 17th-century marble statue of St. Cecilia tells the story of this Third Century martyr. She lies on her side with her hands making the early Christian sign of “one God, three persons” and a slit across her neck showing her fatal wound.
Cecilia was a Roman patrician who converted to the forbidden faith and encouraged others to convert. She was martyred in AD 230, but the executioners did not find it an easy task. First, they locked her in her steam room for three days. She came out alive and singing, which earned her the title of the Patron Saint of Music. Next, they tried to decapitate her. As she was a Roman citizen, only three strokes of the ax were allowed. She was mortally wounded, but it took her three days to bleed to death. When her body was exhumed in 1599, it was incorrupt under a gold funeral shroud. Maderno did a detailed sketch of her body before it was reburied and then created a statue that is faithful to his sketches.
The church is built on the remains of the saint’s house, and visitors can pay a small fee to take a wooden flight of stairs down to the original Roman roads where the walls of her house still stand. There is little signage, but many marble and concrete slabs have Latin inscriptions. When you come back upstairs ask the nun on duty to see the “affreschi di Cavallini,” If no nun is in sight, ring the bell beside the door on the left side of the church. Pay a few Euro to see the top half of Cavallini’s 1293 fresco Last Judgment now in a dusty upper room. The 18th-century renovators plastered the bottom half but had to leave room for a balcony used by cloistered nuns thus saving this portion of his work that shows Christ, the apostles, and angels. If you visit in time for Vespers, you can sit in the church and enjoy the nuns singing. The church is a popular venue for concerts of classical and ecclesiastical music.

Christianity’s Ground Zero

Plan ahead to see one of Rome’s most hidden and guarded sites. The Scavi beneath St. Peter’s Cathedral in the Vatican, offers guided 90-minute tours of excavations that are at Ground Zero of the Christian faith. The highlight of the tour is what are believed to be the bones of St. Peter, located right beneath the altar in the church above them.
Also known as the Vatican Necropolis, The Tomb of the Dead, the area was discovered in the 1940s when the Vatican commissioned excavations to prepare a burial place for the tomb of Pope Pius IX. Legend had it that St. Peter was buried beneath the altar, but few believed that to be true. The archaeologists found a burial ground (necropolis) dating back to the 4th century. They found the temple of Emperor Constantine who had ruled at that time and ancient graffiti that translates as Peter is here. The remains were forensically examined in the 1960s, and experts concluded the bones were from a man in his early sixties who lived in the first century AD. In 1968, Pope Paul VI declared them to be the bones of St. Peter. In 2013, Pope Francis exhibited the nine pieces of bone that are encased in a box inside a bronze display case for the first time to the public.
The tour includes the necropolis with its funeral monuments and Constantine’s temple as well as the boxed bones of St. Peter placed exactly where scripture reports Peter says they would be found: upon this rock, I will build my church.
This is one of Rome’s most exclusive tours. Only 250 people a day, in groups of 12, are permitted. Pre-booking a tour is the only way to see this historic site, so plan ahead, months ahead. Some visitors have had luck with just showing up and asking if there are any cancellations. Even if an available tour is in a foreign language, it will be worth it. Tickets in hand, you must pass the colorful, serious Swiss guards and will walk along part of the Vatican that is off-limits to unticketed visitors.

Travel through Time

Crypta Balbi is one of the most overlooked museums in Rome, right off Largo Argentina. This is a frantically busy transportation hub around an excavated square block of Roman ruins, one of the three sites proclaiming to be the place of Julius Caesar’s murder. The museum is rarely crowded, but it is one of the few places that display the layers of Rome in one location. It stands on the remains of the Theater of Balbus constructed in 13 B.C., which you can visit. Then, you advance in time as you move up through the exhibits. One section illustrates the transformations of the urban landscape from antiquity to the 20th Century and artifacts from homes and businesses between the 5th and 10th Centuries A.D. — the Dark Ages. The other section contains artifacts from other Roman museums along with those found on site. You can see what the historical center of Rome looked like in ancient times, in the Middle Ages, and through today.
While the Vatican Museum has priceless, famous works of art, they are difficult to fully appreciate because of the mobs of visitors. In Crypta Balbi, you have time and space to ponder such items as a 9th Century bishop’s chair made of bone and elaborately designed, lead and ceramic pilgrim flasks from the 6th Century, Medieval artifacts that furnish rooms authentically, a 3rd Century marble plan of Rome, and hundreds of other artifacts that bring to life Rome’s many eras.
In addition to the list of things, you want to do and see in Rome, leave time to simply wander. Who knows what wonders you may stumble upon.

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A Foodie’s Guide to Living It Up in Rome

Rome is a paradise for sightseers from all walks of life, with stunning fountains, ancient ruins, and a series of historic landmarks that make it one of the go-to destinations of Europe. But even though your eyes will have more than enough to contemplate during a trip to the Eternal City, it’s also a foodie’s wonderland thanks to a spread of options that offer both international delicacies and local favorites. Think about these culinary possibilities as you’re putting together the details of a journey to Rome.

Highlights of Roman Cuisine

Although pasta or pizza is often what springs to mind when you think about Roman food or Italian cuisine in general, there is a lot more going on than the staples that have made their way around the globe. An internationally famous delicacy, Roman artichokes pop up on the menus of some of the very best restaurants in the city for a reason, and they’re particularly mouth-watering when they’re in season from February through May. Fried zucchini is also one of the local favorites in Rome worth trying even if fried food isn’t typically your meal of choice.
When you’ve sampled some of the less-famous Roman classics, finding your favorite pasta dish is an age-old tradition in a city that almost has too many great options. Carbonara is the timeless Roman dish that remains the centerpiece of plenty of restaurants, although digging into favorites like cacio e pepe and fettuccine Alfredo (or its cousin fettuccine al burro) can be a life-changing experience at the best Roman restaurants. There’s certainly a time and place for Roman pizza as well, with many eateries boasting the best pizza in all of Italy – even if you do have to be little wary of a few of them. Washing it all down with a small cup of genuine gelato is just about impossible to top, and there are dozens of terrific stands and small shops throughout the city ready to satisfy your sweet tooth.
Rome is also a great place to be a little daring with your food choices, particularly in the old slaughterhouse district of Testaccio just south of the historic center. Meals like tripe in red sauce and stewed oxtail are a couple of the mainstays of cucina povera (“peasant cuisine”), which mostly relies on the leftover pieces of meat called offal. A very old tradition in Rome, offal-based food is served in some of the finest restaurants as well as more casual place throughout the city. Whether you’re an adventurous foodie or simply looking for quality dining experiences, however, you shouldn’t have a hard time ending up with an unforgettable experience touring the best food Rome has to offer.

Be Wary of the Tourist Trap

The classic tourist trap is found just about anywhere in the world there is an iconic landmark, and Rome clearly has no shortages of restaurants with elevated price tags near their most famous gathering points. One place to be especially aware of this is near the Coliseum, where there is a pretty amazing divergence of quality in a concentrated area. If you want a view of the Coliseum for a meal, even a simple one like a sandwich and a pint, you should be ready to fork over quite a bit of dough without a guarantee the food quality will match the cost.
But Rome is also a terrific place to go off-the-beaten-path to find a hidden gem, particularly during the day in the most touristy zones in the city. Instead of a full-service place where you’ll pay a premium to see a landmark you were just in, you’ll be in much better shape shooting down an alley and finding a place with counter service and locals on their lunch hour.
Highly rated places like Pizza Zizza or La Boccaccia–only a few minutes north of the Coliseum by foot–will let you grab a slice of legit homemade Roman pizza for a fraction of the price of a meal at a sit-down location loaded with other out-of-towners. The same also goes with the famous Pizzarium, which serves classic combinations of Roman pizza just outside the Vatican. Although Pizzarium doesn’t even have much real seating for the takeout side of the business, finding your own view and a quiet place to eat is part of the adventure of grabbing a midday meal in Rome. While there are many terrific places to splurge for an amazing meal in Rome as well, choose wisely when you’re within range of the most popular destinations in the city.

Finding the Ambiance

Unlike some of the other cuisine hot spots in Europe, the best restaurants in Rome don’t have stunning cityscape views. Instead, Rome is famous for its quiet, scantily lit alley restaurants that are perfect for spreading out the evening–particularly during the warm nights of summer.
A perfect place to delve into the romanticism Rome offers is to head over to Trastevere, a neighborhood just south of the Vatican that’s known for its cobblestone streets and ancient-appearing alleyways. There are certainly a few restaurants with inflated menus in the main part of Trastevere, but there is also a range of great restaurants serving both traditional and modern Italian favorites. Places like I Vinaioli, Checco er Carettiere, and Antico Arco aren’t exactly on the inexpensive side, but they offer an amazing combination of Trastevere ambiance and traditional bites.
You could take a cheap cab or Uber across the Tiber to/from the central Roman neighborhoods, but Trastevere is also at the end of a beautiful river walk perfect for walking off a plate of carbonara and bottle of Chianti. Trastevere even has a pub, the Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fà, that is often mentioned along with the other best watering holes in all of Europe.
It’s not hard to find a bit of local tone right near the more central parts of Rome either. In the Celio neighborhood, a popular area within walking distance of the Pantheon, Colosseum, and Forum, you might have to skip over a few inexpensive restaurants, but you can also find quiet little trattorias serving authentic Roman cuisine right out on the streets.
For more serious foodies, the Michelin-rated restaurant Armando al Pantheon is an oasis in the middle of one of the busiest parts of the city, and diners get a chance to say that ate in a renovated pagan temple that dates to antiquity. Food halls, or open-air markets, are also picking up steam in Rome and give visitors an excellent sampling of local flavors. In the eastern part of the city, the Mercato Centrale Roma has three floors of vendors from all over the area and is a particularly great spot to feel the pulse of the city over lunch.
Though it can certainly feel a bit overwhelming to try to sift through the assortment of great food options in a city like Rome, you would have to go almost out of your way to have truly bad dining experiences given the number of quality choices. With an eye out for the restaurants to skip over and reservations well in advance for Rome’s top restaurants (like Armando al Pantheon), you’ll be well on your way to doing what the Romans do like a pro.

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The Adventure Travel Guide to Italy

Adventure Travel Italy

From coastline-gazing on kayaks and alpine hiking to exploring mysterious caves deep underground, Italy has an outstanding array of opportunities for adventurers of all ambition levels. Consider these possibilities if you’re looking to elevate your adrenaline levels while feasting on some of the lesser known wonders of Italy.

Explore an Underwater Medieval City

More than 2,000 years ago, Julius Caesar and Cicero were known to regularly visit the city of Baia along the Bay of Naples in southern Italy, where the Roman elite had vacation homes and enjoyed the many spas built over the natural hot springs. But now the resort city that drew Roman aristocracy in ancient times has been completely covered by rising sea levels, which has turned the area into a natural attraction for thrill-seekers. While the most adventurous scuba divers will get a full view of the incredible statues and mosaics that are now underwater, the site also makes for terrific snorkeling and you can also charter a glass-bottomed boat to get a look without even having to get wet.
The region surrounding Baia also comes with other exploration opportunities, particularly for those eager to gather some eye-popping views of the Italian coastline. By Kayaking along the Neapolitan coast, you’ll get a chance to see rich green gardens and rugged rock formations–like the Faraglioni di Capri–on your way to hidden sea grottos and various other points of intrigue. You’ll also see ancient ruins up close that are not accessible at all by foot. While kayaking Naples during the day can be on the mildly thrilling side, more experienced kayakers can check it out at night for an extra layer of adventure and mystery.

Hike the ‘Path of the Gods’

The Amalfi Coast in southern Italy is great to look at it from a distance, but it is even better to explore up close and personal by hiking between the small coastal towns of Agelora and Positano. Over eight kilometers of mostly cliff-hugging pathways, the Path of the Gods trail shows off blooming orchids in the spring and beautiful foliage in the fall, though it’s also popular in the summer as well. Allegedly named for a lover of Hercules, the famous pathway offers some of the greatest coastal views in southern Italy in addition to connecting the charming small towns that once formed the basis of a sea-trading empire.
Though the trail isn’t especially grueling in either direction, heading west from Agelora to Positano will offer a very mild, slightly downhill walk that makes it extremely easy to lap up the stunning visuals from high above the Tyrrhenian Sea. You can also skip to the middle in Praiano for an abbreviated version of the trek, though a 1,000-stair climb behind the St. Domenico Convent will still give you an opportunity for a workout. With plenty of hotels in the area that provide shuttle service to the starting and endpoints, all you have to do is remember to bring enough water and enjoy the scenery.

Climb to the Top of St. Peter’s Basilica

One of the most popular destinations in Italy, St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome is generally considered a must-see for its cultural significance and beauty, but it also contains a behind-the-scenes look at Michelangelo’s 16th-century masterpiece that many visitors miss. Up a windy and narrow 551-step staircase, visitors eventually emerge at the very top of the dome looking down directly over St. Peter’s Square, the Vatican Gardens, Sistine Chapel, and a panoramic view of Rome. Though not for the claustrophobic, the climb is also the perfect starter-level adventure for those hoping to keep moving on the trip and offers another great way to experience one of Rome’s most famous icons.

Check Out the Dolomites

A part of the Southern Limestone Alps in the northeast corner of Italy, the Dolomites mountain range showcases a stunning display of alpine beauty and natural treasures that make it an organic gathering point for thrillseekers. The region also has a fairly astonishing range of hiking trails that cater to all levels of skill and endurance. On an easy day-hike, visitors will pick their way through lush evergreen forests and deep blue alpine lakes–all backed up by the towering peaks of the Alps, which can be snow-capped during parts of the year. While the less strenuous hikes focus more on the valleys and meadows that make up the area, there are also plenty of hikes that take visitors up into the mountains and require a bit of stamina and athleticism.
But an afternoon trip to the Dolomites just might not be enough considering everything there is to offer. The area is also a very popular spot for multi-day backpacking excursions that give visitors a chance to see the full scope, which can include visits to the quaint little Italian villages sitting at the base of the mountains. There are also opportunities to hike from “rifugio to rifugio,” or “hut to hut,” allowing for easy overnight accommodations. For groups that have members with physical limitations, visitors can also utilize the gondola system to help with some of the more difficult parts of the terrain. From afternoon trips to weeks-long adventures, the Dolomites offer a choose-your-own style expedition that makes it a perfect region for adventure travelers.

Exploring the Frasassi Caves

Located in Genga, Italy (Ancona Province) in central Italy, the Frasassi Caves have been a spot of importance since at least the early part of the 11th century and today offer an exciting opportunity to see one of Italy’s better-kept secrets. The caves themselves’ offer some astounding eye candy, including a crystallized lake of calcium carbonate and a whole assortment of nooks and crannies to explore. Outside of the main caves, there are also other caves in the area that have their own secrets and ancient mysteries and interested visitors can even inspect a chamber that’s home to a large bat colony. Although a relatively easy two-hour tour is ideal for beginners, guests can head out on an extended tour that heads into the system’s narrower passages.
But the Frasassi Caves themselves are only the beginning, as the surrounding hiking trails give you some more stellar glimpses of the mountains and countryside as you stretch your legs. Ultimately, most hikers will end up at the Sanctuary of Santa Maria infra Saxa, an ancient chapel built directly into the mountains, that is believed to be about 1,000 years old. The other impressive building along the way is the Tempietto Valadier, built nearly 200 years ago under the guidance of Pope Leo XII. Like many of the best spots in Italy, the Frasassi Caves have a terrific combination of adventure and history that make them well worth the trip away from the more beaten paths and tourist hubs of Italy.