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Thursday, August 6, 2015

What to see in the Isola d'Elba? Walking along the costal path

Rio Marina on the Isola d'Elba, this will be one of the best sights of Isola d'Elba.


What to see in Isola d'Elba?

Isle of Elba is famous mainly because Napoleon lived there. Every book of history says that in the Isola d'Elba Napoleon was deported in exile, before he managed to escape and lose his most important battle against the British Army at Waterloo.

It is still possible to visit today the Villa where Napoleon lived in the Isola d'Elba, but I don't think this is the main attraction of the Isola d'Elba, below in the section "What to do in the Isola d'Elba", I listed my top ten of what to visit in Isola d'Elba.


Where is Isola d'Elba?

Isola d'Elba is in Italy, 20 km away from the coast of Tuscany. it has a coastline of circa 150 km and it is a great destination for sunbathing, coastal walks and mountain trekking as well.


How to get to Isola d'Elba?

The cheapest way is to take a ferry from Piombino, the ferry takes around an hour and a half. You can transport your car on the ferry (advised if you re visiting in winter / spring, but not advised if you are visiting in summer). Piombino is connect by train from Pisa Airport, Florence and Rome (although not directly). Alternatively you can take the daily plane from Pisa Aiport direct to Isola d'Elba. Quite expensive, but very comfortable.

Walking in Isola d'Elba is absolutely recommended, great scenic path run along the coast and on the mountains ridges.

Beautiful and quiet beaches at Isola d'Elba, with great fish restaurants.



What to see in Isola d'Elba?

If you just want to sunbath and enjoy the blue sea, do some snorkelling and enjoy good restaurants. The area around Capoliveri is probably the best for you, although Porto Ferraio and Rio Marina offer good alternatives. If you are just staying there a week consider renting a moped / scooter as during the summer traffic and parking are a daily nightmare.

If you love walking / trekking there are beautiful walks along the coast and inland. Remember Isola d'Elba has mountains of relevant altitude for an island, reaching the 1000 meters, so do not underestimate the challenges.

The most amazing track is certainly the one startng at Rio dell'Elba and running along the top of Monte Castello and Mount Volterraio. The path is long around 12 kms and enjoys wonderful views over the sea and on the magnificient castle of the Volterraio Mountain, at the top of the mountain. To find your path start at Rio dell'Elba walking towards the back of the vllage and then towards Localita le Panche an area with picnic table from whare you easily find directions towards the Castle of il Volterraio. Tha path is quite long and not particularly easily, consider also that you are ascending for around 600 meters and there is little shelter from the sun along the mountain ridge. At Monte Castello you can also enjoy a visit to the old Sanctuary before to return at Le Panche and then back at Rio dell'Elba after a 12kms loop.

If you love history the Napoleon Villa is certainly the place for you. Five kilomters from Porto Ferraio, the Villa is amazing particularly for its decoration, designed by Napoleon and remembering his war campaigns, as you will notice especially the successful Egyptian campaign.




Villa San Martino was Napoleon's private residence in the island, Villa dei Mulini was instead use fo public occasions by Napoleon. Particularly interesting are in my opinion the private theatre he ordered to be built and his bedroom with the famous golden bed. If you love history this is certainly an extraordinary  stop in your "what to see in Tuscany" list.

Finally if you like to just relax and admire beautiful villages along the cost do not miss Marciana Marina and Marina di Campo. They are lovely small towns, particularly out of season, where they are quiet and relaxing and the beaches are practically empty. it is an absolutely amazing experience.

If you love the sea you can also book a kayak trip with one of the many associations on the island. It is not recommended to kayak yourself along the cliffs unless you are familiar with the area, as currents are quite strong and you may have difficulties in controlling the kayak.

Take also time to visit Rio Marina, many boats are departing from Rio. It is extremely picturesque. It is famous for its fort and it offers beautiful walks along the coast.

When is the best time to visit Isola d'Elba?

Depending what you are looking for you can visit Isola d'Elba the all year. In summer Isola d'Elba is extremely lively, discos are opened and so are bars and restaurants, the downside is the fact that everything gets booked u very quickly, traffic is heavy and prices nearly extortionate.
On the good side you will have plenty do to and it will be sunny but not too hot.
Advice for Isola d'Elba in summer: don't bring a car, rent a scooter and book everything and advance including the ferry from Piombino as this is easily fully booked.

Avoid the winter as it can get gold, dull and sometimes ferries are cancelled for the bad weather. Consider instead autumn and spring but remember some hotels and restaurants will be closed. bring your own car or rent one. if you love peace, quiet and great walks along the beaches this is the right time for you to visit Isola d'Elba.



Are you planning a travel to Isola d'Elba?
Visit also: Cinqueterre, Pisa and Visit Italy.



   

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

What is to see in Washington DC? American Art in Washington - Washington DC Art Galleries

"The Chief's Canoe" by Belmore Browne at The Smithsonian American Art Museum


What is to see in Washington DC?

Away from the mall and the busy museums of Washington DC there is a little pearl that is worth a visit if you are in Washington DC. 


The Smithsonian American Art Museum is a fantastic free museum in Washington DC that definitely deserves a visit.
 
What to see at The Smithsonian American Art Museum?

Next to the National Portrait Gallery, The Smithsonian American Art Museum offers a rich collection of American Art. Visiting the Museum is also a way to travel through the history of the United States of America. The collection is extremely interesting because provide you with the opportunity to see some masterpieces of American artists, but also to enjoy paintings that represent famous events in the history of the United States.
  
The highlight of the museum is a very interesting collection of paintings representing scenes of the time of the first arrival of the European colons in to the Far West and in the North.

The paintings represent majestically how the first contacts with the American Indians would have looked in the eyes of the colons. 

The painting (above) "The Chief's Canoe" by Belmore Browne is a fantastic representation of an era long gone: the huge glacier and the beautifully painted Indian canoe are a fantastic sight.

You can almost feel you are there on the banks of the lake seeing the canoe slowly approaching and these wonderful people with their colorful dresses staring at you with suspect and curiosity.
The iconic Edward Hopper's "Cape Cod Morning" is also exhibited at The Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington DC


Paintings of a more recent era of the American History are also exhibited at The Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington DC.

The iconic Edward Hopper's "Cape Cod Morning" is also exhibited at The Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington DC. Such a simple subject for a painting that is able to really represent the American culture in only six colors.






What is the most amazing painting at the Smithsonian American Art Museum?

I think the painting below certainly deserves a mention. Do you now the name of the painter? (leave it in the comments box below).



Lady in White by Thomas Dewing is certainly one of the most famous painting of the collection at The Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington DC and probably one of the most difficult to photograph. It is absolutely amazing and it ios so difficult to be appreciated just in a phtograph.



Lady in White by Thomas Dewing

The Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington DC is not just paintings, but also beautiful design. Admire below the wonderful chair made with buffalo horns, it is absolutely amazing!
 
Also the design of the building is stunning, take the time to visit The Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington DC and also the National Portrait Gallery next to it (read my dedicated post).

 
 
 


Go back to the USA Menu for more posts.
 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Walking along the Cinque Terre Path from Rio Maggiore to Monterosso in Italy

The wonderful sight of Vernazza approaching from the path.



After having published the post: CINQUE TERRE - LOOKING FOR SOME AMAZING TREKKING IN ITALY? CINQUE TERRE IS YOUR PLACE! about this wonderful walk in the North region of Liguria in Italy, I received a lot of queries about the walk. What is the best path in Cinque Terre? Is the Via dell'Amore safe enough? How long takes from Vernazza to Monterosso?

I decided to write for you a detailed description of the walk divided through the five villages of Cinque Terre divided in 5 (Cinque in Italian) sections.

Ideally you should do a section per day, although as you can read below some sections are easier and shorter than others.

Attention: do not underestimate the walks, some parts are exposed and dangerous. Also remember that sun can set very quickly and it is absolutely dangerous to walk along the cliffs after dark. Finally remember that also the five Cinqueterre villages have train stations and frequent connections to other villages. Do read the post on general information on Cinqueterre before to plan your visit.

1. FROM RIOMAGGIORE TO MANAROLA, WALKING ALONG THE VIA DELL'AMORE

Via dell'Amore means Path of Love. This is the easiest segment of the walk, the shortest, the flattest and probably the one more famous of the Cinque terre walks. Different from all the other sections of the Cinque Terre Way, the Via dell'Amore path is wide and paved and it is extremely spectacular. It is also (partly) illuminated at night and you will enjoy at its best at sunset ...or sunrise.

It is little more than a stroll and people of all ages can easily enjoy the walk.

Via dell'Amore runs from Rio Maggiore to Manarola. Rio Maggiore is the Eastern of the five villages. Rio Maggiore and Manarola are two of the most amazing villages of Cinque Terre and they are definetly worth a visit. If you have only one day to spend in Cinque Terre this is definitely your walk.

Via dell'Amore can probably take just half an hour to walk for a trained walker, but given the beauty of the panoramas along the cliffs and the romanticism of the walk, I should hope that your walk will take much longer.

Take also time to enjoy the visit at Rio Maggiore and Manarola, both offer good accommodation, restaurants and bars.

Corniglia, holding on the side of the cliffs is the only one without direct access to the sea directly from the village




2. FROM MANAROLA TO CORNIGLIA

If Manarola is probably the most amazing village of the Cinque Terre for the unique way the houses are literally holding on the side of a rock, Corniglia is probably the village that it is sometime overlooked by tourist. The reason is probably that Corniglia, although stands above the sea, doesn't have direct access to the water and this make the fishermen village less attractive.
I think instead Corniglia is the most picturesque, less tourist and more "real" village, so please take time to walk to Corniglia.

The path it is certainly more challenging than the Via dell'Amore and certain parts of the walk require to be careful. The walk can be done in 1,5 hours, but I think on an average three hours is more realistic, and four if you include a pause halfway to rest and enjoy the landscape.


3. CORNIGLIA TO VERNAZZA

Vernazza is absolutely a must. Probably the town tat will remain more in your mind because of its sheltered harbour and the view you can enjoy from the path coming towards Vernazza. It is extremely touristy and can be quite expensive, if possible avoid to get accommodation there, unless you enjoy to stay in the heart of Cinque Terre.

A fit walker can probably walk the section from Corniglia to Vernazza in 1,5 hours but again 3 hours is  more reasonable time to enjoy the views. Also consider that this section is more challenging and in some parts more exposed with a number of stairs.

The beautiful Ligurian Sea along the Cinqueterre path



4. VERNAZZA to MONTEROSSO 

This is the last section of the Cinque Terre walk and in a way Monterosso waits at the end for some deserved rest. Monterosso, differently from the other Cinque Terre villages, is spread along a reasonably wide beach, with umbrella, bigger and more fashionable hotels, restaurants and more shops. definitely the place to stay if you want to spend sometime at the sea or you want to make some shopping.

This section is the most difficult, longer and tiring of the whole lot. Although a reasonably fitted walker can certainly make it, you would need to be careful, particularly if walking with children, as some parts are very exposed and there is very little protection. also consider that depending on the season the sun can go away quite quickly and walking with little light is extremely dangerous!!

Consider 3 hours at least to walk from Vernazza to Monterosso


Rio Maggiore at night, a wonderful place to rest after a day walking.



5. MONTEROSSO TO LEVANTO 

Is the path finishing in Monterosso?
Absolutely not, although the Cinque Terre finish at Monterosso the path continues all the way to Levanto. This part of the walk is extremely spectacular going around The Punta del Mesco, but the section is tiring and difficult, at least 4 to 5 hours should be considered.
Remember also that this section is not so popular and touristy and not many people walk there.
It would be better if you walk in small groups rather than alone.

Levanto is rather a sea town than a village. Like the Cinque Terre has a train station so that you can catch a train and go back to Cinque Terre easily. Also Levanto has a beautiful promenade and plenty shops making a perfect destination  in the Cinque Terre area.

Consider at least 5 hours.


6. EVERYWHERE ELSE I SHOULD SEE IN THE AREA?

Do not miss Porto Venere. An absolutely must loved by Byron and other poets, Porto Venere is absolutely stunning: read a dedicated post to Porto Venere.

Also remember you are one hour away from Pisa and around two and a half from Florence (read the dedicated posts)

Also read more on Cinqueterre here.




 

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Walks in Portugal - Madeira: land of wine, cliffs, sun and... walks!

Small beach in Funchal, Madeira, just next to the Castle
 
Landing in Madeira is an experience in itself.

The plane seems to crash in the sea, when, at the last moment, turns in the direction of Madeira and land on the airport runaway that has been built on the cliffs, like a large balcony on the sea.

Cabo Girao, one of the most spectacular cliffs in Madeira
Because of the strong winds from the Ocean, these are the standards procedures to land on Madeira, the Portuguese island a thousand kilometres away from Portugal and Europe.

Madeira is a volcanic island a thousand kilometres away from Portugal and Europe. It is covered by thick sub tropical vegetation.

Madeira in Portuguese means appropriately “wood”, because of the large quantity and variety of trees on the island.

The island is not just a holiday sea resort; it is a wonderful and relatively undiscovered place for exhilarating mountain trekking and viewpoints.

Here some great ideas for your holidays in Madeira!

The best walk starts at Ribeiro Frio just above Funchal, the main city on the island, also called “Little Lisbon” because of the elegance and the grandeur of its buildings and its steep cobbled streets.

Ribero Frio is half way to the Pico das Torres, the volcanic mountain 1851 m high.

It is just a pretty village on the side of the mountain, named after the cold stream passing near the few houses and restaurants.

A fantastic path signposted to Portela starts from Ribeiro Frio with breathtaking views and steep drops. The walk follows one of the many unique Madeira’s features: the llevadas.

Walking in Madeira, along the circular path along the volcanos ridges.

Llevadas are a complex net of canals running along the side of the mountains and the old craters of the now inactive volcanoes of Madeira. The canals were built by the first settlers on the island as an ingenious irrigation system to carry the water to the vineyards and the bananas plantations in the valleys below and they are now become panoramic paths.

Walking along the llevadas is like walking along a very narrow balcony suspended at the side of the mountain.

Below the llevadas the old volcanic craters open up with steep drops.

The views are breathtaking.

This 12 km walk signposted to Portela is in my opinion the best of the many llevadas walks on the island.

The walk offers fantastic views on the balcoes, the terraced hillsides near to the many little villages of the island where the grape is cultivated.

A village in particular is set in a wonderfully beautiful spot, surrounded by the jagged mountains and a chestnut wood.

The village is Curral das Freiras, literally translated “The Nuns’ Refuge”, because here the nuns of Santa Clara took refuge when pirates attacked Funchal. The nuns have left but it remains a pretty village of less than 3000 souls, with a little church and the graveyard overlooking the large volcanic crater below.

Market in Funchal
A panoramic point named Eira do Serrado, perched 800 meters above Curral das Freiras, offers the best views.  

But walking along the llevadas is not easy.

The canals are not always well kept and sometimes you have to walk in the water where the side of the canal has crumbled.

The llevadas pass also through long dark tunnels where, even with a good torch, it is not so easy to walk at times.

It is a very adventurous trek.

Because the soil is always wet it can be sleepy and, because the volcanic craters are quite bare, there are not trees and you are always exposed to the sun.

If you are brave enough and you cope with highs, you will certainly be rewarded. You will have a completely different feeling of the island after having seen it from so high.
 
The llevadas are not the only wonderful feature of Madeira. Go up to the cliffs above the pretty fishermen village of Camara de Lobos to experience the thrill of the, so locally advertised, second highest sea cliff in Europe.

In true Cabo Girao is the fifth highest cliff in Europe, but for a difference of only few meters with the other four. Looking down from Cabo Girao is an hair raising experience! There is a wonderful view half a kilometre below you! Yes, the vertical cliffs are running down for 580 m (1,900 ft) to hit perpendicularly the flat terraced fields below. It is a terrific view point!
 
Famous houses of Santana - Madeira


If you then go back to Funchal and you want to relax for a while, you can discover another unexpected feature of Madeira. The wonderful Mercado do Lavradores. I have never seen in my life a market so rich of exotic flowers, fruits and fishes. It is a carnival of colours! Inside the covered market, fruit sellers will offer you tropical fruits from the island and from South America. Because of Madeira’s strategic position halfway between Europe and the Americas the island is in fact an important centre for the international fruit’s import/export. This is the reason why sellers will offer you to taste for free slices of mangos, passion fruits, bananas, cupacus, papayas, soursups, guavas and custard fruits.
 
But the stalls I love best are the ones of the fishmongers in the basement. The variety of fishes is amazing. One in particularly you should see: the preta nera, a particular type of scabbard fish. Black, long with a hundred of sharp teeth and huge eyes, sometimes you can still see it alive at the market, it is a wonderful fish. Taste it in one of the many little restaurants in Funchal’s old quarter. The traditional recipe is Preita nera with banana. It is a wonderful bitter-sweet dish, mostly served as a snack at lunchtime.
 
I can’t avoid mentioning the Madeira’s typical triangular houses of Santana to finish the visit. If you go to the village of Santana you can see the little wood houses with thatched roofs, shaped like a capital A. They are pretty, with their bright colours and the nice gardens around, but they become too touristy to be appreciated.

Fisherman Village in Madeira
 
In my opinion if you have time left you should instead take the ferry from Funchal harbour and visit Porto Santo. Porto Santo is a flat island for the moment unspoiled, apart for few hotels. It is locally advertised as the island visited by Christopher Columbus, but it should be advertised because the island possess something that Madeira lacks: a marvellous sandy beach running uncontaminated for more than six miles. The sand is of a wonderful golden colour and the blue of the sea is amazing.
 
You can get to Porto Santo in an hour and a half. The boat trip will allow enjoying great views of Madeira and of Funchal. Seen from a distance you will be able to better appreciate the island’s
mountains literally emerging from the ocean.

Back in Funchal a taste of the famous Madeira Wine is something that can’t be missed. But remember: don’t stop at the first glass and try all the four types of Madeira. The Sercial and the Verdelho can be drunk as an aperitif. The Bual and the Malmsey are best served with dessert or as an after dinner digestive. This will be a fantastic way to end an adventurous day at the llevadas!

Saturday, May 2, 2015

TRAVELLING TO PIENZA AND MONTEPULCIANO - Where is the Real Tuscan Landscape?

The typical Tuscan landscape around Siena


TV, Cinema, Magazines, Books always identify Tuscany with soft blonde hills, cypresses at the horizon and isolated houses and villages dotting the fields.

These landscapes are quintessentially Tuscan, but not in every part of Tuscany you will be able to see these landscapes.

Tuscany is a big region extending from the sea on the West to the Apennines in the East.

So if you want to see the most iconic landscapes in Tuscany you need to know where to go!

This is what this post is about, answering the question: Where is the real Tuscan landscape?

Some tips for you to discover the "Real Tuscan Landscape":

Fly to Pisa or Florence where the two main airports in Tuscany are situated.

Although Pisa and Florence areas are also very beautiful the landscape you see in the photos in this post doesn't belong to those areas.

My advise, if you have time, is to allow some time to visit Pisa (read here about Pisa) and Florence (read here about Florence) and then move to the Real Tuscan Landscape.

From Pisa or Florence travel to Siena, both towns are well connected by bus or train.

Siena is certainly worth a visit and it is a perfect base and a wonderful city to discover (read here more about Siena).

 
Siena is the starting point of the "Real Tuscan Landscape".

After having visited Siena move South towards Montalcino driving or walking or cycling along the Via Cassia.

The Via Cassia is an old Roman road and now a fast road towards the South and eventually Rome.

This section of the Cassia is not too busy (for the Italian standard) and connects many little and picturesque villages along its way and the famous historic towns I listed below.

As an alternative to driving, having much more time at your disposal, the Via Cassia is a good road to walk and cycle, being enough villages to stop along the way for rest and food and certainly lot to see.

Along the way it is certainly worth to stop and visit Montalcino famous for its red wine production and for a beautiful Medioeval town.

A beautiful medieval town with lots of small cobbled streets that will certainly make a very good base for your explorations in the area. Nice restaurants and a lot of small bars will offer you the best attractions in the evening.

Montepulciano


From Montalcino keep going towards Pienza, an absolute masterpiece of Renaissance architecture with an amazing history to tell.

Pienza is a unique place to visit (and it is probably worth a post in itself). What makes Pienza special is that this Renaissance towns hasn't been built through the time but it represents the realization of  the project of just one mind who planned the whole town under the Reinassance canons. It is perfect: it is the masterpiece of Renaissance City Planning.

From Wikipedia: "Pienza was rebuilt from a village called Corsignano, which was the birthplace (1405) of Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini (Italian: Enea Silvio Piccolomini), a Renaissance humanist born into an exiled Sienese family, who later became Pope Pius II. Once he became Pope, Piccolomini had the entire village rebuilt as an ideal Renaissance town. Intended as a retreat from Rome, it represents the first application of humanist urban planning concepts, creating an impetus for planning that was adopted in other Italian towns and cities and eventually spread to other European centers.

The rebuilding was done by Florentine architect Bernardo Gambarelli (known as Bernardo Rossellino) who may have worked with the humanist and architect Leon Battista Alberti, though there are no documents to prove it for sure. Alberti was in the employ of the Papal Curia at the time and served as an advisor to Pius. Construction started about 1459. Pope Pius II consecrated the Duomo on August 29, 1462, during his long summer visit. He included a detailed description of the structures in his Commentaries, written during the last two years of his life".



Pienza - arriving cycling along the Cassia Way  

 
From Pienza you are not too further away to Montepulciano, another Tuscan town famous for its red wine and for its history that certainly deserve a stop and a visit.

You can drive this section of the Via Cassia in one day, if you just want to admire these wonderful panoramas without stopping in any of the town mentioned.

...finally the main square of Montepulciano enjoying a glass of local red wine.

more of Montepulciano square



 
If you are going to drive along the Via Cassia and stop to visit the towns as suggested consider at least a week including the visit to Siena.

If you are cycling or walking, it is much more difficult to estimate how much time as you need as it depends a lot for your grade of fitness, but I will suggest at least 15 days for the full tour cycling and three weeks trekking.

Piazza del Campo - Siena
 

Read our post about Siena to read useful info about how to get to Siena.

Read our page Visit Italy for more info and posts about Italy.