Sunday 7th March 2021 at 11:05
Number of new coronavirus cases in Italy yesterday: 23,641
Number of new cases on previous day: 24,036
Difference: decrease of 395
Number of people currently infected in Italy: 465,812 (increase of 9,342 compared to previous day)
Good morning all on Friday 5th March. Another weekend beckons as we continue to navigate our from the rough seas of winter towards a gentler spring. There's still some way to go until we reach the primavera however and a good deal of turbulence surrounding Italy.
The country hit international headlines yesterday with its decision to block a shipment of 250,000 Astra Zeneca vaccines to Australia, in response to the company falling short of its original commitments. The response from Australia has been fairly temperate and gives the impression that they're not all that bothered.
You would have to say the situation in Australia is in marked contrast to that of Italy where the case numbers are on the up: yesterday there were another 22,865 positive tests, a jump of around two thousand on the day before. Those growing numbers are likely to prompt two more regions (Emilia Romagna and Campania) to enter the red zone of tighter restrictions, including the closure of bars, restaurants and non-essential shops. A glimmer of hope came from European Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton yesterday though when he stated "all of Europe will be vaccinated by the end of summer".
Sadly, I have no more at this stage on the Vinegar Wars story developing between Italy and Slovenia, and even Mount Etna seems to have gone quiet for the time being. There is a potential storm brewing around the Italian priesthood however as their members are calling to be pushed up the priority list for vaccination with many of their number falling victim to the virus in the course of their duties.
In matters meteorological, most of the country will be enjoying clement weather today: a mixture of sunny and cloudy spells with temperatures ranging from 9° Celsius in Turin to 16° C in Cagliari and Catania.
There was a great development in Rome earlier this week when the Mausoleum of Augustus was opened to the public for the first time. The enormous, 2,000 year old structure is the burial place of among others, Rome's first emperor: Augustus. It occupies an enviable piece of real estate on the banks of the River Tiber in the city's centro storico and just a stone's throw (applies to Olympic standard stone throwers only) from major sights such as the Spanish Steps. As with everything at the moment, access is limited, but after a heavy financial investment and years of concerted effort, the Mausoleum of Augustus is now added to Rome's already radiant lustre and will become an important part of sightseeing in the city for years to come.
As soon as I've had the chance to visit I will of course be taking and sharing photos of the monument, but for now, let's just humour ourselves and work out how we could fit it into an itinerary of Rome. I always stress the point that it's impossible to see everything in Rome, no matter your length of visit, and that it's a case of prioritising. This city wasn't built in a day apparently.
Much as I veer away from really touristy things, in order to pack as much as you can in on a day in Rome, you can do a lot worse than take one of the open-top bus tours that are hugely popular. If however, you have a number of days to wander the city's streets you could easily work the Mausoleum of Augustus into a walking itinerary. From there it's a 5 to 10 minute walk along the Corso (Via del Corso: one of Rome's oldest and most popular shopping streets) up to the Piazza del Popolo from where you can step up to the Villa Borghese and enjoy the park's open-spaces, monuments and views.
From Villa Borghese you can amble your way towards the Trinità dei Monti, down the Spanish Steps and into Piazza di Spagna. From there you're within striking range of some of Rome's major sights such as the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon and Piazza Navona. You could probably just about fit all of those in to one day's itinerary whilst still having time to enjoy a good lunch and soaking up the atmosphere around the city's historic streets.
It goes without saying that you'd need more time to include the likes of the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, Saint Peter's Basilica, Castel Sant'Angelo and the Vatican Museums, but even with these few sights ticked-off, you'd still be leaving a huge amount unseen. You can find some more ideas of things to see in Rome via the pages of the website.
Well that's my two penneth added for the week; I'll leave you with some shots of The Eternal City, wish you all a great weekend and come back to see what's happening in the world on Monday.
Good morning everyone on Thursday 4th March. Italy's entertainers are doing their level best to draw attention away from the pandemic at this year's Sanremo Festival. I mentioned the festival a few weeks ago and outlined its importance to the Italian public. You could describe it as somewhere in the region of an Italian version of The Oscars combined with the Eurovision Song Contest, just without the Euro bit.
It takes place in Liguria's Sanremo seaside resort once a year and it's one of those occasions where anyone who wants to be someone simply must appear. Despite the fact there's no live audience at this year's event, it's still managing to grab the morning after headlines: last night's show involved a special guest star appearance from recent Golden Globe winner Laura Pausini and a tribute to Italian composer Ennio Morricone who died last year at the age of 91. You might not know his name but you'll almost certainly have heard some of his work, among which are the fantastic scores for "spaghetti western" films such as The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.
I won't use that last word to shimmy into the latest pandemic figures yet, but there is a rather ugly situation developing between Italy and its north-eastern neighbour Slovenia. Those of you that read my blog yesterday will have noted my mention of balsamic vinegar being produced in the city of Modena in Emilia Romagna. Well it seems the authorities in Slovenia are now questioning the existing rules on what can legally be classed as balsamic vinegar and what can't. The Modenese are understandably unhappy about this and ready to fight their corner. Let's hope it doesn't start a vinegar war because none of us need that.
Further ugliness has come from a more predictable source in the last 24 hours with the upward trend in Coronavirus continuing its, erm, upward trend. Yesterday in Italy there were 20,884 new positive tests for Covid 19, an increase of nearly four thousand from the previous day and thus wiping out the good work that was done in the preceding days.
Speculation is rife about how to get those numbers down with various measures being discussed. We now know it will be at least Easter until national restrictions are eased and we can only hope that the country finds a way to speed up its vaccination program. One, medium-term solution being mooted is the ability for Italy to produce its own vaccines by the autumn; this would coincide nicely with the whole country already being vaccinated anyway so not a great source of excitement. The current beacon of light is Sardinia who announced yesterday that people must take a Coronavirus test on arrival at one of the island's ports or airports. When I read that I did ask myself "surely they were doing that anyway?".
Away from the pandemic and vinegar wars (could that work as a film title? Discuss:), the weather continues to please with most of the country bathed in sunshine again today. Temperatures remain on the low side though: Venice is lowest of all at 7° Celsius with Cagliari and Catania a good deal warmer at 16° C.
Continuing our "virtual grand tour of Italy", today the spotlight falls on Puglia, or more specifically, the region's Gargano Peninsula. I'll cover some of Puglia's most famous areas at a later date; its trulli houses of Alberobello and the beautiful Salento coastline merit undiluted attention. If we think of Italy as the shape of a boot, Puglia covers the area from the Achilles tendon down to the heel which is more or less the aforementioned Salento coastal region. If we work our way up the map a little we find a large spur of land which is the Gargano Peninsula.
The whole peninsula which also represents the Gargano National Park, is located within the Foggia Province, the northernmost province of Puglia. If coming from the north, the peninsula is just a short distance south of the seaside town of Termoli, and marked by two large lakes: Lago di Lesina and Lago di Varano. The southern entrance to the park is around the seaside town of Manfredonia which, apart from its marina and beaches, has one of Italy's best castles: the Castello Svevo Angioino.
Gargano's interior is dominated by hills and forest, studded with a number of interesting towns. The area attracts a lot of religious tourism with pilgrims heading towards the Sanctuary of Padre Pio in the town of San Giovanni Rotondo, while another hill town on the peninsula, Monte Sant'Angelo is on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites under the "Longobards: Places of the Power 568 - 774 AD)" inscription, with its Santuario di San Michele complex. Other highlights in the interior are the hill town of Vico del Gargano, but it's to the peninsula's coast that most visitors flock.
The big, headline destination on the Gargano Peninsula is the town of Vieste: this has a special place in my affections as it's the first town I visited when I decided to develop this website and explore the country in greater detail. Vieste is primarily a seaside resort with two huge, sandy beaches flanking a gorgeous old town. Part of the town sees a narrow strip of land, populated with dozens of old houses, thrust out into the sea until it reaches the pretty Chiesa di San Francesco at the end of the promontory.
Vieste is just about the easternmost point of the Gargano Peninsula and the obvious place to find accommodation if planning a stay. I would suggest anything from a day-trip to a two week holiday is possible here with plenty of places to visit nearby and plenty to keep you in Vieste itself if you simply want to relax. During the summer months, it's possible to sail from Vieste (along with several other towns on the peninsula) to the Tremiti Islands. The peninsula itself is popular with campers with plenty of campsites dotted around the coastal areas and it's also one of the best places in the country to take a scenic drive.
If you were to move in a clockwise direction, starting from Torre Mileto in the north of the peninsula, the coastal road takes you past the village of Capoiale on Lake Varano and eventually on to another of the peninsula's most popular seaside towns: Rodi Garganico. From there, the road starts to twist and turn, sometimes heading inland, until at a certain point you catch a glimpse of the glorious vista provided by the fishing village of Peschici which is a great place to stop for a bite to eat and some exploration.
From Peschici to Vieste takes around half an hour by car with some interesting scenery along the way. You could though, argue that the scenery beyond Vieste is even more spectacular. In this south-eastern section of the park that eventually leads on to Manfredonia, the jagged, white rocks of the coastline become more dramatic with highlights including the Arco di San Felice and the tiny island called Isola di Campi. One of Puglia's most iconic sights, the beach at Baia delle Zagare with its huge sea stacks is in this area and precedes a number of other beaches including those in the small seaside town of Mattinata. If you want to get out of the car and do some exploring then a hike down the cliffs towards Vignanotica Beach is another option.
Well I hope you enjoyed our mini-tour of the Gargano Peninsula and I also hope it's not too long before it's possible to visit again. I'll leave you with some images for now and let's see what the morrow brings.
Good morning on Wednesday 3rd March as we power our way towards the middle of the week with the force of an angry volcano. Mount Etna in Sicily continues its most recent tantrum unabated, this time depositing a blanket of ash over the nearby city of Catania. It's also all aboard the Coronavirus rollercoaster as we see another surge in new cases; as an aside, I've always loved the Italian translation for rollercoaster which is montagne russe (Russian Mountains).
I was eagerly anticipating the new Covid-19 cases for yesterday as the previous day had seen a big drop but alas, that drop was completely replenished with 17,083 positive tests. The overall number of people infected continues to rise as well, all of which has led to a raft of new measures to combat the pandemic.
The latest decree is for an extension to the current rules until Tuesday 6th April, just after the Easter break. Schools in the highest risk (red) zones will close as of Monday 8th March and the Italian Government has given power to individual regions and local authorities to close schools if they need to.
The nationwide curfew (22:00 to 05:00) and ban on travel between regions remains in place until 6th April while one slight positive is that museums in the lower-risk (yellow) zones will be able to open at the weekends instead of just weekdays, from 27th March. On that same date, cinemas and theatres in the yellow zones will also be allowed to open, albeit with a greatly-reduced capacity.
A month or so ago, the pandemic situation in the UK was much worse than in Italy at the time, but this has now completely flipped on its head. Whereas the UK's massive vaccination program has led to a rapid decline in new cases, Italy (restricted by what the EU could offer it), is struggling to contain the spread of the so-called English variant which has become the dominant strain of the virus in the country.
Social-distancing measures and other restrictions will serve only to keep the spread under a modicum of control and the only real way out of the situation is with more vaccinations. Obviously there has been a worldwide shortage of vaccine since the beginning of the year but by the end of this month that supply-line should speed up with Astra Zeneca able to produce more and the Moderna jab being delivered around the world. Not satisfied with this, there are calls for Italy to approve and acquire the Russian vaccine Sputnik V. In fact, the Russian jab is already being used in the principality of San Marino which lies between the Italian regions of Marche and Emilia Romagna.
The weather situation is a good deal more pleasant than that of the pandemic; Italy will be bathed in sunshine again today with the coolest temperatures coming from Perugia, Trieste and Turin (all 10° Celsius) while the southern cities of Naples and Reggio Calabria lead the way with an expected maximum of 16° Celsius.
So where shall we (virtually) go today? Well, there are twenty official regions in Italy but only a relative handful of those are really household names outside of Italy; I'm thinking Tuscany, Sicily, Sardinia, Puglia and at a push, Piedmont and Veneto. That's not say people don't visit the other regions, they do and in huge numbers, it's just that you don't really hear people talking about Campania when they go to the Amalfi Coast, Lazio when they visit Rome or Lombardy when they go to Lake Como say. Another region that fits into that category is Emilia Romagna, the capital of which is Bologna.
Emilia Romagna is one of Italy's biggest regions, divided up into nine provinces (surpassed only by Lombardy's twelve on that measure), and occupies a large area between the Adriatic Coast to its east, spreading almost all the way to the western coast before it reaches borders with Liguria and Tuscany. Roughly half of the region consists of a vast plain, once marshland but since drained, following the path of the River Po (Italy's longest river) to its north where it shares borders with Piedmont, Lombardy and Veneto. From the Po's south-eastern outlet into the Adriatic, Emilia Romagna stretches south to meet the Apennine Mountains in Tuscany and a southern border with Marche.
Emilia Romagna's coastline provides dozens of beach resorts, most famously at Rimini. I think there's a big difference between what people like in a beach; many favour the Adriatic Coast for its huge swathes of soft sand but I personally prefer the rockier landscapes and shallow waters that are generally more prevalent in the south of the country. For me, the real beauty of Emilia Romagna comes from its cities, among which are some of the jewels of the Renaissance.
Reggio Emilia, Parma and Modena are famed not just for their architectural offerings, but for what they bring to the table in terms of produce. Those three cities are the homes of Parmesan cheese, Parma ham and balsamic vinegar, while the regional capital Bologna is famed for its own gastronomic delights which include lasagne, tortellini and a dish we in English call "spaghetti bolognese" which doesn't exist. A request for said dish will result in some knowing, disdainful looks from restaurant waiters but you'll find greater success when asking for tagliatelle al ragù. Bologna is also home to the popular mortadella cured meat.
The aforementioned Modena is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with two further cities in the region: Ferrara and Ravenna. Ferrara owes its listing to its contribution to the Italian Renaissance where it was a centre of excellence for some of the leading artists and architects of the era. The city's most famous sight is the Castello Estense which dominates the centre and is named after the powerful Este family which once ruled there.
Ravenna's greatest legacy comes from a much earlier period, the 5th and 6th centuries AD, during which time it was the capital of the Roman Empire and decorated as such. It boasts an extraordinary collection of churches with Byzantine artwork, typically in the form of mosaics, with some of the best examples to be found in the city centre Basilica di San Vitale, and the Basilica di Sant'Apollinare in Classe which now lies on its outskirts.
Although not listed by UNESCO, another religious site in Emilia Romagna is equally appealing: the stunning Pomposa Abbey which lies on the coast, between Ravenna and Ferrara.
Well that's just a little flavour of Emilia Romagna and there is a lot more besides. You can find more on the region via the relevant links above. A few nice shots of the region rounds-off my daily update and I'll be back with more tomorrow, hopefully towards the bottom of one of those Russian mountains.
Good morning all on Tuesday 2nd March, that no man's land between the start of the week and the middle; never was Tuesday the new Friday. So as we hurtle towards Wednesday, let's have a quick look at what's been happening in Italy over the last 24 hours.
There is some great news around the virus numbers: yesterday in Italy there were 13,114 new Coronavirus cases, still a fair few, but it was only a few days ago that the numbers seemed to be spiralling out of control with 20,000 plus per day. Yesterday's figure marks a sharp decline on the previous day so let's hope and pray that's not a numeric blip and we see another drop this afternoon.
On the subject of the virus, I should also give a mention to my home country of the UK where things really are speedily heading in the right direction. Just 5,455 new cases there yesterday and the country's early vaccination rollout seemingly paying huge dividends now. There's been more talk about vaccine passports, now renamed as a "Digital Green Pass", which would hasten the possibility of international travel. There was a fear that it wouldn't be possible until everyone was vaccinated but this looks like a sensible solution to allow those people that have either had a vaccine or a negative test/set of tests to travel again.
Other little snippets of Italian news are a bit thin on the ground today: there's some chatter about the Sanremo Festival but nothing of consequence, and some speculation over certain regions changing from orange to dark orange in the colour-coded restrictions. I don't want to get too bogged down with all the ins and outs of those though as they have been changing so regularly and will continue to change many times before it becomes relevant to International travellers. I will pick up on two pieces of positivity on that though: the first one being people in Sardinia enjoying their new found freedoms after moving into the white zone yesterday, and the second one being the reopening of Genoa's famous aquarium after an enforced four month closure.
Plenty to be feeling good about in terms of the news I would say so let's see of the weather can provide some further succour. Well, it looks like another "scorchio" day today with sunshine expected everywhere; the temperatures are nothing really to write home about with elevated Perugia feeling a bit chilly at 11° Celsius while Cagliari enjoys a relatively balmy 17°C. Sardinia definitely seems the place to be this week!
I try to spread my little spotlight features around the country so to speak; yesterday we had a look at archaeological sites in Campania, while last week we were in Marche, Sardinia, the Pelagie Islands of Sicily and the lakes of Piedmont and Lombardy, so let's head back towards the middle of the country and shine a light on Tuscany. I suppose the typical image of Tuscany comes from its rolling fields stitched together with Cypress trees, a scene that very much belongs to the Val d'Orcia, along with medieval or Renaissance hill towns such as Volterra and Montepulciano. I'll go into more detail on those places at a later date but for now I wanted to highlight a side of Tuscany that is perhaps undervalued: its islands.
The Tuscan Archipelago doubles-up as an island group and one of Italy's national parks. There are seven islands in the archipelago, lying off Tuscany's coast between the Tyrrhenian Sea to the south and the Ligurian Sea to the north, hemmed in by the large landmass of French-owned Corsica to the west. By far the largest of the Tuscan Archipelago islands is Elba; made famous by Napoleon who was exiled there, but reinvented in the last 40 years or so as a holiday destination in response to the death of its mining industry.
Elba has more than eighty beaches, some of which are spectacular and included in my list of best beaches in Italy, as well as some interesting port towns with its capital Portoferraio chief among them. It's the third largest island in Italy behind Sicily and Sardinia, and as such has lots of space within which you can explore; renting a car here is a good idea as the island's road network is excellent and you can drive almost all the way around its coastline, enjoying some dramatic scenery.
From Elba you can take a day trip to another of the islands in the group: Pianosa. The contrast between Elba and Pianosa is great; firstly, Pianosa is tiny, half-abandoned and the site of a prison. Italy has had a policy of using its islands as prisons in the past and there are other beauty spots where you'll find them such as Asinara in Sardinia or Isola Santo Stefano in Lazio's Pontine Islands. In fact, of the seven Tuscan Archipelago islands, two have this very feature. Pianosa's prison is no longer used however, and only serves as an added curiosity on what is a very pretty island; the shallow waters of its beach leading up to the prison port creating one of its most iconic images.
That second island with a prison is Gorgona. In Gorgona's case however, the prison is still very much alive and no doubt, kicking. It's one of two of the archipelago's islands that you can't really visit, I'm using really as a caveat because, OK, you can visit Gorgona if you're the relative of an inmate/an inmate yourself, and you can also stop and take photos of it if you catch one of the ferries to Capraia that stop there on the way.
We had a look at Capraia a few weeks ago; remember the whodunnit on the island of 400 inhabitants that had a thief in their midst? Well there's still no update on who "did it", but let's not allow that to detract from the island's typical offerings which are tranquility, hiking routes and some lovely beaches.
Montecristo is the second of those islands that you can't really visit. In this case, the really bit is nothing to do with the world of crime or catching a break with the ferries, but due to the fact that the island is a protected nature reserve where you can only visit with special permission. You may be wondering if it's the island that inspired the Alexandre Dumas novel The Count of Monte Cristo, and indeed it is. If you want to be picky, then we can say it's also possible to visit the island if you're a fictional character from the 19th century but I know most of you aren't.
That brings me to the two final islands which are very close to each other, just a short distance out to sea from the port town of Porto Santo Stefano on the Monte Argentario peninsula. The smaller of these two is Giannutri which has around 10 permanent inhabitants, a charming piazza and a couple of beaches. Of those two beaches, one is quite spectacular, the Cala Spalmatoio.
Arguably I've saved the best for last and this is indeed one of my favourite Italian islands. It's called Giglio which means Lilly in English and the name is just the beginning of its charm. It's closer to the Tuscan mainland than any of the other islands in the group and really easy to reach by ferry. The island hit the news in 2006 when the giant cruise ship, the Costa Concordia, ran to ground off the east coast of Giglio and had to be evacuated. Sadly, 32 people lost their lives in the tragedy and the ship's captain, Francesco Schettino, entered folklore for all the wrong reasons after abandoning ship.
The ship has now gone and the tragedy gradually fades into a memory, leaving the beautiful little island to continue on its merry way. Its arrival port is one of the prettiest in Italy, a little cluster of low-rise buildings in an array of colours, set against the backdrop of the aquamarine sea. From the port you can walk to two of Italy's most beautiful beaches: Cala delle Caldane and Cala delle Cannelle. Even if you don't want to swim, it's a wonderful place to hike and explore. The rest of the island requires motorised transport; there are buses on the island but renting a scooter is much more fun.
The centre of the island is dominated by a hill, upon which sits the village of Giglio Castello, one of the Borghi Più Belli d'Italia (Italy's most beautiful villages). From there you can gaze across to the western coast of the island where there's a beach resort called Campese.
Well I think that's more than enough from me today. I'll leave you with some images of the Tuscan Archipelago and I'll be back with more tomorrow. I hope to be able to report glad tidings on the virus front as well!
Good afternoon all on Monday 1st March, the start of a new week and a new month. February was an interesting month of news with all sorts going on and who knows what awaits us over the coming 31 days of March. It already has a much nicer ring to it than February; usually by this time we're just leaving winter behind but there's a growing feeling at the moment that we might be leaving this virus behind as well.
February's last knockings provided some interest: a few days ago a chariot was discovered close to the Pompeii archaeological site in Campania and described as a "Lamborghini of its time". I'll come back to that shortly; then, last night saw Italian songstress Laura Pausini win an award at the Golden Globes for her song in the Sophia Loren film The Life Ahead.
The number of new Coronavirus cases dropped for the second consecutive day yesterday, after a week of alarming rises. Yesterday there were 17,455 new Covid 19 cases in Italy, a drop of around 1,500 from the day before. Whilst it's very encouraging that the most recent surge seems to have halted somewhat, these numbers are still very high and a good deal higher than they were this time last week. So I think cautious optimism is the way to go for the moment.
Italy's colour-coded zones have had a bit of a reshuffle over the past few days; the zones represent different levels of restrictions currently in place with the bad news coming from Molise and Basilicata, now both in the nasty old red zone, while leading the way in the right direction, Sardinia becomes the first to enter the lovely white zone where you can do all sorts of things, (well, the sorts of things we all used to be able to do and took for granted!). Let's hope for more regions joining Sardinia's status soon.
There was a very encouraging report in the Sunday Times yesterday about the prospects for tourism in Italy this summer. Flavio Zappacosta, the head of the Italian Tourist Board in London, speaking in the newspaper said that he expected Italy to, “fully reopen for the summer season hopefully in June”. The report went on to say, "Italy will not stay closed until the last jab. The regional travel ban is due to end on March 27 and travel industry leaders in Rome are asking for 'green passes' allowing those with proof of vaccination to be allowed to visit as soon as Easter." I can't see this reported anywhere else in the press just yet so again, cautious optimism, but great to hear there are some innovative plans taking shape.
Today's weather map reminds me of the "scorchio" sketch from The Fast Show with sunshine icons all over the country. The temperatures are a bit topsy-turvy though and you would have been hard-pressed to guess where the warmest part of Italy was today. The coldest area is Campobasso in Molise where they're expecting a maximum of 10° Celsius today but turning the country on its head is Alpine Bolzano where they will be drunk on the clean mountain air and spring temperatures of 18° C today. Actually when I think about it, the hottest temperature I've ever experienced in Italy was at the Madonna di Campiglio ski resort, in the Trentino Alto-Adige/South Tyrol region a few years ago when it reached 45°C one day, so that area does have the power to surprise every now and then.
So back to Pompeii: this is the archaeological that just keeps giving. It seems there's something new happening there every month. I seem to remember a few weeks ago a story about a tourist returning a piece of masonry from the site that he or she had accidentally on purpose confiscated for a period of 50 years. Also, it wasn't long ago that the date of the Mount Vesuvius eruption that destroyed the city was heavily questioned; the correct date was long held to be 24th August 79 AD whereas evidence more recently uncovered at the site suggests the disaster took place a few months later.
If you've never had the opportunity to visit Pompeii I would urge you to add it to your future travel list (I don't like the phrase "bucket list" as I find it a bit morbid!), as it's one of the most fascinating archaeological sites in the world. The story of its sudden destruction when the nearby volcano erupted is hugely dramatic, with much of that story described by Pliny the Younger, nephew of Pliny the Elder, to whom we owe so much of what we know about the Roman Empire, but who sadly lost his life in the Pompeii tragedy.
Pompeii is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with two other nearby sites: Herculaneum and Torre Annunziata (Villa Oplontis). These three sites are situated on the outskirts of Naples, all in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius. It's interesting to note the name of the train line that links these and many other towns around the mountain is called the "Circumvesuviana" which translates to something like "around Vesuvius", as they have a similar train in Sicily called the Circumetnea (around Etna).
Naples and its surrounding area is a hotbed of archaeological sites: very close to the three mentioned above is the ancient town of Stabiae which sits on a hill overlooking the modern Castellammare di Stabia, a view you can enjoy while exploring two Roman villas called Villa Arianna and Villa San Marco. On the other side of Naples, the ferry port of Pozzuoli can boast the Flavian Amphitheatre, the Roman columns of the Temple of Serapis in its town centre and the Pausilypon Archaeological Park just a short distance away, west of Naples. On the opposite side of Pozzuoli is the Baia Archaeological Park and the Cumae Archaeological site facing the island of Ischia across the sea.
Spread the net a little wider in Campania: north towards Rome, and you find the historic city of Capua, a name synonymous with Spartacus who led the slave revolt against the Roman Empire. The modern town of Capua is fairly interesting but it's not the site of the famous arena, the Campano Amphitheatre; that's just a little further from the modern Capua in a place called Santa Maria Capua Vetere. The arena there is quite spectacular and there's a modern visitor centre there to enhance the whole experience. Right at the other end of Campania is another UNESCO site: the archaeological park of Paestum in the province of Salerno with its temples from the Magna Graecia era.
No sooner was I about to post some photos of Campania's archaeological heritage than I realised I did the same about a month ago; I told you Pompeii was the story that keeps on giving! Oh well, here are some slightly different photos of the same places.
Back with more tomorrow.
Good morning on Friday 26th February with another weekend just around the corner. It's been a week of coffins floating in the sea in Liguria, Mount Etna erupting daily in Sicily and Coronavirus cases continuing to rise. We can now add to that list Lady Gaga, currently in Rome to film a new film about Gucci but beside herself with worry after her dog was 'napped' back home in Los Angeles.
I would dearly love to avoid the subject but we simply can't ignore the Covid 19 situation at the moment. Yesterday the sharp increase in new cases continued with the figure rising by 19,886, roughly 3,500 more than the day before. At a time when there are all sorts of preventative measures in place around the country, these numbers are quite unexpected and unwanted. The colour-coded zones are due to be reviewed today and we can expect a number of regions to move towards the stricter measures of orange and red zones. Strangely though, there is some talk of opening up cinemas and theatres, while Sardinia provides another chink of light as it's about to become the first region to move into the white/no restriction zone.
Today's temperatures are hovering somewhere between puberty and adolescence with Genoa the coldest at 9° Celsius and the three cities of Bari, Catania and Bologna sharing top-billing with 15° Celsius. Almost everywhere will be sunny and those temperatures should gradually creep up over the next week or so.
In the absence of any quirky news stories to link to I'll just briefly talk about another region that I haven't mentioned so far in my blogs. For the purposes of putting this website together I've divided Italy up into four areas: Northern Italy, Central Italy, Southern Italy and the Island Regions of Sicily and Sardinia. Within that Central Italy section I've included the six regions of Tuscany, Lazio, Abruzzo, Umbria, Molise and the focus of today: Marche.
Italians will call it either Le Marche (pronounced close to "Lay Markay") or simply Marche without the Le, and its English translation is "The Marches". It occupies an area of Italy's eastern, Adriatic Coast, with Abruzzo to the south and Emilia Romagna to the north. Inland it shares small borders with Tuscany and Lazio, while a much larger one separates it from Umbria along the Monti Sibillini National Park. The Adriatic coastline is huge, with some stunning locations in the southern region of Puglia before it reaches Molise and becomes one endless, at times featureless beach all the way through Abruzzo and much of southern Marche.
It's at Marche's Conero Peninsula where it starts to dazzle again with a rocky coastline punctuated by white, powder-puff beaches. Starting with the beach resort of Marcelli, it continues north to Numana, Marche's standout seaside town of Sirolo, up to another beach resort called Portonovo and finally on to the expansive Mezzavalle Beach. It's then just a short distance north from the Conero Peninsula to the regional capital of Ancona; an important port city from where you can catch ferries across the Adriatic to Croatia and Greece.
Other notable locations along Marche's coastline are the historic towns of Fano, Senigallia and Pesaro which is the capital of the two-pronged Pesaro and Urbino province. That second prong of the province is one of Marche's jewels: Urbino. Aside from being the birthplace of Raphael, its links with the Renaissance are held firm by the city's Palazzo Ducale, made great by the humanist Federico da Montefeltro for whom the phrase "Renaissance Man" is a well-deserved epithet.
If you plan to visit Italy by car one day then it's definitely a good idea to consider Marche as a place to drive through. Heading south from Urbino you cover an enormous area of rolling fields where farms and vineyards create some memorable landscapes. Each season offers something different but the vivid autumn colours are particularly beautiful and provide an endless set of real-life Cézanne landscapes. The vineyard landscapes are interspersed with dozens of gorgeous hill towns, all the way through Marche's three other provinces of Ascoli-Piceno, Fermo and Macerata. Among the prettiest of those hill towns are little Corinaldo and Ripatransone but there are too many others to list.
Back up towards Urbino there are a couple of quirky sights; one man-made and one very natural, with both bearing the same name. The Frasassi Caves with their stalagmites and stalactites provide a fascinating day-out, no matter the weather outside, while just a short drive from there is the Santuario di Madonna di Frasassi, a tiny sanctuary built in a cave.
I could say much, much more about Marche but there are lots of pages on the website where you can discover the region in more depth if you wish. For now I'll leave you with a few impressions of what Marche can offer and I'll be back again on Monday.
Have a great weekend!
Good morning on Thursday 25th February. Spring edges ever closer but Italy remains in the thrall of the Coronavirus pandemic with numbers on the rise again. Yesterday the country reported 16,424 new Covid 19 cases, a big jump from the day before which had had already been a sharp increase on the preceding day.
Most of the country remains in a partial lockdown with travel between regions forbidden and an evening curfew in place from 10pm to 5am. Sadly, it would appear that the current measures aren't sufficient to see those case numbers heading in the right direction which must be the cause of some head-scratching at government level. One can only assume that the new mutations are more resistant to the hitherto social-distancing measures imposed and that extra resistance is tipping the balance in the virus' favour right now.
We continue to look to the weather as a way out of the pandemic and we're still a little way off that particular cavalry coming to the rescue. Having said that, the weather is pretty good today and feeling spring-like again. Unusually, Rome is expecting the lowest maximum temperature today with 10° Celsius the forecast while eye-catching temperatures come from the northern cities of Bergamo (16° C) and Venice which is topping the charts at 18° C.
Some positive news has been emerging from Sicily over the last few days, with two separate stories surrounding the remote Pelagie Islands. The island group lies closer to Africa (specifically Tunisia) than the Italian mainland, and the three islands are among the most remote in Italy. Lampedusa has regularly been in the world news in recent years as African refugees saw it as a viable way into Europe. The way the media have reported on those stories has created a very negative world view towards Lampedusa, one that made even myself think twice about visiting the island. However, once you get there you find something quite different from what you may have been expecting.
Lampedusa is famous for its standout beach: the Spiaggia dei Conigli (Rabbit Beach), which has once again been voted by Tripadvisor as the number one beach in Europe. I've also listed it as my number one beach in Italy, just ahead of La Pelosa in Sardinia which I briefly touched on earlier this week. Two more of Lampedusa's beaches feature in my list: Cala Guitgia and Cala Croce, but quite honestly I could have included half a dozen. It's a very small island where you can easily walk from one end to the other (if you can stand the heat), and completely flat. Nearly all of the beaches share a common theme of bright, azure water and shallow bays to bathe in. The island has its own airport and as such, remains one of Italy's tourist hot-spots even in late-season (October/November) when most other resorts in the country have packed up for the winter hibernation.
The second story of the week from the Pelagie Islands comes from one of my personal favourite places: the island of Linosa. Roughly a quarter of the size of Lampedusa at just 5.4 km², Linosa is a completely different island to its larger neighbour. I say "neighbour", even thought the two islands are some distance apart, separated by fifty kilometres of Mediterranean Sea, with a much smaller population of just over 400 inhabitants.
As things stand, those 400 or so residents of Linosa are Covid-free; one of the few places in the world that's able to make that statement. The islanders are very proud of this and as such, determined that things remain that way until the pandemic is over on the mainland. Once travel to the island is possible again, its visitors will be charmed by its multi-coloured houses and by its volcanic surface of red and black hues. Linosa doesn't have an airport and can only be reached by sea, either from the Sicilian mainland town of Porto Empedocle, or more easily from Lampedusa.
I'll leave you with a few glimpses of the Pelagie Islands and I'll be back with more tomorrow. Let's hope those case numbers have started to head in the opposite direction by then.
Good morning on Wednesday 24th February as we saunter our way along the catwalk of life towards the middle of the week. Milan Fashion Week is now underway and will continue until 1st March, albeit "virtual" and probably a bit rubbish let's be honest.
Hopefully this time next year we'll be talking about real events taking place as they used to but we're still not quite there yet. The number of new Covid 19 cases was up to 13,314 yesterday, a big increase on the day before (9,630) which seems to have been nothing more than a temporary downward blip.
The Italian news centres around the repatriation of the bodies of the Ambassador and an Italian carabiniere who were murdered in DR Congo earlier this week. The newspapers are full of speculation as to why it happened and are pushing for a UN investigation. Aside from that, there are no more crumbling cemeteries or coffins floating in the sea today and that can only be a good thing.
Today's weather is providing the main cause for excitement; as long as you're not in Trieste (7° Celsius), you should be enjoying some lovely spring sunshine all across the country. Catania (18° C) is the warmest today but temperatures are also quite impressive in some of the central and northern cities with Pescara and Prato both 17° C and Bologna 16° C.
It's that time of year when we start looking outside at our gardens once again, assessing what needs to be done with them after months of winter neglect. Italy is of course famous for its gardens and there are some real beauties out there. Some of my personal favourites can be found around two of the great lakes in the north of Italy: Lake Como and Lake Maggiore. Around Lake Como there are the likes of Villa Carlotta, Giardini di Villa Melzi and Villa Monastero in Varenna, while the Villa del Balbianello will be strangely familiar to fans of James Bond (Casino Royale 2006) and Star Wars (Episode II Attack of the Clones 2002) as it was used as a filming location for both.
West of Lake Como, the beautiful Lake Maggiore is split between the regions of Lombardy and Piedmont, with my favourite garden situated on the Piedmont (western) shore. Villa Taranto, created by Scotsman Neil McEacharn, is a short walk from the city of Verbania and leaves a lasting impression with its array of colour. If gardens are your thing then this really is the place for you as you can take a ferry across from Villa Taranto (which has its own Lake Maggiore ferry stop) to the Borromean Islands. Two of those islands: Isola Bella (not to be confused with the beach island of the same name in Sicily) and Isola Madre have stunning gardens of their own, while the third island, Isola dei Pescatori is bursting with charm, garden or no garden.
The regions of Lazio and Campania are also notable for their gardens but I'll cover those at a later date so as not to dilute the taste of those mentioned above.
I'll be back with more tomorrow.
Buona giornata a tutti!
Good morning on Tuesday 23rd February, a day positively bristling with news concerning Italy. The headline story from yesterday was the assassination of an Italian ambassador in the Democratic Republic of Congo, along with two passengers travelling in the same car. Reports suggest it was a bungled attempt at a kidnap with tragic consequences.
Closer to home, in Italy itself, there was a curious, morbid and very sad incident just outside the seaside town of Camogli in Liguria. In Italy there are many cemeteries placed in scenic positions on hillsides, often overlooking the sea. In one such cemetery yesterday, the cliff crumbled and fell to the sea, taking hundreds of coffins with it. Horrified relatives had to stand and watch as their loved ones drifted out to sea before the local authorities tried their best to haul some of them back to land for a reburial.
Italy's Coronavirus pandemic has improved a little bit over the past few days with the numbers of new cases dropping. Yesterday in Italy there were 9,630 new Covid 19 cases, a reduction of 3,822 from the day before when there were 13,452. These daily figures don't necessarily reflect what's going on out there and the weekly totals for the past two months have shown something of a plateau. Let's be optimistic though and hope this is the start of a significant downward trend.
News from the UK in the past 24 hours has been very positive with Prime Minister Boris Johnson laying out his roadmap towards an end to the pandemic. His plans, cautious as they are, have led to a surge in holiday bookings reported by travel companies such as Tui, Thomas Cook and Easyjet. Travel to Italy is still banned but it's good to see things opening up a little bit around the world and hopefully Italy will soon be one of the countries open for business.
It's really starting to feel like spring out there and that's another big positive. Venice will be the coldest part of Italy today with a maximum temperature of 8° Celsius but contrast that with the southern cities of Naples (15°C) and Palermo (16°C). The highest temperatures in the country should come from Sardinia today, with the capital, Cagliari expected to reach 17°C.
Thus far on my blog I've paid little attention to Sardinia so let's correct that now. Last week the Governor of Sardinia declared that visitors to the island this year would only be permitted if they can demonstrate that they're both negative against the virus and that they've had a vaccine. That's quite a big statement and it doesn't appear to be official policy, but in my opinion it's the right way to go. It will provide a level of reassurance and confidence to tourists while they're visiting the island and help them relax into their holidays. That last word "holiday", almost seems to have become a forgotten concept with so many people not having had one for so long but hopefully the next one is not too far away now.
So what can visitors to Sardinia expect? For sure, the big attraction of Italy's second largest island (it's slightly smaller than Sicily), is its array of beautiful beaches. Whether you're in the north, south, east or west of the island, you're never far away from the sea and it's almost always of that stunning azure colour that's so inviting. The most famous seaside town is Alghero which is in the north-western corner of Sardinia. It offers historic monuments, a mixture of cultures due to its Catalan heritage and of course, some great beaches.
Alghero has its own airport just outside the city, as well as a whole host of great places to visit close by which makes it an ideal base for exploring the local area. South of Alghero is the uber-colourful town of Bosa which has to be seen to be believed, while head in the other direction, north and you soon reach one of Sardinia's best beaches called La Pelosa. This really is one of the prettiest areas of Sardinia as from La Pelosa you can see across to the island of Asinara which is a nature reserve and officially one of Italy's national parks.
Asinara offers breathtaking scenery with its beaches but it's quite a curious place where the donkey population greatly outnumbers that of the one human, and there's also an abandoned prison; some of the places they've placed prisons in Italy does make you wonder whether it's actually not such a bad thing to get caught! You can take a ferry across to Asinara from either Stintino or Porto Torres which is just further along the coast. Once there you can choose to just walk around the island but I can personally recommend hiring a buggy which is great fun.
Just along the coast from Porto Torres is another colourful seaside town: Castelsardo, around an hour's drive from Alghero, while the island's interior is also fascinating; the landscape is peppered with old stone buildings called nuraghe which date back some 3,500 years. One of those lies a short distance to the east of Alghero, called Nuraghe Santu Antine. The biggest and most famous nuraghe site is a long way south of Alghero: it's called Su Nuraxi di Barumini and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Well that's my little round-up for the day; I feel there's more positivity in the air and some images of Sardinia only serve to enhance that feeling.
Back with more tomorrow.