Northern Lombardy... not just for winter sports

Lombardy, the mountainous region of northern Italy, is best known for its capital Milan, the city of fashion, a center of history, the heart of finance and business. The team at Italian Special Occasions are also fans of Lombardy’s stunning northern alpine landscape and distinctive cultural traditions.

There’s plenty to see and do for lovers of the great outdoors and winter sports, but there’s also lots in store for those looking for a relaxing retreat. We selected three of our favourite things to do with our friends and family in the northern part of this region when the adrenaline junkies have packed away their skis.

Bagni Nuovi open air thermal swimmingpool - By Ghisolabella (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Bagni Nuovi open air thermal swimmingpool - By Ghisolabella (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Stunning Spas

There are many thermal spas in the region and we recommend you visit the pretty town of Bormio which has a spectacular spa with breath-taking views of the Alps. The town receives many visitors during the winter ski season, but is well worth a visit in the summer months when there are fewer queues and warmer temperatures. Visiting one of the thermal spas in Bormio is an unforgettable experience and is a great way of connecting with the local terrain whilst relaxing with your friends in paradise.

Vineyards in Lobardy's Valtellina wine region - By Franco Folini [CC BY-SA 2.0]

Vineyards in Lobardy's Valtellina wine region - By Franco Folini [CC BY-SA 2.0]

Walk for your wine!

A fantastic way to explore the stunning countryside of the region whilst learning about the centuries old wine making traditions is to take part in a wine trail. Whether it’s hiking through mountainous vineyards, following a carefully selected sensory trail leading to hidden vines, or wine tasting in one of the pretty spa towns, the vineyards of northern Lombardy don’t disappoint.

Lake Varese at sunset - By Docfra (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Lake Varese at sunset - By Docfra (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Lake Varese

It would be rude to ignore the famous lakes of the region, and as you know we always like to share a different and less frequented side of Italy. Lake Varese is probably one of the lesser known lakes in the region and is no less beautiful than the larger better known lakes of Maggiore and Garda. Together with the lakes Maggiore, di Comabbio, di Lugano, di Ganna, di Ghirla and di Monate it forms the Seven Lakes of the province of Varese.


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Chillies in Calabria

Our ears pricked up when we heard about a festival held each September in the town of Diamante, Calabria. One of our favourite things to do when experiencing the delights of Italy is to sample local festivals, cultural events and of course FOOD!

Red chili peppers bundled and hanging to dry. By SteveStrummer (Own work) [CC0]

Red chili peppers bundled and hanging to dry. By SteveStrummer (Own work) [CC0]

Chilli producers from across southern Italy take part showing their best chillies, artisan products and chilli inspired recipes during this five day festival. The festival first took place in 1992 to coincide with the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s ‘discovery’ of America, celebrating the arrival of the chilli pepper in Europe.

The festival has grown in size and importance and now includes photography exhibitions, talks, workshops and attracts visitors from all over the world.

 

Diamante

The chilli festival can act as a great introduction to this part of Calabria. The town of Diamante is well worth a visit and you might prefer to visit after the chilli-heads have left at the end of the September.

Poster by Accademia Italiana del Peperoncino

The fishing village of Diamante lies on the unspoilt Riviera dei Cedri (name so because of the abundance of citrus trees) and is blessed with crystal clear waters, an impressive beach and a stunning promenade. Don’t be fooled, there’s more to Diamante than chillies and chilling on the beach. Take a stroll around the old town and you’ll find some hidden gems in the most unexpected places.

Diamante is known as the ‘city of murals’ with many walls displaying murals and paintings by local artists.

Mural painting. Diamante, Calabria, Italy - by Eugenio Magurno

Mural painting. Diamante, Calabria, Italy - by Eugenio Magurno

The narrow cobbled streets of Diamante with mysterious stone steps leading to hidden piazzas, with overhanging balconies trailing strings of dried chillies remind those who are new to the area that you couldn’t be anywhere else but the land of the chilli pepper!

Top Tips

A street in Diamante - by Inviaggio

A street in Diamante - by Inviaggio

  • September and October are our favourite months to visit, there are less holiday makers and shorter queues, and the chilli festival really is well worth a visit if you’re a foodie lover. If you prefer something quieter then we recommend visiting at the end of the September or October, the weather is still pleasantly warm and you’ll feel like you have the beach to yourself!
  • Take a trip further down the coast to the Blue Oasis of Isca- a beautiful stretch of water in a WWF protected area where it’s possible to see dolphins and loggerhead turtles in a beautiful unspoilt haven.
  • Don’t forget to eat and drink as the locals do! Try some local olives mixed with the famous chillies and sample some of the olive oil infused with the famous Diamante Citron…Calabrian flavours to make your tongue tingle!

It could be dolphin spotting, chilli tasting, a visit to the citron press or perhaps an artistic walking tour around the old town that tickles your fancy…get in touch with Italian Special Occasions and we’ll be more than happy to help!


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Slow Food & Wine at Expo Milano 2015

On 1 May 2015, Milan became the capital of the world with the official opening of the Universal Exposition – Expo Milano – that will be held until 31 October 2015 under the theme “Feeding the planet, energy for life”.

Thus, food and diet of the past, present and especially the future are at the heart of the international event, embracing all related aspects such as technology, innovation, culture, traditions and creativity.

Slow Food

“Slow Food” is one specific project with its own dedicated space at Expo Milano 2015, an area of 3,500 square meters consisting of three modular buildings reminiscent of the rural Lombard farmsteads. Its objective is to illustrate how feeding the planet is only possible by starting from biodiversity, and preserving it for future generations.

The main protagonist behind this project is Slow Food, an international association that works around the world to protect biodiversity, building the relationships between producers and consumers and improving awareness of the system that regulates food production.

Inside the Slow Food space, you can visit the “Discover Biodiversity” interactive exhibition, which shows how biodiversity can be safeguarded and how it can contribute substantially to the welfare of the planet and small farming communities.

Workshops, tastings and educational activities are held daily to explore different aspects of the relationship between food and man, both in Italy and internationally. Let’s have a look at some of these initiatives…

Slow Food & Slow Wine Tastings

One of the most effective, surprising and joyful ways we can understand the meaning of biodiversity is by tasting it. This is why part of the Slow Food area is dedicated to the discovery of the diversity of wine and raw-milk cheeses.

The world of cheeses offers the perfect example of how plant and animal biodiversity is articulated when transformed into food. Every week, you’ll be able to taste a different selection of four types of cheese: one world-famous Italian cheese (perhaps Parmigiano-Reggiano, Bitto from the Orobiche valleys, Fontina from Valle d’Aosta, buffalo mozzarella from Campania, Asiago or Sicilian pecorino); two cheeses from a specific territory, generally Slow Food Presidia (like Bagolino Bagòss or Nebrodi provola); and a European cheese. A total of 84 types of cheese will be on rotation throughout the six months of the event!

Next to the Slow Cheese area, the Slow Wine Enoteca will be telling another fascinating story, that of Italy’s wines and grapes. Like cheese making, viticulture also boasts rich biodiversity. In Italy alone, over 600 grape varieties are still used to make wine. The selection of wines will offer drinkable proof of this wide diversity, with about 200 different wines available on rotation.

Slow Food Theater

Every morning at 11 am, workshops and educational activities will be held in the Slow Food Theater. These activities, targeted at school groups and families, will revolve around some of Slow Food’s main themes, such as bees and the fight against food waste.

Slow Food will use this space to give voice to its network, as well as authors, film directors, photographers and artists who want to present projects in line with our interests.

Una foto pubblicata da Expo 2015 Milano (@expo2015milano) in data:

It is a precious space where you, the visitor, can listen to the experiences of farmers, fishermen, artisans, food producers and chefs from the Slow Food and Terra Madre networks, and interact with them.

The Slow Food Garden

A food garden is the most effective way of establishing a close, individual relationship with the land and promoting sustainable agriculture and responsible consumption. Growing your own food means understanding its value, learning to avoid waste and appreciating seasonal foods.

The Slow Food Garden at Expo Milano 2015

The Slow Food Garden at Expo Milano 2015

Slow Food will be creating its own agro-ecological garden at Expo 2015. Covering an area of around 250 square meters in the middle of the three main buildings, it will give you plenty of inspiration for creating your own food garden.

Traditional varieties from the Lombardy region will feature heavily, like Gambolò beans, Breme red onions, Gandino barbed corn and Voghera peppers. Along the sides will be small beds of aromatic plants; a green pharmacy, with herbs like horsetail, chamomile, poppy and fennel; and a section for plants used to make dyes.

Food & culinary traditions across Italy’s 20 regions

Tied to the Slow Food philosophy is another interesting project called “Expo and Regions”, an initiative that will make you better understand the excellence of Italian produce. It is a journey to discover the story between each local product and its territory: the places of production, the culture and landscape, traditions and Italian lifestyle.

Through “Expo and Regions” you can discover the beauty and flavors of each Italian region. Some of the thematic itineraries include:

  • Piedmont - Itineraries tracing history, places and quality products
  • Lombardy - The Franciacorta and Garda wine routes
  • Veneto - Wine in a Villa
  • Tuscany - Taste Tuscany
  • Umbria - Benedetto and Francesco: life and work for the future
  • Marche - From Marche Endurance Lifestyle 2014 to typical Marche products 2015
  • Lazio - Lazio land of oil
  • Molise - Earth & Truffles
  • Campania - The land of the Mediterranean diet and UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • Puglia - Apulia Felix in Masseria - Oil and Rosé Wine Drovers' Road
  • Calabria - Flavour of onions: tradition and innovation
  • Sicily - Sicily Tasting Journey

When visiting Expo Milano, make sure to pass by the Slow Food area! It is a fun and fascinating space, full of inspiration for adults and children – and its garden is a living organism with a host of flavors and fragrances.

Photo credits & text source: www.expo2015.org


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10 beautiful libraries and bookstores in Italy

There is something fascinating about the places that treasure books … maybe because they are able to contain and safeguard knowledge forever, passing it from hand to hand and from generation to generation. In Italy, countless libraries and bookshops also evoke emotions thanks to their beauty and authentic character.

Let’s have a look at some of the most beautiful biblioteche (libraries) and librerie (bookstores) around Italy.

 

5 beautiful libraries

The Reading Room at Biblioteca Vittorio Emanuele III, Naples. Image from espressonapoletano.it

The Reading Room at Biblioteca Vittorio Emanuele III, Naples. Image from espressonapoletano.it

Located in Piazza Plebiscito, Naples, Biblioteca Vittorio Emanuele III occupies the eastern wing of the 18th-century Palazzo Reale. To picture the splendor and history of the building, just imagine that this was one of the royal residences used by the Bourbon Kings during their rule of the Kingdom of Two Sicilies (1730-1860)! With 1,480,747 printed volumes, 319,187 pamphlets, 18,415 manuscripts – among other documents – this is the third largest library in Italy, after the national libraries in Rome and Florence.

The reading gallery at the Laurentian Library, Florence. Image from francigena.beniculturali.it

The reading gallery at the Laurentian Library, Florence. Image from francigena.beniculturali.it

The Laurentian Library, or Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, is built in a cloister of the Basilica di San Lorenzo, Florence. Built under the patronage of the Medici pope Clement VII, it features an exquisite architecture by Michelangelo in the style of Mannerism. Its precious treasure includes more than 11,000 manuscripts and 4,500 early printed books, many of which belonged to the private library of the Medici family.

The Aula Magna at the University Library of Bologna. Image from anagrafe.iccu.sbn.it

The Aula Magna at the University Library of Bologna. Image from anagrafe.iccu.sbn.it

The University Library of Bologna has an enormous wealth of written and printed heritage – now amounting to over 1,250,000 volumes! As if that weren’t enough, it also comprises an art collection made up of over 400 portraits of illustrious figures, while 16th century frescoes make the library an even greater visual feast for its visitors. The library came to life in the early 1700s thanks to a generous donation by Luigi Ferdinando Marsili, a noble of Bologna and General of the Empire.

A detail of Biblioteca Casanatense, Rome. Image from librari.beniculturali.it

A detail of Biblioteca Casanatense, Rome. Image from librari.beniculturali.it

In Rome, Biblioteca Casanatense was established by the Dominican friars in 1701 inside the Convent of Santa Maria sopra Minerva. Its main hall was designed by Roman architect Carlo Fontana, and realized by Antonio Maria Borioni. The Library's collection contains approximately 400,000 volumes, about 6,000 manuscripts, 2,200 incunabula, including medieval and biblical manuscripts.

The Sistine Hall, originally part of the Vatican Library. Image by Michal Osmenda, CC BY-SA 2.0

The Sistine Hall, originally part of the Vatican Library. Image by Michal Osmenda, CC BY-SA 2.0

Located in the Vatican City, Biblioteca Vaticana is the library of the Holy See. It is one of the oldest libraries in the world. The mesmerizing Sistine Hall used to host the library, until the increasing number of books led Pope Sixtus V to commission architect Domenico Fontana to create a new building in 1587, where the library is still located today. It currently has 75,000 codices and 1.1 million printed books, which include some 8,500 incunabula. It is a research library for history, law, philosophy, science and theology, and it is open to anyone who can document their qualifications and research needs. 

 

5 beautiful bookstores

Milan features the super trendy 10 Corso Como, which goes beyond the concept of a simple bookshop. Fashion editor and publisher Carla Sozzani opened it in 1990 in a converted garage that also hosted the Carla Sozzani Gallery for photography, art and design. It offered a radical new union of culture and commerce, promoting slow shopping through a succession of spaces designed by American artist Kris Ruhs, a café, a flowering terrace, a courtyard and a garden.

White spaces at the Arion bookshop,  Rome. Image from palazzoesposizioni.it

White spaces at the Arion bookshop,  Rome. Image from palazzoesposizioni.it

Another modern design library is the one located in the Palazzo delle Esposizioni, which is the largest interdisciplinary exhibition area in Rome. The Arion Esposizioni bookshop features cool, gleaming white rooms designed by Firouz Galdo, and has been included in Loney Planet’s Top 20 most beautiful bookshops around the world. Here you will find not only books but also cultural initiatives and exhibitions.

Vintage photo of Libreria Antica Fiorentino, Naples. Image from libreriafiorentino.it

Vintage photo of Libreria Antica Fiorentino, Naples. Image from libreriafiorentino.it

Switching to a ‘classic’ design, in Naples we find one of Italy’s oldest bookstores. Founded in 1936, Libreria Antica Fiorentino is the perfect example of how the passion for books is handed down from generation to generation, from Nonno Fausto to his sons and grandchildren. Although it is specialized in architecture books, the library also has many rare and ancient books.

The location for book chats at Palazzo Roberti Library, Veneto. Image from tips-and-travel.com

The location for book chats at Palazzo Roberti Library, Veneto. Image from tips-and-travel.com

Dating back to the 1700s, the aristocratic Roberti Palace hosts one of the most charming independent bookshops in Italy. Libreria Palazzo Roberti was founded in 1998 by three sisters and is located in Bassano del Grappa (Veneto). Within its walls – some of which are decorated with splendid frescoes – you can breathe a unique atmosphere and admire the elegant architecture that frames not only the books, but also conferences, classic music concerts and photography exhibitions.

The protagonist at Acqua Alta bookshop. Venice. Image by annejansen.com

The protagonist at Acqua Alta bookshop. Venice. Image by annejansen.com

And finally, one of the most original bookstores is located in Venice, where local boats literally embrace books. In fact, the Acqua Alta bookshop features an undoubtedly special shelving: a gondola! It offers a large selection of new and old books, some of which are used as furniture. For example, old encyclopedias, the kind that no one buys anymore, become steps in an amazing staircase, or cover the courtyard walls giving life to a colorful and bizarre location.

 

Literature itineraries and book repair courses for family & friends

Do you love books and literature? Do you share this passion with other relatives and friends? If so, you can discover Italy in a unique way, by exploring places where your favorite stories have been set, the historic homes of famous Italian writers and poets, and join book festivals and exhibitions. You can also participate in unique bookbinding, book conservation and book repair courses and workshops. Contact Italian Special Occasions for more authentic ideas and custom journeys & events.

 

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Calabrian Celebrations in Tropea

At this time of year many towns and cities are kicking off their festival season and the region of Calabria in southern Italy is no different. Tropea, a small Calabrian town familiar with many Italians due to its impressive beaches and turquoise coastline has some fantastic festival offerings.

"Harbour of Tropea by Norbert Nagel - Own work. Licenced under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

"Harbour of Tropea by Norbert Nagel - Own work. Licenced under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons


Tre da cruci

The festival of the Three Crosses takes place on the 3rd of May of each year, marking the crosses which had been placed in the church of the souls in purgatory after the original holy site collapsed. The festival involves many elements which celebrate different events in the region’s history, culminating with a fireworks display marking the expulsion of the Saracens who occupied the region as well as a re-enactment of the battle of Lepanto, which took place in 1571 involving many Calabrian sailors.

A poster of the Tropea Blues Music Festival

A poster of the Tropea Blues Music Festival

Tropea Blues Festival

The Tropea Blues festival now over a decade old takes place in September each year. A series of live concerts take place in the town, with the Piazza Ercole taking a starring role. It really is a unique experience listening to live blues with the backdrop of this pretty Calabrian town.

Tropea's Red Onion, photo by Bristakya

Tropea's Red Onion, photo by Bristakya

La Sagra della Cipola Rossa

The red onions synonymous with the area are thought to have been introduced to this a part of Calabria by the Phoenicians or Greeks. Tropea red onions feature in many local dishes and even have a festival held in their honour each year on the 13th August. Games such as the ‘red onion race’ take place and dishes are served in the town’s pretty piazzas, with a firework display bringing the festival to a close.

The Coast of the Gods… La Costa Degli Dei

We’d like to share our top tips and must-see sites when visiting Tropea.

  • Known as the coast of the gods, Tropea is popular with many holidaying Italians between July and August. We recommend visiting between the months of April and May, meaning you avoid the crowds whilst still taking advantage of the pleasant weather.
  • Take a walk to Tropea’s Norman cathedral dating back to the 12th Century, and discover Calabria’s little-known Norman past. 
  • Foodie fans will be spoilt for choice. There are many excellent restaurants in the town but our most memorable foodie experience was sampling the local Tropea red onion ice cream! Give it a try when visiting one of the town’s gelateria.
Tropea's center, photo by Manfred Morgner

Tropea's center, photo by Manfred Morgner

  • Tropea is served by a train station located close to the town centre. With good links to many other towns in the region as well as the city of Naples, it’s an affordable stress-free way to enjoy the region.
  • Santa Maria dell’Isola is a pretty monastery which appears to be an Island of its own jutting out to sea. Upon vising it becomes clear that the Monastery is connected to the mainland and has pretty gardens and fantastic views out to sea.
Beautiful Tropea, image by Mac9 (own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5]
  • Italian Special Occasions recommend you make the most of Tropea’s coastal connections. Why not take a boat trip to the Aeolian Islands? Imagine an excursion to the volcanic island of Stromboli!
  • The town has many cobbled winding streets and hidden piazzas. One of our favourite things to do is get lost! That’s right, we love to lose ourselves in the old town and stumble across the perfect café to take a sip of latte di mandorla –a refreshing almond drink enjoyed by locals.
  • For those who want to take a back seat, Tropea and it’s neighbouring towns have many beautiful beaches and crystal blue waters, the perfect place for a quick dip!
The beach in Tropea. By Norbert Nagel - Own work. [CC BY-SA 3.0]

The beach in Tropea. By Norbert Nagel - Own work. [CC BY-SA 3.0]


If you’d like to take a closer look into exploring Calabria get in touch with Italian Special Occasions. This region has a rich cultural and historical heritage. You might be thinking about a family celebration somewhere special, an excursion on the open seas, or a gastronomic tour taking in the local produce of the area…contact Italian Special Occasions for your free customized quote and we’ll take care of the details!


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