Florence managed to enchant us despite the tourist hordes we dreaded, and for a city almost synonymous with the Renaissance and the powerful families from the period, looking back to our visit I see a modern city, with cool market, hipster bars serving chai latte (and it’s Italy I’m talking about!) and quirky shops.
Last summer we ended up in Rome, and I say ended up because if it wasn’t for a certain concert we attended, I surely wouldn’t have chosen July for visiting Rome.
If you read my last blog post you probably remember that I wrote about the two days we spent in Pienza, Tuscany and that I promised to write about a peculiar town with a pool instead of the main square and the thermal baths from my dreams in my next post. So, here it is.
I don't know if I ever mentioned this, but one of my long-term wishes is to visit each region of Italy, slowly. Without frantic driving from town to town, running between monuments and museums. No. A couple of days in one place would do.
The next day we drove up and down the winding local road to Todi, passing through the fields, vineyards and olive groves, catching a glimpse of the town now and then. When we came to Todi, a thick fog (or was it a cloud?) covered the medieval main square like a blanket, making it look even more timeless. Without the bar and shop awnings and the modern clothing of the passers-by, it could have as well been the 16th century.
We approached Assisi from the south- the view that was waiting for us made us stop the car, leave it by the road, and walk through the field as a daydreamer attracted to the town imprinted into the hill and a basilica sitting atop a majestic row of supporting arcades. Even though I've seen Assisi on the photos before, they did not prepare me for the view. It is one of those places where the best thing you can think of saying is simply "wow, look at that".
I mostly knew Perugia as the home of Perugina (a producer of Baci, delicious chocolate kisses filled with an entire hazelnut, a true delicacy from my childhood), as the capital city of Umbria, and as a university city, specialized in languages. For us, it turned out to be a gastronomic capital as well, as we found there one of the best (yet, unpretentious) restaurants we've ever been to, and a certain delicious substitute for our favorite hazelnut spread- the Nocciolata.
The landscape around Trasimeno lake might be one of the most beautiful I've ever seen, the thing you have in mind when someone mentions Italian countryside- hillsides dotted with olive trees, pines, and cypresses, surrounding a lake the color of the clouds with three islets floating in the middle of it all.
Sometimes it happens that what was supposed to be a summer vacation turns into an autumn vacation, and what was supposed to be Southern Italy turns into- Central Italy, or Umbria to be more precise. Almost two years ago now, we had a hectic summer and our plan to spend a week in Sicily in the height of summer didn't quite work out (it did, however, work out last summer and you can read all about it here and here). Since our trip was postponed to October, I already switched to autumn mood- longing for hearty meals, countryside, hills (hilltop towns of course), maybe a lake... beaches would have to wait till next summer. And so we ended up booking a trip to Umbria...
Last month we went on a five-day skiing trip to Val di Fassa in the Northern Italian region of Trentino. The last few years we shifted from skiing in Austria to skiing in Italy, and that's mostly because we became real enthusiasts about all things Italian, but also because we find Italian slopes to be really well maintained, often wide and sunny, and then, there is this atmosphere of wildness, roughness and the sense of freedom that you get surrounded by bare rocky peaks of the Dolomites.
A friend of mine told me once that Erice is the most beautiful town she has ever been to. I enjoyed its cobbled streets and stone houses, the amazing views of San Vito lo Capo on one side, and Trapani with Egadi islands on the other side, but especially, the scent of baked sweets coming from Pasticceria Maria Grammatico. Sicily is already very well known for its delicious sweets that include the cannoli, genovesi, gelato and granitas, chocolate, cassatas, brioches, cornetos etc., but at this pastry shop you can find the frutta martorana, that is, unbeliavably realistic marzipan fruits, typical of this region.
I fell head over heels with Sicily, its peculiarity, its warm and curious people, its unique cuisine and architecture influenced by centuries of foreign rule. I fell for Umbria's hearty dishes, green hills, lake landscape and almost frozen in time hilltop towns, I fell for Matera's cave dwellings and humble history, I fell for the modern city of Milano and bare mountain peaks of the Dolomites. And this summer, as if returning back to Sicily wasn't enough, I was completely spellbound by the Western Sicilian island of Marettimo.
Mazara del Vallo was known to me mostly as a place where delicious Sicilian red prawns come from (gambero rosso di Mazara). Reading about Mazara, I found out that it is home to the largest fishing fleet in Italy, that it was governed by the Arabs in 9. and 10. century, and today's old center called kasbah still retains Arabic urbanistic influences. Mazara is about half an hour drive from Marsala, and makes for a perfect daytrip.