Posts Tagged With: travel+photography

The Umbria Awards

IMG_1397Instead of boring you with the usual Best of Umbria this or that, or random tips on Umbria, I will bore you with an award ceremony.

The Charlize Theron Award.  Given to the most picturesque Town – Spello

We visited a number of towns and villages throughout Italy.  Spello is not only the most picturesque town in Umbria, but one of the prettiest in the country.  It helps if you visit during the Infiorate flower festival.  But even at other times you got flowers, bunnies, chachkies of all kinds decorate every balcony.  Some even proudly display the awards their balconies won.

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The Tom Branson Award.  Given to the most charming village – Scheggino

I’ve already written about this little fairy tale village near Spello that so many overlook.  But it helps to see it like I did, without any preconceived notions.  Have dinner at the excellent Osteria Baciafemmine, and visit the Urabni Truffle store.  Pair it with Spello, and give it an hour or two of daylight prior to dinner.

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The Leonard Hofstadter Award.  Most atmospheric square –  Montefalco

You get the sense that the squares of Umbria stick out more than other regions.  Many towns feature interesting streets and alleys full of anticipation to what squares they lead to.  Some, as the great Morrissey once said, are bigger than others.  But few came close to the atmosphere of Montefalco in the evening.

Villa in Umbria

Courtesy of Villa in Umbria

The William H Macey Award.  Given to the sleepiest village – Bevagna

Or did we catch her at the wrong time.  June, midday, hot hot hot.  This is not a full endorsement as we found it a little too sleepy perhaps, but there’s something to learn here.  Avoid middle of the day.  Come with an open mind.  Dont compare them.  And no matter what, have dinner at Antiche Sere.

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The Rick Steves award.  Given to the most important, but couldn’t wait to get out of there town – Assisi

Every time there’s a discussion about wearing shorts in churches, I think of Assisi and the Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi.  I havent seen so many bare legs since the last ZZ Top video.  Some places are touristy for a reason, and Assisi is certainly no exception.  Best advice is this:  Take a guided tour to help with the focus and appreciate it better.  We didnt, and that was a mistake

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The Boar’s Head Award.  Given to the best picnic spot – Piani Di Castelluccio

With the aid of Norcia Salami, made by some of the most respected butchers in the world.  Even after the devastation of Norcia and Castelluccio after the 2016 earthquake, there’s just something surreal about being there.  A trip to the stunning Piani compliments any Umbria itinerary well.  But if this is a bit far from you, a picnic overlooking the spectacular Assisi from the vineyards off SAIO may do.

IMG_1276The Milton Snavely Hershey Award.  Given to the best Chocolate – Urbani truffled truffles in the Urbani museum

Umbria is sort of a Chocolate lover paradise.  You got Perugia and its famous tenant, Perugina, the maker of Baci kisses.  In Norcia you can visit Cioccolateria Vetusta Nursia.  We purchased so much chocolate, we are still eating them months later.  But it was the marketing nightmare of the truffled truffles in Urbani that triggered a reaction like no other.  A good reaction.

The rest of the awards given in a ceremony earlier…

Best Porchetta – Antica Salumeria Granieri Amato, Perugia

Best I can’t believe it’s not Porchetta – Rabbit Porchetta, Antiche Sere, Bevagna

Antiche Sere Porchetta rabbiit

Best Dish – Pigeon at Enoteca L’Alchimista, Montefalco

Best Meal – Enoteca L’Alchimist, Montefalco

Best Chef – Patrizia Moretti, Enoteca L’Alchimist, Montefalco

Best Chef South East – Patrizia Moretti, Enoteca L’Alchimist, Montefalco

Miss Congeniality – Giulia Rossi. Enoteca…  Just kidding.  Its Patrizia Moretti

Congratulations to the winners!

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Categories: Italy, Umbria | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Random Banff

Peyto LakeAnother incomplete North America National Park visit in the books.  Still, no bears.  Just like with the elusive sea turtle after hundreds of snorkeling sessions (ok, more like 15), this is starting to feel personal.  We even got stuck on two “Bear Jams” between Yosemite and Banff and nada.  A Bear Jam is when traffic builds up on a road because bears were spotted.  Its the National Park version of a NYC accident on the other side of the highway.

Since I live close to Jersey, I might as well try to spot them there since they are everywhere apparently.  Bear population is so high in Jersey, hunters can now hunt for bears in December, a la The Purge:  The Jersey bears addition.  Thats why in Yosemite we were confused at first about the “Speeding Kills Bears” signs randomly placed on the main roads.  Are we supposed to slow down, or speed?

Here are some pics.  Click to view

 

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10 Scenic Spots in Tuscany

italy-2013-1310Tuscany is a wildly misunderstood region.  You hear about it.  You read about it.  You finally decide to go.  But unless you plan carefully, you may just miss it.  Its large, very diverse, and it includes some of the most photogenic corners in Europe.  But finding these corners requires time, patience, and a Fiat.

Fattoria Poggio Alloro (San Gimignano) – Even if you remove the San Gimignano towers from the horizon, this would have been on the list.  Its a bustling working farm that welcomes visitors to shop, and stay for a meal  on their terrace overlooking this..

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Castello di Brolio (Chianti) – Its a castle that is a bit out of the way, but very much worth the drive.  Fair entrance fee, easy to park, and splendid views of the estate from the castle.  Drinks are on them!  Seriously you get a free glass with your ticket

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Siena to Asciano Drive– The Crete Senesi is more of a feast for the eyes than the camera due to its depth.  Its like gentle rolling hills meets a desert meets Mars.  As a result dont be surprised to see people stop in the middle of the road, like in a zoo.  You will want to do the same.

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Agriturismo Baccoleno (Crete Senesi) – You park by the gate, and walk on the path to the left until you see it.  Thats the view you saw on paintings in every art gallery you’ve visited so far.  Although the cypresses by the gate are photogenic on their own.

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Capanna Winery (Montalcino) – Just outside Brunello Disney Montalcino is one of the Brunello founding fathers.  Its worth checking it out just for the views from the back of the farm, but the farm itself is striking.

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Cugusi Silvana (Montepulciano) – And you thought there wont be any mention of food in this post.  Oh how silly you must feel right now.  This is a Pecorino producer that sets you up with a picnic basket, and some of the best cheese and salumi in the area.  All to be enjoyed in their picnic facilities just outside the store.  Glorious views of Montepulciano and the country side is a major bonus.  Nice alternative to the picturesque but super popular Podere Il Casale.

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Genna Borborini Maria Eva (San Quirico d’Orcia) – One of the Gladiator locations.  This farm is a bit overlooked when compared to the other hits on Via Cipressi (Montalcino to Pienza).  You park at these coordinates, 43°03’55.8″N 11°36’43.6″E and view the villa from the gate, while humming the Gladiator theme song.

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Cipressi di San Quirico d’Orcia (San Quirico d’Orcia) – Aka Cypresses Valdorcia or Circle of Cypresses.  Its not just about a bunch cypresses bunched together in the middle of nowhere, but the entire most scenic middle of nowhere surrounding that middle of nowhere.  Makes sense?  Just go, and look around at both sides of the road.

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Chapel Vitaleta (San Quirico d’Orcia) – The most photogenic little chapel in the world is a very easy drive and a short hike.  But do it in the afternoon when the light is in your favor.  Enjoy it while humming the Gladiator theme song because you cant get it out of your head at this point.  Dont leave any luggage or anything important in the car

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Le Foce (Chianciano Terme) – This is the classic zigzaging cypresses that is part of the Le Foce estate.  But in order to see it, you need to take a tour of the estate.  Otherwise its close to impossible to find a good view (we tried, and tried again.  Gladiator humming just made it worse)

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Categories: Italy, Tuscany | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

This is Castelluccio di Norcia

IMG_1259I tell ya.  There are some beautiful places on this planet.  Some of which look like belong to another planet.  I can think of some parts in south Utah like Lake Powell, and Horseshoe Bend in Arizona that look like something you may see in science fiction movies.  The common theme is usually color.  And if you come at the right time to this part of Umbria you might just see every color imaginable.  If you come at the wrong time as we did, its spectacular, still.

Castelluccio is where beautiful mother nature meets cruel mother nature.  It is perched dramatically on a hill in the middle of a large plateau surrounded by the Sibillini mountains.  On October 30, 2016 Castelluccio was the epicenter of a 6.6 earthquake that decimated the village.  Eight months later the famous wild flowers that surround the village were back.  And once the roads opened about a year after that, the tourists started to come back as well.IMG_1276

So when is the best time you ask?  Sometime between end of May and beginning of July.  Its something that is not possible to time properly.  We came in the second week of June and the colors were not quite as robust as the pictures we’ve seen.  Notice the before and after of Castelluccio (Google it).  Although destroyed, its still stunning due to its position.  Today you can drive up, enjoy a meal, or do what we did.  A picnic of Salami e Pecorino overlooking the mesmerizing back plateau, following the herd of sheep.  The feeling of being in the middle of the devastation you heard about years ago, while surrounded by this landscape is indescribable.

You will most likely pass Norcia on the way, which also got severely damaged during the earthquake.  One of its main attractions, the Basilica of St. Benedict, totally destroyed.  What remain is the facade facing the statue of St. Benedict, still standing, all defiant in the middle of the square.  The city was a ghost town when we popped in.  Many stores, and restaurants closed, or relocated after the quake. IMG_1296

The Norcia pork butchers are so famous, they are called Norcino across Italy, and their shops are Norcinerias.  They are the Culatello of Pork butchers.  Inside a typical Norcineria you’ll find cured meats galore including Grandpas balls, Palle del Nonno.  The Italians call them like they see em, although Grandpas balls seem a lot larger than mules balls, Coglioni di Mulo for some reason.  Be careful when slicing them.

On the way to the flower fields, pass by Antica Norcineria F.lli Ansuini for some picnic supplies including bread.  Or better yet get it from the store with the same name inside Norcia.  Although same name, they dont seem related somehow.  Like twins that are not in speaking terms.  Then stop by at Cioccolateria Vetusta Nursia di Arianna Verucci for your chocolate needs and perhaps a tour of their facility as we did.  But if you prefer to sit down for lunch, reliable sources told me to head to Agriturismo il Casale degli Amici just outside Norcia.  A day trip to this area in the summer is memorable to say the least.

 

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This is Colle di Val d’Elsa

IMG_9318What is the perfect base?  Its not rocket science.  Put your destination stars on the map, and pick something in the middle.  The only decision is whether it will be a city, a town, village, or something in the countryside like a villa or Agriturismo.  You’ll find many advantages and disadvantages with all options.  Thats why mixing it up a little works for many.

Colle di Val d’Elsa is a town in central Tuscany, or “North” Tuscany when you look at it from the tourist or wine vantage point, with Val d’Orcia in the south and Chianti in the north.  Its perched on a hill on top of River Elsa and the Esla Valley, hence the name which took us a good three days to pronounce.  Its smack in between the “The Kings of the North”, Siena and San Gimignano.  That makes Chianti well within reach, and Florence less than an hour by car.

But what makes Colle even more unique is the town itself, and the lack of those pesky tourists.  Its not in the destination level of Lucca, Pisa, or Siena as its lacking the monuments and attractions.  But as a base, it offers just enough.  Colle has a picturesque old town (Colle Alta), a new town surrounding a beautiful square, and another “town” which is sort of something in between the old and the new.  The old town sits on top of the new town.  In fact the only modern structure you’ll see in the old town is the elevator connecting it to the new town below.  It looks and functions like a time machine.  I’m slightly influenced by a dark German series I’m watching now on Netflix called well, Dark.  Everything looks like a time machine to me these days.

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But lack of tourists can sometimes feel that, lacking, if you dont find a thriving local life.  Thats not a problem with Colle.  Plenty of bakeries, restaurants, markets, atmospheric squares and even a glass museum.  Colle di Val d’Elsa produces 15% of the world’s crystal, and roughly 95% of Italy’s production.  Its the birthplace of the famous artist Arnolfo di Cambio.  One of the most famous restaurants in Tuscany, and the only Michelin star establishment in Colle, took his name.

Stay – Palazzo San Lorenzo.  A former hospital turned into a serviceable, modern hotel.  Easy to get in and out with a car.  Ample parking within 5 minute walk outside the only gate remaining.  Comfortable huge rooms, decent breakfast, with a restaurant and spa.

Eat – L’oste di Borgo.  A  young couple running what looks like one of the more popular restaurants in town.   More to come on this gem very soon

See – The mentioned glass museum, old town and the palazzos lining the main road on top, the new town at night, and more vistas than you can count.  Well, on two hands at least.

 

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Monumental Cemetery of Staglieno in Genoa

IMG_E0441Caterina Campodonico was a peasant that worked hard selling necklaces made of nuts and loafs of breads.  Before she died in 1882, she was determined to show her legacy by hiring the most expensive sculptor around, Lorenzo Orengo, and a poet to build her monument.  In order to do that she had to sell a lot of nut necklaces and save all her profits.  So its easy to see why the “Peanut Seller” in the magnificent Staglieno cemetery in Genoa, became a symbol for the hard working people of Genoa.  In the pictures below you can see her proudly wearing one of her necklaces.

Caterina is one of many stories in this outdoor museum.  I’ve seen plenty of interesting cemeteries, but not with so much expression and emotion.  Its worth checking it out just for a handful of angels, like the one we called the William H Macy angel (below), and possibly the sexiest angel in the world.  Around the same time Caterina Campodonico died in 1882, Giulio Monteverde designed this most sensual angel (top picture and one more below) to guard the tomb of of the Oneto family.  No wonder Macy looks grumpy.  He’s nowhere near her.

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There’s also the grave of the Genoa born Giuseppe Mazzini who helped free and unify Italy.  His life and efforts read like a binge worthy Netflix series.  He’s so important to Genoa, that they celebrate him twice, June 22 when he was born, and March 10 when he died.  And then there’s the grave of the estranged wife of Oscar Wilde’s, Constance Lloyd, which I couldnt find.  Not sure how she would feel knowing that her descendants added “Wife of Oscar Wilde” on her stone.  All the info out there suggests she did not want that association.

Genoa gets often shortchanged and overlooked by Italy tourists. The striking Staglieno is perhaps the #1 reason why you should not only visit this city, but stay a while.  And there’s a lot More Than This (the Genoa slogan you see everywhere these days).  I didnt know they were such big fans of Brian Ferry.  Click on the pictures below for a closer look

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Val d’Orcia – Blame it on Her Juice

IMG_0943One of the joys of road tripping in Italy’s countryside for us is listening to the local radio.  While we try to catch some Italian tunes that match the mood, we often find catchy American songs that we either never get at our local stations for some reason, or  they sound a little different (ie explicit to us).  It started years ago when we discovered that Bruno Mars actually wanted to be a Billionaire “So fuckin bad”.  Who knew?

And so during each trip there’s a point where a particular song emerges as the theme song of the trip.  Unlike the previous clear winner (LP – Lost on You) in Sicily, this one required some growing.  But by the time we got to our last leg in Umbria, we were all going “Gotta blame it on the Goose (the Grey kind), Gotta blame it on my juice, baby”, until we almost ran into a ditch when I (driver) got carried away a little.

Driving the Val d’Orcia in Tuscany can be dangerous.  Its shockingly beautiful.  The colors change seasonally, but the gentle rolling hills are fixed and unlike anywhere else in the world.  Driving between Pienza and San Quirico especially feels like a National Park, Cypress-Land if you will.  Baby Fiats stopping in the middle of the road, wedding shoots, drones flying everywhere.  For the landscape freaks, there’s plenty of “Juice”.  Pictures below taken with iphone, shaking hands, and deteriorating eyesight.  Heck, you can see the difference from 6 years ago.  I just dont feel like carrying the big boy camera with me anymore.  Click on any of the pictures to enlarge

 

 

 

 

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This is Segesta (And Erice)

img_0435The picture of my daughters and I laboring up an Erice alley is exactly what it looks like.  We are not checking for dog poop.  This was the tail end of a brutally hot day that involved hiking to the majestic Segesta temple.  I thought I could handle the Sicilian July heat everybody warned me about, but this was hot.  To give you an indication, when it was time to take a food break in Erice, we had no other choice but go to a tourist trap.  We were seated on a touristy terrace with other tourists, given overpriced tourist menus (Caprese salad!), and then gave them our money and soul.

But this was still a good day.  Segesta blew us away with its beauty and setting.  Once a Greek powerhouse, one of many in Sicily, whose pride and overconfidence left it badly defeated.  Now whats left is a roofless temple, and a Greek theater with that classic Greek theater style setting.  The best I’ve seen.

Meanwhile Erice, perched on a mountain, not a hill, was surprisingly quiet for such a major tourist attraction.  Its home to the famous Pasticceria Maria Grammatico, Sicily’s sweets jewel founded by a nun who grew up in an orphanage in Erice.  Nuns are responsible for much of the desserts found all over Sicily.   img_0411 img_0416 img_0440 img_0442 img_0444 img_0446 img_0450 img_0456 img_0460 img_0495 img_0506 img_0508 img_0511 img_0521 img_0526 img_0545 img_0552 img_0553 img_0559 img_0461

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This is Modica

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Categories: Sicily | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

Montreal Random

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Categories: Montreal | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

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