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.
Good morning all on Monday 22nd February. We move into a new week with fire in the skies over Mount Etna which continues to rage, while somewhat less expected was the smaller, but more worrying fire in the skies above Denver; remind me not to get on a Boeing 777 any time soon!
Closer to home, the Coronavirus pandemic continues to throw its almighty spanner in the proverbial works by refusing to budge. Yesterday there were 13,452 new Covid 19 cases reported in Italy, a slight drop of 1,479 from the previous day.
Compared to the likes of Israel, the US and the UK, Italy is lagging behind with its vaccination programme with something like 3.5 million people so far having received a dose. Efforts are being made to speed things up with a new strategy of deferring the booster jab for a longer period, in order to get more first jabs into arms as soon as possible. The big factor here is vaccine supply and while things are pretty slow at the moment, there should be a big improvement in the spring when the Moderna and other vaccines will be available.
However, given the steady number of new cases each day being reported at the moment, the Italian government is expected to extend the partial lockdown until Saturday 27th March. I say partial lockdown as the current restrictions are nowhere near as strict as the first set were. In fact, we've just reached the anniversary of the first lockdown; at that time, you needed to get a permit to go shopping and you couldn't even leave the house to exercise. The main restrictions at the moment centre around the ban on travel between regions and the closure of shops, bars and restaurants in the different colour-coded zones, of which you can find a full breakdown on the home page.
Along with the vaccines, the weather will eventually help us out of this situation but it's still not really playing ball in that respect. The major northern city of Milan will reach a maximum temperature of 11° Celsius today, with things predictably warming up the further south you go: Florence 13° C, Rome 13° C, Naples 15° C and Palermo 16° C. These are hardly temperatures to set the pulses racing but we are still in February and at least there's a good deal of sunshine around, particularly in the south.
I still have no update on the main stories from last week, i.e. the escaped puma in Puglia and the whodunnit on Capraia, but as alluded to above, Mount Etna has now erupted four times in the last four days, no doubt eager for its share of column inches. The photos of molten lava and ash clouds flashing around the world have caused a good deal of worry for the safety of the people living close to the volcano, while those people themselves have nonchalantly laughed off those concerns as they're quite used to it. In fact they worry more when Etna goes silent as they don't know what its up to then.
In the absence of any really interesting news stories over the last 24 hours, I'll use a simple celebrity spot to link to a little feature. American actor Liev Schreiber was spotted out walking his dog in Venice over the weekend; good work by the local paparazzi to spot him even when he was wearing a mask. He's in Italy to shoot a new war film apparently so I'm looking forward to that.
Venice is one of Italy's premium tourist attractions and it's easy to understand why. It's a city built on the sea and there really aren't too many of those around. This, coupled with its historic buildings from the medieval and Renaissance periods makes it one of the first places people wish to visit when they come to Italy. Apart from the gondolas being paddled by snazzily-dressed gondoliers, it has a number of landmark sights such as Saint Mark's Square, the Rialto Bridge, the Doge's Palace and Saint Mark's Basilica. Venice is the central island of the Venice Lagoon, but there are many other islands, including the wacky, multi-coloured world of Burano, replete with its own leaning tower and an important centre of the lace trade, while just a short distance and one letter away is Murano, famous for its production of glass (and infamous for the prices of said glass!).
I'll do another feature on the wider region of Veneto soon but for now, I'll leave you with some images of Venice and we can all look forward to the day when we can go back there. Back with more tomorrow.
Good morning on Friday 19th February with the weekend almost upon us. Noises coming from the UK have been striking a noticeably more positive note over the past twenty four hours with the idea of vaccine passports being mooted again. Discussions are under way between the Greek and UK governments at the moment and should those talks prove successful, there's hope that other countries will follow suit.
Also in the UK, the vaccination program is going great guns with one newspaper report last night suggesting that over 40's could be vaccinated by the last week of March, just over a month from now. This is in addition to the early reports suggesting the vaccinations are proving effective in significantly cutting transmission rates, hospitalisations, serious illness and deaths. More data on that will come to light in the coming days with Prime Minister Boris Johnson expected to outline the way out of lockdown at an announcement on Monday 22nd February.
Italy is in a slightly different position at the moment; whereas in the UK the transmission rate (R) is below 1 and new cases have been dropping by around 20% week by week, in Italy the R rate is at least 1 and above that in some areas. Every Friday the Italian government reviews its colour-coded restriction zones and today should see a number of regions heading in the wrong direction. Abruzzo is one of the worst-affected and expected to become a red zone today while others such as Molise, Emilia Romagna and Campania are likely to change from yellow to orange, meaning restaurants and bars must close. One positive is the region of Valle d'Aosta which will enter into the white zone where no restrictions are necessary apart from the nationwide ban on inter-regional travel and night-time curfew.
You can find all the latest colour-coded zones and statistics on the home page including yesterday's 13,762 new Covid 19 cases which was an increase of 1,688 from the previous day. The overall number of people currently infected in Italy continues to drop however, now down to 384,501, down by just over four thousand from the day before.
Time and the warmer temperatures are the ticket out of all this so we all need to remain patient and as optimistic as possible over the next few months. Andrà tutto bene (everything will be fine), to bring back the motto from the beginning of the pandemic. Speaking of the weather, it's still not particularly warm anywhere and decidedly cold in the north (Turin 5° Celsius and Trento 7° Celsius), but the further south you go the temperatures are on the cusp of spring-like (Catania and Reggio Calabria both 16° Celsius). There should be a mixture of sunny and cloudy spells in the north with more sunshine in the south.
So how about some nice, sunny photos to take us into the weekend and leave the pandemic gloom behind us for a while? Well I just mentioned Reggio Calabria in the weather report and that's usually a pretty good source of sunshine. Reggio lies on the eastern shores of the Strait of Messina which divides the Italian mainland from Sicily to the east. You probably wouldn't rush to Reggio Calabria as a tourist although it can boast the incredible Riace Bronzes: two giant statues from the Magna Graecia period (roughly 5th century BC) that were fished out of the sea at nearby Riace (hence the name). The bronzes are on display at Reggio's National Museum of Magna Graecia in specially-sealed chambers which are surprisingly space-age.
Calabria has two coastlines: to the east is the Ionian Sea and to the west is the Tyrrhenian Sea which stretches all the way up to Tuscany. It is this Tyrrhenian Coast that provides most of Calabria's sparkle: just a short distance north of Reggio is the beautiful seaside town of Scilla (pronounced like the name: Sheila), with its crystalline water, banks of multi-coloured houses, hilltop fortress and charming fishing borgo called Chianalea. The two other brightest gems in Calabria's jewellery box are further north: the seaside towns of Tropea and Pizzo Calabro. Tropea has recently been entered into the list of Borghi Più Belli d'Italia (Italy's most beautiful villages) but it hardly needed the tourism boost as it's already hugely popular.
That word borgo crops up quite a lot in my blogs and I should explain what it means. A borgo is usually an historic little village, often on a hill top, but quite often just a little area of a larger town or even a fishing village as in the case of the aforementioned Chianalea. Calabria's interior is sprinkled with dozens of these fascinating borghi (plural), among which are some of my favourites such as Altomonte and Morano Calabro which are in the province of Cosenza. Back down at the southern tip of the region in the Metropolitan City of Reggio Calabria province and just a short distance from the city itself is the fascinating ghost town of Pentedattilo and nearby Palizzi where time seems to have stood still.
Calabria's other big feature in its hinterland comes in the form of three national parks. Whereas the region is mostly known for its countless seaside resorts, its interior is one of forests, hills and valleys. You can even ski in Calabria's Aspromonte National Park while the further north Sila National Park (1,928 metres) and Pollino National Park (2,267 metres) are regularly covered in a dusting of snow throughout the winter due in part to their elevation above sea level.
Well, that's me done for the day and for the week. I wish you all a great weekend and I'll be back with more on Monday. Hopefully we'll be a bit closer to the end of the pandemic by then!
Good morning everyone on Thursday 18th February. The news in Italy continues to be dominated by the appointment of the new Prime Minister Mario Draghi and his plans for saving the country. Among his directives is a strategy for speeding up the vaccination rollout so let's hope he has some success with that.
The Coronavirus figures continue to be worrisome: yesterday there were 12,074 new cases of Covid 19, an increase of 1,688 from the previous day. The overall figure of people currently infected however, continues to drop and has now reached 388,864, down by almost five thousand from the day before.
Buzzword of choice in Italy at the moment is variante, relating to the English, South African and Brazilian mutations of the virus although there now appear to be others such as the Varese variant. I think we just have to accept that the virus will mutate, as viruses do, and that we need to continue to be vigilant while the vaccination programme continues. It's going to be a difficult few months for sure but hopefully better times are not too far away now.
On the weather front, it's still quite cold in Italy at the moment, especially so in Turin (6° Celsius), Trento and Ferrara (both 7° C), while the warmest temperatures can be found in the south with Catania (14° C), Bari (13° C) and the capital of Sardinia, Cagliari at 13° C. Bucking the north-south weather trend a little bit is the northern city of Genoa where it's also 13° C today. Overhead conditions will see a mixture of sunshine and cloudy spells.
Genoa is the capital of one of my favourite Italian regions: Liguria. The official name of the region gets relatively little attention outside of Italy but some know it better as the Italian Riviera. In fact, it's split into two rivieras: the Riviera di Levante and the Riviera di Ponente. Those names are actually quite interesting as they relate to the winds; whereas in English we might refer to a "stiff south-westerly breeze" for example, in Italy there are more clearly defined names for each wind direction.
There are eight different winds which relate to the compass points: you may have heard of the Scirocco which comes from the south-east and often brings sand from the Sahara desert with it. The Libeccio comes from the south-west, the Maestrale is the north-west, Grecale (from Greece) is the north-east, Ostro the south and Tramontana the north, the one that brings the coldest weather from the Alps. The two names that relate to the rivieras in Liguria are the Levante from the east and the Ponente from the west.
Liguria is a largely coastal region in north-west Italy; to its west, the town of Ventimiglia lies close to the border with France, while to its south-east is Tuscany. It shares a long border with Piedmont to its north and a shorter one with Emilia Romagna to its north east. The majority of towns can be found along its coastline on the Ligurian Sea, but there are also some fascinating hill towns in the hinterland which gradually rises away from the coast.
Genoa sits roughly in the middle of Liguria's coastline and the two rivieras are divided either side of it with the Riviera di Ponente stretching west towards France and the Riviera di Levante heading east in the direction of Tuscany. Without question, it's the Riviera di Levante which can lay claim to the more lustrous towns where it's able to name-drop the Cinque Terre, Portofino, Portovenere, Camogli and Sestri Levante, among others. The most famous town of the Riviera di Ponente is Sanremo; one of the first places in Italy where modern tourism took hold, along with some lesser-known lights such as Laigueglia (pronounced a bit like "lie gwellia"), and Alassio.
Apart from the rocky coastline and gorgeous beaches, a major feature of Liguria is the architecture which is quite distinct from other Italian regions. The prevailing feature is multi-coloured clusters of buildings, painted in a certain decorative way. Hundreds of years ago, Liguria was a constant victim of raids by Saracen pirates and those same pirates used to climb the walls to break into the houses. As a riposte to this, the Genoese started to construct buildings with flat, smooth surfaces that couldn't be scaled, but they are painted in a way that suggests the bricks and balcony windows protrude slightly.
The overall effect of colour and coastline is quite intoxicating and I will of course leave you with just a little flavour of Liguria's coastline and be back with more tomorrow.
Good morning on Wednesday 17th February; the morning after the night before when Mount Etna blew its top. The rollercoaster world of the Coronavirus continues its ups and downs with an increase in new cases yesterday: 10,386 compared to the 7,351 of the previous day, a rise of 3,035.
For those of you that are interested in statistics, the numbers of new cases reported on a weekly basis are incredibly stable. For example, the week from 10th to 16th February there were 84,347 new cases, the week before that 84,749 and the week before that 84,702. In fact, if you go back one more week to the 20th - 26th January, the number was 85,397.
The conclusion from those statistics is that Italy's pandemic has reached a plateau. On one hand, the new variants are creating new outbreaks while on the other, the steady process of the vaccination rollout is keeping those numbers stable. The big, nuclear weapon that Italy has in its arsenal is the warmer weather that's not far away now and should hopefully tip the balance to get us out of this.
In terms of today's weather, the usual suspects are present at either end of the scale with Turin the coldest city (4° Celsius) and the two major cities in Sicily sharing the accolade of warmest with both Palermo and Catania hitting the undizzying heights of 13° Celsius today. From north to south there's a good deal of sunshine around with some areas experiencing some cloudy spells.
Back to that big news from yesterday: Mount Etna erupted, hurling huge plumes of smoke and ash into the sky and spewing rivers of lava. The noise and energy created by the eruption is a real show of nature's strength and quite humbling in many ways. The volcano is one of Sicily's major tourist attractions and its summit can be reached via a combination of cable car and Shanks' pony (on-foot). The activity of the mountain is regularly monitored so it's rare that anyone gets caught out by a sudden eruption and its lunar landscape really is like another world, or another moon depending on how you want to look at it.
At 3,350 metres above sea level, Mount Etna can be seen from much of eastern Sicily. The major city close by is Catania while one of the most evocative places from which to view it is the Ancient Greek Theatre in Taormina. West of the volcano are some fascinating hill towns such as Gagliano Castelferrato and Agira, while to the south and closer to Catania are the historic Acireale and the seaside town of Aci Trezza with its Cyclops Islands (Isole Ciclopi).
There's no further news from the whodunnit on Capraia or sightings of the Puglia puma but who knows, maybe there will be tomorrow when I'm back with my next update. Some images from Mount Etna and the local area complete today's fayre.
Good morning all on Tuesday 16th February. These are interesting times in Italy, with yesterday's story about the real-life whodunnit on the Tuscan island of Capraia, followed today by wild cats roaming the streets of Puglia which I'll get to shortly.
The pandemic news is very good today with the number of new Covid 19 cases yesterday dropping to 7,351: that's a fall of 3,717 compared to the previous day and the lowest number since the middle of October last year. Also, the number of people currently infected has lowered by 4,685 to dip below the 400,000 mark for the first time since I started this blog; that overall figure now standing at 398,098.
Matters meteorological continue to be a source of news at the moment with snow reported on the coast of Calabria and even further south, in Sicily, while high winds have been playing havoc with ferries on the islands of Capri in Campania and Lipari, one of the Aeolian Islands. Turin keeps its unwanted title of coldest Italian city today with a top temperature of just 2° Celsius while Catania proudly remains at the opposite end of the scale although without that much to shout about at a miserly 12° Celsius. It is sunny in most places though.
Strange as these times are, they've just got even stranger with reports emanating from Puglia of a Black Panther wandering around rural areas of the Metropolitan City of Bari province. Locals have been advised to avoid open spaces and fields while the law enforcement authorities track down the rogue beast. No explanation has been provided as to why this should suddenly happen although one theory suggests that it could be a pet that has escaped. Around this time last year there were similar sightings in Puglia which were attributed to an animal that had fled from his owner: a supposed Mafia boss.
We can assume that the panther's first instincts are to forage for food but let's have a look at what he or she might be encountering in the local area. Well, Bari itself is the biggest city in Puglia and its capital. Its most famous sight is the Basilica di San Nicola and it's one of the most important port cities in Italy. It lies on the Adriatic Coast where a short trundle down the motorway brings you to the beautiful seaside town of Polignano a Mare: the former home of Domenico Modugno, he of the "Volare" song.
North along the coast from Bari there's a clutch of picturesque fishing towns that come one after the other, starting with Giovinazzo and continuing on to Molfetta, Bisceglie and Trani. There's also much to see inland of Bari with historic towns such as Conversano, Bitonto and Ruvo di Puglia which sits just at the edge of the Alta Murgia National Park. Two of Puglia's UNESCO World Heritage sites are also within an hour's drive of Bari: the amazing Trulli Houses of Alberobello south-east of Bari while the mystical Castel del Monte lies directly west of the city.
All this gives me the chance to post some pretty pictures of Puglia and I'll be back with more fun and games tomorrow.
Good morning folks; it's Monday 15th February as we head into a new week and the second half of this month with most of winter behind us now.
The Coronavirus pandemic continues to dominate the news and I've just updated the home page with the latest figures and amendments to the rules. The big news is that the northern ski resorts that were due to open today and later this week, have now been ordered to remain closed until 5th March at least. This is obviously a big blow to the tourism sector and local economies who have very little of this year's ski season left. Unfortunately, prevalence of the virus and in particular, the English variant (it makes me cringe every time I hear that phrase!), is high enough to be causing concern in those Alpine regions.
Other regions are experiencing fluctuating fortunes as well: Tuscany, Abruzzo and Liguria have moved from the yellow zone into the orange zone which means restaurants and bars have to close, while on the flip side, Puglia has made the more positive transition in the other direction and is now firmly in the yellow camp (not an actual camp, just to be clear).
Yesterday in Italy there were 11,068 new Covid 19 cases, a reduction of 2,464 from the day before (when there were 13,532). The overall number of people in Italy that currently have the virus is 402,783, an increase of 1,370 against the previous day. It's encouraging to see the number of new cases dropping; last week they looked to be on the rise again so let's hope for a sharper decline over the coming weeks.
Obviously the weather is going to play its part in getting those virus numbers down with the warmer weather not too far away now. It's still very wintery out there today though; Turin continues its current trend of being the coldest city in Italy at 0° Celsius today, while Catania continues to be the warmest with a not so spectacular high of 11° Celsius. Despite those low temperatures, almost everywhere will be sunny.
Away from the pandemic, one item of news caught my attention and I had to double-check that it wasn't a very premature April fools prank. There's a beautiful group of islands in Tuscany called the Tuscan Archipelago, which is also recognised as one of Italy's national parks. The seven islands include Elba which is the largest and some wonderful smaller islands such as Giglio, Pianosa and Giannutri. Montecristo is an off-limits nature reserve while Gorgona is off-limits to most law-abiding citizens as it's a prison.
That leaves the 19 km² island of Capraia which is the northernmost of the island group, a two hour 45 minute ferry ride from the Tuscan mainland port of Livorno and close to the French-owned island of Corsica. That longish ferry journey makes Capraia a rather sleepy place that does liven-up a little bit during the summers when its population swells to around 400 or so. It's at it sleepiest during the winters however and this is what makes the following story so incredible. The winter population on Capraia is in the region of 200 people and lo and behold, in their current midst is a rather prolific burglar.
Capraia's vice-mayor, a local teacher a barman and two fishermen have all been burgled in the last few days while the perpetrator has saved the best for last with a hit on the local newsagent from which he or she has pocketed a cool €60,000. Just like everywhere else in Italy, Capraia is under Covid restrictions at the moment with all but essential travel banned so it follows that the thief must be one of the island's residents. With that in mind, we now have a real-life Agatha Christie-esque drama playing out as the island's three policemen work their way through the list of suspects.
I'll be keeping a very close eye on that story and will let you know how it all pans out. In the meantime, I'll leave you with some lovely images of Capraia, a place we'll all be able to visit when the pandemic is over and this pesky villain has been caught!
My name is Dion Protani, founder of Italy Review. The Italy Review blog is designed to provide ideas and inspiration to visit places in Italy you might not have heard about, as well those you have.