24 Oct

The unique, all-year charm of Le Marche’s Macerata

The old hilltop town of Macerata is an exceptional place to visit. From the outer edges of the town you can gaze over the undulating countryside, taking in some of the best views Le Marche has to offer. Though you wouldn’t want to stay gazing for too long, as Macerata’s interior is crying out to be explored and discovered.


04 Oct

The independent artisan beer brewers of Tuscany

Microbreweries have been springing up like daisies on a lawn in recent years as Tuscan farmers try more interesting and profitable ways to make good use out of the lands resources. Roads reminiscent of the “Gladiator” scene where Russell Crowe walks through the corn fields gently wafting his hand over the ripening crops are abundant yet unique to pretty Tuscany.

It is in settings like these where the region’s new wave of beer-makers are hard at work. They have been an instant hit and some of their distinct fine beers have been embraced by beer sellers and drinkers throughout Tuscany and even further afield.

Chestnuts play a major part in many of the modern beers in Tuscany. Bastarda Doppia is a red beer made from 40% chestnuts. The beer is strong with a sweet, long-lasting after taste. It is brewed along with other types of ‘craft-beer’ in the Amiata area in the town of Arcidosso. Local produce is the key to the success of all these artisan beers. The founder of Bierra Amiata, the company responsible for Bastarda Doppia, has a simple philosophy:

“Make good beer and make it well and eventually Italians won’t want to drink industrial beer anymore.”

Now beer pubs, known as Birrificios, are sprouting up all over the region. One of the most popular is called Archea Brewery, located in the Piazza Santo Spirito in Florence. Here pints range from 3 to 6 euros, and are a diverse mix of light and summery lagers to dark, spicy stouts. Two microbrews are made in-house – a bock and a pills!

Local Tuscan beer-making is a fairly new phenomenon and most of the brewers have only been practising the art since the turn of the new millennium. Newcomers or not it sounds like some very interesting new organic beers are currently being brewed in Tuscany.

So when you are next in Tuscany try to remember that there is much more on offer than Peroni, as splendid as that beer is!


26 Sep

October 2014 events in Tuscany

October is a great time to visit Tuscany. The air is crisp and clear without the stifling heat of summer yet the temperatures are still pleasantly warm. Asides the enviable climate, there are several quirky festivals going on where you can wade in with your heart and soul.

The first Sunday in October will see the “Montalcino Carnigliano” – “Festival of the Rooster” take place in the town of Montalcino. This truly unique festival involves hundreds of chickens being grilled on a spit in the open. The chickens are doused in litres of local wine. Asides eating plenty of wine-drenched chicken, folk dancing takes place well into the early hours. Many of the locals – and visitors – dress up in medieval costumes and play a traditional game known as the Druzzola – Game of the Wheel, which involves throwing a circular piece of olive wood (the mind boggles!)

On the last Sunday of October the town of Castiglione d’ Orcia hosts the Festival of the Mushroom. Castiglione d’ Orcia is extremely picturesque with old ruins of a castle dominating the rocks on the high point of the town. The sloping town square, with its water fountain and intricate brickwork, clings on to its ancient past. In fact the town was first documented in 714. The Mushroom Festival celebrates the Porcini mushrooms and needless to say, many of Italy’s finest mushroom-based dishes are served in abundance throughout the festival.

The equally as charming Tuscan town of Moltalcino also has its share of October festivals. Though with its almost perfectly preserved medieval castle Moltalcino is a delight to visit any time of the year. The Festival of the Thrush takes place in Moltalcino on the last Sunday of October, when a great feast is laid out in the 14th century castle. The feast is open to the public and enables tourists to experience truly unique dining in one of Europe’s finest examples of a 14th century castle.

If you’re wanting to experience traditional Tuscan culture and cuisine in beautiful autumnal surroundings, then a trip to Tuscany this October certainly won’t disappoint.


20 Mar

Easter Sunday in Florence

Springtime is an especially beautiful time in Tuscany. Fragrant pastel blossom hangs from the trees like pendulous Christmas baubles. Chromatic poppies cover the fields like a scarlet velvet carpet. Emerald dominates the vista as far as the eye can see.

Apart from the obvious natural beauty that makes visiting Tuscany particularly enjoyable at this time of the year, the region’s cultural calendar accelerates into top gear too, particularly might we add in Florence.

An unusual tradition takes place on Easter Sunday in Florence, which dates all the way back to the Crusades. When the Crusaders conquered Jerusalem in 1099 it was a soldier from Florence who raised the Christian banner over the city. His name was Pazzino di Ravieri de Pazzi and he was rewarded with three pieces of stone from the Holy Sepulchre, which could be struck together to make fire. This is how the Easter fires were lit during the Florence Easter celebrations.

The tradition can be traced back to 1102. The fires were spread to hearths in Florence by cart and symbolised new life. Nearly four centuries followed before descendants of Pazzino di Rivieri were stripped of all their privileges and powers because they tried to overthrow the Medici. The Pazzi family no longer took responsibility for the Easter fire and it was turned over to others who came up with a somewhat bizarre ritual, which is what you can see in Florence today.

The cart is placed in the cathedral square with a tight wire attached to it. The other end goes inside the cathedral where a dove-shaped rocket known as a ‘Colombina’ is fixed loosely onto the wire. At 11 in the morning the Colombina is set alight and it travels at high speed – and with much smoke – along the wire, down the knave of the cathedral and outside to the cart.

Here the rocket sets off a multitude of noisy fireworks and a Catherine Wheel atop the cart goes off with a simultaneous combustion of noise, sparks and colour. The Catherine Wheel finally bursts open with a loud bang revealing the petals of a lilly. The emblems of Florence and the old Pazzi family are then displayed to signify peace in the world.

What an incredible Easter show. As well as the carpeting of poppies, the pendulous ubiquitous blossom and emerald as far as the eye can see, the Scoppia del Carrio is yet another reason to visit the Tuscan capital this Easter.


27 Sep

Fiesta de San Francisco 2013 in Assisi

Fiesta de San Francisco, Assisi, Umbria – A colourful spectacle to honour a much-loved saint.

San Francisco of Assisi is thought of by many Italians as the number one revered person who has ever lived in Italy. And when you consider the Caesars, the popes, the artists, the opera singers and the football players, it is safe to say that competition is stiff. On October 4, the Umbrian town of Assisi has a festival to honour this loveable saint.

However, it is not just this medieval city, which was the birthplace of Saint Francisco, where they pay tribute the highly sacred saint.  In 2005 the Italian government declared this date a day of peace, brotherhood and dialogue between all people and religions. This October 4 the colours of Assisi – blue, red and gold – will drape the town, as they will throughout much of Italy.

Fiesta de San Francisco 2013 promises to be very special indeed. In the morning trumpeters in medieval dress will sound the anthem of Assisi in front of the town’s 14th century city hall. The ritual marks the start of the procession that leads to the tomb of St Francisco in the Basilica di San Francisco, which was built especially to bear his body.

Each year one of the twenty regions of Italy is elected to bring the oil to Assisi, which will burn all year in front of the Saint’s tomb. This year the honour has been given to the region of Molise and representatives of the area, including mayors and policemen. These respected officials will join the procession bearing banners of their own regional colours, which are red, green and white. Needless to say, the procession will endow a hugely colourful spectacle.

The following day, Assisi’s streets will be turned into an open market place and fair. Delicious local food and drink will be available in abundance as people gather at the many quirky stalls and families enjoy all the rides, games and attractions of this flamboyant fair.

Any visitor wishing to experience a great Italian festival will be hard pushed to find a better one than this event in Assisi, which honours their beloved Saint Francisco.



06 Aug

The Florence Festival of Paper Lanterns

The festival of Paper Lanterns takes place in Florence every year in early September and as you can imagine, is a particularly atmospheric event. While Florence is a lively and vibrant city all year round, the Paper Lantern Festival lights up this bustling Italian city with renewed vigour and life.

In fact if you are anywhere near Florence on September 7, and want to experience a cultural eye-opener, which is steeped in history and intrigue, then make sure the Fiesta Della Rificolona is part of your itinerary.

According to Christian tradition the Virgin Mary was born on September 8 in an unknown year, somewhere close to Nazareth. For centuries farmers would head into Florence to celebrate the birth of Mary and would bring along produce to sell to the city folk. Items such as cheeses, honey, fruit and vegetables would be typical of the goods for sale. The festival for Mary’s birth coincides with the ripening of the yearly harvest and since the 16th century local vegetables and fruit have been sold at the market.

From the 16th century onwards the farmers embarked on a long trip to Florence from their farms in the outlying countryside. They walked heavily laden with goods and were forced to set off in the dark in order to arrive in Florence at a reasonable hour. They carried lanterns on poles to light their way and this is the reason why elaborate and gaily-coloured paper lanterns are lit in their hundreds today. The fiesta is a celebration of the time when lanterns were actually very important as in bygone centuries the farmers wouldn’t have made it to Florence market without them!

The majority of these farmers were poor and were often ridiculed for their paucity by the upper-class, well-dressed city folk. Some of the farmers’ wives put on a thick gaudy make-up in an attempt to make themselves look more glamorous. The name “Rificolona” was given to the women wearing this heavy make-up.

If you do visit the festival don’t be surprised if you see Italian teenagers aiming spit wads at people’s lanterns. The idea is to knock the candle over inside the lantern and set the whole thing ablaze. By the end of the evening all of the lanterns will be burned out.

Taking in the marvellous sights of Florence during the daytime and then joining the Paper Lantern Festival later on, calling by at the market to buy some delicious homemade honey to take home will certainly aid some happy and memorable memoirs of a late-summer Italian holiday.


07 Jul
Giostra dell’ Orso

The Giostra dell’ Orso 2012 – A touch of ancient Tuscan culture

If you want to experience a touch of ancient Tuscany this summer then make your way to the spectacular city of Pistoia in Tuscany this July.

The Giostra dell’ Orso – Joust of the Bear – is a modern version of an antique joist that was held in the town of Pistoia every 25th July during the first half of the 13th century. The tournament was part of the festivities in honour of Pistoia’s patron saint, San Jacopo.

After this traditional tournament was suspended for approximately 30 years, it was brought back into Tuscan culture, in 1947 when it was renamed the Giostra dell’ Orso.

Held in the Piazza del Duomo in Pistoia, the Giostra dell’ Orso 2012 comprises of 12 cavaliers, who participate from the four different districts of the city in teams of three, each baring the symbol of either a deer, griffon, dragon or lion.  Each territorial team has its own captain and is represented by a flag, a trumpeter and a number of halberdiers.

This dramatic and highly atmospheric medieval event is opened by the cavaliers entering the square to the sound of drums and by the signal of the trumpeters. The cavaliers then take their positions in the archway of the Palazzo Comunale, where they listen to the herald’s orders and rules of the joist.

This spectacular re-enactment then involves a nail-biting joist in the square where each of the horsemen tilt lances at a target held up by a large dummy of a bear.

The most skilled cavalier who manages to hit the target the most is honoured with the title “Cavaliere Sperone d’oro di Pistoia e contado” _ “The Cavalier of the Golden Spur of Pistoia”.

When the tournament and honour is concluded a colourful parade of people dressed in stunning medieval dresses makes its way around the city – The Giostra dell’ Orso 2012, an exciting, enthralling and intriguing touch of ancient Tuscan culture not to be missed.

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24 May

Umbria Jazz Festival 2012

Umbria Jazz Festival 2012– An electrifying mix of world quality music in the most idyllic of settings.

From the 6 – 15 July, the Umbria Jazz Festival 2012 will be taking place in Perugia, Umbria. This world-acclaimed musical event has become one of the leading jazz festivals on both the Italian and international music festival calendar.

Since it was launched in 1973, the Umbria Jazz Festival has been held each year in the month of July in the city of Perugia. In fact so popular and highly esteemed did the festival almost immediately become that it justified a sibling event to be held, the Umbria Jazz Winter Festival, which takes place in December and early January, in the city of Orvieto.

Many a legendary jazz musician has confirmed their unique talents at this top Italian music festival, with the likes of Tony Bennett, James Brown, Eric Clapton, Sting, Alicia Keys, Oscar Peterson and even the legendary B.B. King, wowing the crowds of thousands of jazz fans who have made their way to this idyllic Italian town to witness the Umbria Jazz Festival over the years.

Aside the fact that the Umbria Jazz Festival attracts the biggest and most celebrated names in this seductive genre of music making the festival the huge success it has become, the event’s setting can not be overlooked as having a major influence on the popularity of the festival.

Similar to how Glastonbury Festival is said to be inspired by its location in the heart of the rural tranquillity of the verdurous and rolling hills of Sommerset, held in the beautiful, quaint and ancient squares of the city of Perugia, the capital of Umbria, surrounded by simply spectacular scenery, there really could not be a more atmospheric, idyllic and inspiring location than to host this leading jazz fiesta, which sees a throng of fill up Perugia’s charming streets.

The whole of this captivating city comes alive during the Umbria Jazz festival’s ten-day duration, with most of the concerts taking place outdoors, including those at the Perugia’s main venue, the 4,500-seat Giardini del Frontone.

This year the Umbria Jazz Festival promises to be as spectacular as ever with headlining artists including some of the celebrated names in the world of contemporary jazz, including Joe Lovano, Dave Douglas, Sonny Rollins, Melody Gardot, Pat Metheny and Chick Corea.

Even if you do not consider yourself to be a jazz fan, its inimitable atmosphere, unrivalled joyousness and unique medieval setting, means the Umbria Jazz Festival 2012 is there to be enjoyed by everyone, regardless of their musical taste.

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23 Mar
Art in Tuscany

Art in Tuscany and the D’apres Canova exhibition 2012

Tuscany’s D’apres Canova exhibition – Exploring 19th century neoclassic Italian art.

From the Romans to the Renaissance, Tuscany is one of the greatest fountains of art in the world. From awe-inspiring paintings, majestic murals, architectural masterpieces to truly sublime sculptures, for centuries, travellers have been arriving in Tuscany in search of fine art and stimulating culture.

Because of its age-old affirmation in producing and displaying some of the finest art in the world, Tuscany plays host to vibrant year-round calendar of art exhibitions and events.

One such event being held in Tuscany is the D’apres Canova exhibition 2012. Until June 25 2012, the D’apres Canova exhibition will be displayed at the Palazzo Binelli in the Tuscan city of Carrara in the province of Massa Carrara.

The aim of the exhibition is, according to Tuscanypass.com, ‘to restore rightful critical consideration a sculptural tradition which ideally stems from the work of Antonio Canova, but which developed in original ways through the teaching of Lorenzo Bartolini and Thorvaldsen.’

If you are not completely ‘au fait’ on Italian art, Antonio Canova was an Italian sculpture from Venice who became best known for creating marble sculptures of nude human flesh in a neoclassical style.  Lorenzo Bartolini was one of Canova’s contemporaries, another Italian sculpture who permeated neoclassicism with naturalistic detail in his sculptures.

Spending most of his time in Italian in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, at the time when both Bartolini and Canova were thriving, was the Danish-Icelandic sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen, who maintained a huge workshop in Rome where he worked in a heroic neoclassic style into his sculptures.

The  D’apres Canova exhibition is exhibiting the tastes and trends of Italian 19th century sculpture, focussing particularly on a collection of plaster casts that held by the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence.

For more information on this mind-opening Italian art exhibition in Carrara visit fondazionecrcrrara.com.