Infinito in Le Marche – A Gentle Modern Touch to a Country Farmhouse

Infinito is a beautiful villa in the countryside of  Le Marche.  Its carefully considered renovation causes it to blend in perfectly with its setting in the rolling hills of this region.

The owners have included large glass windows, which allow the beauty and light of the outside to become part of the interior experience.

The design also includes the judicious use of cementina tiles for a tasteful patchwork effect in the kitchen and baths.

A stay at Infinito offers an ideal base from which to visit the art cities of Le Marche, with Macerata, Jesi, Osimo, Recanati in easy reach.  In addition, the beaches of Mt. Conero (Portonovo, Sirolo and Numana) are just about 20 kilometers away.

To add to the pleasures of your visit, the food and local wines of Le Marche are among the very best in Italy!

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Villa Cetinale – One of Edith Wharton’s favorites

In 1904, Edith Wharton published “Italian Villas and Their Gardens“, on assignment from Century magazine.

During her four month visit, she documented her observations of Italy’s most beautiful gardens.  Her book is considered one of the earliest and most important works on this subject.  The original edition included illustrations by Maxfield Parrish.

In 1998, Vivian Russell paid homage to Edith’s pioneering work by publishing the lavishly photographed “Edith Wharton’s Italian Gardens“.  We were pleasantly surprised to see that the lush lemon garden at the entrance to Villa Cetinale is featured on the cover.

Villa Cetinale was built in 1680 under the auspices of Cardinal Flavio Chigi for his uncle, Fabio Chigi, who became Pope Alexander VII.  The gardens were a favorite of Edith Wharton’s and she considered them one of the most beautiful in Italy.  She particularly loved the long green park, which extends peacefully from the back of the villa to the Cardinal’s spiritual retreat at the peak of the hill beyond.

The grounds are rich with distinctive statuary by Guiseppe Mazuoli, who was a close associate of Bernini.

Its recent owner has been an English earl, whose family has devoted its energy and resources to continuing its delicate preservation.  Photos of Villa Cetinale are featured in Vanity Fair’s story “The Decadent Italian Interiors of Villa Cetinale in Tuscany“.

There is much to say about Villa Cetinale, and much yet to learn.  Contact us about experiencing it for yourself.

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Villa Astor in Sorrento – An historic treasure

Jacques Garcia is a  renowned architect and designer whose work includes the interiors of some of the world’s best hotels.  Recently, he sat down with videographer Luigi de Gregorio to speak about his extraordinary project of designing and executing the interior renovation of Villa Astor.

The origins of this classic villa date to the first century A.D., when the grandson of Emperor Augustus built an elegant residence on the same site.   Over the centuries, it has been the setting of a medieval convent, and in the early twentieth century, the opulent Italian refuge of William Waldorf Astor.

Excavations on the site have uncovered a treasure trove of ancient terracotta pieces and statuary.  Villa Astor’s garden is regarded as one of the most beautiful in Europe.

Villa Astor is available for rental.  Please contact us for a complete proposal.

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My introduction to Italy’s craft beers

I am not a craft beer expert, but I know what I like.  Living in Denver, it seems like we are at the epicenter of an explosion of creativity and flavor that seems to know no bounds. People here really love well-made beer.

So the more I enjoy craft beers, the more I realize that there is much to learn.  And the more I learn…the more I enjoy.

In October, I had the pleasure of spending a day at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, sampling craft brews from all parts of the U.S.

Three days later I boarded a plane for Italy for a business trip, intent on learning more about its fast-growing craft beer movement, the world of birra artiginale.  My research was more casual than comprehensive.  With little time available, there are so many producers I did not see.

My casual research has opened my eyes (and my palate) to something truly extraordinary. Italy has always excelled in things both artistic and culinary, and its approach to craft brewing is no exception. The producers I met are creating something that is both characteristically Italian and unmistakably world class.

As with America’s craft beer movement, these artisans are making their start from small facilities and humble beginnings. You can sense that some of these visionary producers are going to do great things.

The prevalence of craft brewers changes with the geography of Italy, with just a few in the south and an abundance in the north.  In every region, they promised there would be more coming.

In Tuscany, I stopped by Birrificio San Quirico and was happy to find it open and its birraio (brew master) hard at work. They produce a double malted English pale ale called Giulitta and a high-fermentation blonde called Iris. I sampled both and found them to be well-constructed and drinkable.

Birrificio San Quirico

Roughly half way up the boot is Umbria, which has several emerging and dynamic brewers, and great enthusiasm for beer. I first visited Birra Khamen, located in a countryside area on the outskirts of Perugia.

thumb_90_205805Andrea Valigi was there with his mother, who manages the small shop on the premises. Their family business includes beer making, meat processing and the sale of delicious artisan food products of the area. While I waited for Andrea, his mother gave me some samples of salsicce, a tasty Italian sausage.

He then took me through his small brewery, which makes five types of beer. He explained that hops thrive mostly in countries north of Italy, and so most are imported from the U.S., Germany and other European countries. One of their brews, Jewel, is made entirely from U.S. hops.

Birra dell’Eremo is the dream of Enrico Ciani and Geltrude Salvatori Franchi. Located near Foligno, it has been in operation only about a year, and is already exporting broadly to Australia and throughout Europe.

Birra dell EremoGeltrude cheerfully showed me their thriving operation, which consisted of several 500 liter tanks making six different styles. She first gave me a taste of their IPA, which I found to be modestly hoppy in the manner preferred by Italians (who have not yet fully accepted the more bitter aspects of the brew). This was followed by their blonde beer, which turned out to be delicious and easy on the palate.

SanBiagioThat evening, we enjoyed dinner with friends at Il Giardino, on the banks of Lake Trasimeno. By coincidence, it was the night the restaurant was featuring a tasting (degustazione) of San Biagio beers, produced also in Umbria. There was a ‘sommelier’ who went from table to table, describing the beers and recommending appropriate pairings. I ordered a strong ale to taste, but he instead steered me toward the pilsner, which turned out to be a great match for pizza. From time to time, he would come by and refresh the glasses of each guest from the stylish 750ml San Biagio bottles.

P1070418From Umbria, our journey continued to the far north of Italy, to the region of Piemonte. This is an area famous for great wines like Barolo, and also for amazing craft beers. The small and unassuming village of Piozzo is home to Baladin, maker of more than forty types of craft brew which are available throughout the world. We had the pleasure to stay at Casa Baladin, an artsy renovation of an old inn, offering wonderful rooms and a first-class restaurant. Their specialty is a six course meal with an appropriate beer pairing with each course.

Picture 374Our last leg took us to Rome, where we made a reservation at Open Baladin, the most famous and best-stocked brew pub in Italy. In addition to a full tap of Baladin products, they also offer a big selection of alternative craft brews from throughout Italy. The restaurant menu has a choice of cuisine to match to their beers, including the most unusual and delicious hamburgers we have found in Italy.

I’m hoping to do a more comprehensive craft-beer only tour of Italy some day soon. Maybe you’d like to join me?

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How not to speed in Italy

When you travel on Italy’s super highways and through its small villages, you will notice that electronic speed controls are everywhere.  This is actually a very good thing which has altered driving habits in Italy and improved traffic safety.

If you know where to look, you can avoid getting caught driving too fast.

There are two main systems of control.  The Autovelox can track your speed at a particular point.  As you fly by the machine, its radar calculates your speed and the built-in camera records your license plate number.

For those who think they can fool the system by speeding up between machines, there is also the Tutor system, which can track you from point to point and calculate your average speed between the points.

So it pays to always maintain the speed limit and be alert to the machines. Fortunately, there is always a posted warning:

Italy speed warningFor the Tutor system, the cameras are often posted on the signs that cross over the highway:

Italy Tutor speed system

For the Autovelox system, it is usually a sinister looking box on the side of the road with small openings for the cameras.  There is a smaller version in a little green structure you will see in the villages.

This is all well and good, but what is the speed limit?  Although it’s getting better, the speed limits are well know by the Italians, but not always posted along the roads.  On the major superstrada highways, it’s generally 130 kilometers/hour and on the smaller highways, it’s 110.  Through the countryside and small towns it will vary, generally between 50 and 70.

One good way to get some help is to use the information on your GPS and to listen for the audio warnings.

Italy GPS

You can see the current speed limit in the lower right with the red circle, like you see on the roadside.  Your actual speed (velocita) is next to it.  The actual speed will turn red and you will hear a beep when you exceed the speed limit.

Notice also the warning in the middle of the screen that you are in an Autovelox zone, and there is one just ahead!

By the way, you can set your GPS to English, so don’t worry about the language difference.

If you do get a speeding ticket, you will first receive a notice from your car rental company and they will charge your credit card with an administrative fee.  Shortly thereafter, you’ll get a notice from the municipality where the infraction occurred, with the amount and instructions to pay it.

If you expect to travel again in Europe, it’s probably a good idea to go ahead and pay it.

However, with enough knowledge and vigilance you can avoid this decision entirely.

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Thinking back on Il Palazzo di Mantova

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about our stay at Il Palazzo di Mantova, and how much we enjoyed visiting the medieval city of Mantova (also called Mantua–you remember, Romeo was ‘banished’ to there.)

We had an in-depth personal tour of the Ducal Palace across the street from the Palazzo, the sprawling and beautiful headquarters for the Gonzaga family dynasty that lasted centuries.

We stayed in the marvelous apartment called L’Arco, named for the impressive arch that defines the alcove where we slept.

Il Palazzo di Mantova

Our gracious hosts at the Palazzo are the direct descendants of Baldassare Castiglione, who is the subject of a famous painting by Raphael that hangs in the Louvre.  He was a prominent 15th century courtier, diplomat and author, who is known for “The Book of the Courtier”, a guide to the life of the nobleman at court.  It still contains lessons for modern society, as the Wall Street Journal has recently explained.

If you’re looking for an authentic experience of the best of medieval Italian life, take a look at the Mantova apartments for yourself, and get in touch with us.  We’d love to let you know more!

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Sacre Monte – The Sacred Mount above Lake Orta

We often find ourselves going back to Orta San Giulio, the warm and friendly medieval town on Lake Orta.  There is something artistic about it, to be sure.  But there is also a sacred atmosphere here as well.

This year we visited Sacre Monte, a beautiful and spiritual estate just above the town.  Here we found a fascinating complex of chapels devoted to episodes in the life of Saint Francis.  Construction was begun in 1583 and ended in 1788.

Moving from chapel to chapel on a rainy day in early November, we were entranced by the images created by the beautifully preserved terracotta figures contained in each one.  There was no crowd that day, so we were able to take it all in virtually alone with them.

What a joy it was to discover these ancient and entertaining scenes!






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