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The newsletter will be full of interesting articles on Italian attractions, cities and culture from Martha’s Italy, Wandering Italy, and occasionally one of our other “Wandering” sites like Wandering Sardinia
A lot has been said about over-tourism lately. Folks are cramming cities like Florence and Venice like never before—even in what we used to call the “off” season.
If it’s your first visit to Italy you’re going to have to suck it up and squeeze in with the hordes—but if you’ve been to at least two of the big three, and especially if you can no longer afford staying in those overcrowded cities, we have some great suggestions for you.
And if you have friends who want to travel with you, I have a suggestion that should rock your boat. Let’s talk about staying in 4 bedroom, 3 1/2 bath palazzo in the heart of a castle town called Mondavio in Le Marche. It’s big, it has a professional kitchen with a six burner stove. The ceiling of the living room is frescoed. The bathrooms are modern and stylish. Buy a drink at Al Giardino della Rocca in an evocative setting across the street and they’ll set out a good spread for you at no extra charge. The thing we worried about? Decide to wander about the house before dinner and maybe nobody would find you until morning. It’s big. At the time of writing the average price per night was—are you ready?—$97.
And one last suggestion. If you want to know where the study of the Mediterranean diet started and where many folks reach a grand old age and are still active, you might go to the Cilento coast, the (culturally) more interesting southern neighbor of the Amalfi Coast.
If you’ve been to those places, perhaps it’s time to visit the inexhaustible number of small and medium sized cities of Italy, the places where urban sprawl is almost nonexistent and the living is easy(er).
Let’s start with the small ones. In the north there’s Aosta nestled into the little Aosta region, Italy’s smallest. It was a Roman town, so there are numerous sites to visit. Then there’s Bassano del Grappa, named after nearby Monte Grappa, not the booze—although there is a grappa distillery in town you can visit. The Abruzzo’s Sulmona is ringed by mountains, in a setting that is one of the most compelling in Italy. Ascoli Piceno in Le Marche is one of our very favorite towns. An evening in the town’s main square, one of the most evocative in all of Italy, will make you want to stay forever, especially with a plate of stuffed, deep-fried olives, olive ascolane and the beverage of your choice at hand. Don’t miss a special day trip to amazing Offida while you’re at it. Finally, there’s Lecce, a city filled with Baroque monuments in the popular Puglia region. Access information on visiting all of these places by clicking the button below.
One of our favorite tour guys, The Roman Guy is now The Tour Guy. You can still get a 5% discount on most small group tours with promo code ITALYMARTHA when you book online. Book your tour in Rome, Vatican City, Florence, Venice, Milan, or Pompeii & Amalfi Coast:
Ever been to Ferrara? The amazing Romanesque Duomo and castle are close to each other (the historic center of Ferrara has been included on the list of World Cultural Heritage by UNESCO as a great example of a town planned in the Renaissance that has managed to keep the basic design of its historical center intact into the modern period). The landscape of Ferrara is flat and great for cycling—and when you need some energy they have perfected a type of salame that makes a sauce when you cook it, called Salama al Sugo.
Perugia is where Martha and I went to language school at L’Università per Stranieri. That’s not a University for strange people, but for foreigners. The Umbrian capital remains one of our favorite cities.
Cremona is host to yet another amazing Romanesque Duomo and a bell tower you can climb up to get a great view of the city all the way to the river, as shown in the photo above. If you want, you can learn a lot about violins in Cremona.
Ragusa in Sicily is a Baroque wonder you shouldn’t miss. Ragusa Ibla is the old town, and you’ll enjoy walking through it. The Duomo di San Giorgio in the heart of the old town is one of 13 Baroque monuments in Ragusa Ibla that are listed in the UNESCO inscription.
The walled city of Lucca is a favorite of ours in Tuscany. The town was founded by the Etruscans who called it Luca, and became a Roman colony in 180 BC. The Renaissance era walls have kept out the industrial scourge, so wandering the city is quite a nice experience. You can rent a bike to circle the walls, or just walk.
In case this newsletter looks a little different, well, your eyes do not deceive you—we’re trying a new newsletter provider. I hope you enjoy this edition, which will concentrate on written content without so many pictures. If you like more pictures, let us know.
We’ve recently returned from a fantastic trip to Le Marche, where we stayed in a magnificently restored Palazzo in the Renaissance castle-town of Mondavio.
Imagine 2 couples trying to find each other inside a 3229 square foot apartment with 4 bedrooms, 3 1/2 baths, a big kitchen with 6 burner professional gas stove, a formal dining room, a sitting room, a living room with a fresco on the ceiling. Imagine the price, which averages…are you ready? $108 a night!
There is a great advantage to getting out to the incredible Italian countryside; the food is local and extraordinary, the prices modest, and the people friendly.
Mondavio has all the services you need, and several restaurants, two with magnificent views.The castle sits majestically in front of you when you have your morning coffee at the village bar. There are lots of places within a short drive that demand your attention, including our favorite, Sassoferrato, where chef Guido Mingarelli of Agriturismo Antico Muro once again fed us the seasonal stuff he likes to cook at our favorite table sitting atop a plexiglass sheet allowing you to see remnants of the Roman site Sentinum, where the Romans won a battle against all comers in 296 BC. You shouldn’t miss this experience if you find yourself in Le Marche.
The reason for our visit was to take in the new Museum of Folk Arts and Traditions, dedicated mostly to farming in Le Marche, a highly developed activity in the region. Yet another attraction for Sassoferrato, population 8000.
On our way back to Mondavio, we stopped at an amazing winery, Sbaffi, where they concentrate at making great sparkling wine as was made in this area 50 years before Dom Pérignon saw his stars. They’ve brought back a local grape thought to have gone extinct, and will be releasing a sparkler from this grape in a week or so. It’s tasting good right now, I can tell you.
Italian Word of the Day: stuzzichini.
Stuzzichini means appetizers, finger foods, the kinds of things you get with your drink order in some places in Italy, like the Lunigiana.
By the way, the drink in the foreground is an Americano. If you happen to be an Americano, you’ll likely get coffee with lots of water. Asking for a “cocktail Americano” seems to work. It’s Campari, sweet vermouth, and club soda.