Friday, December 15, 2017

Italy's wondrous collection of small towns (Part II)

Souvenir shops in the quaint village of Alberobello  (Taylor)
ITALY Perhaps no country has a greater concentration of charming small villages and towns. Continuing our look at Italy's ten best undiscovered villages as rated by "Conde Nast Traveler", here is the second group of five.
Pietrapertosa clings to the edge of the cliff on which it is built
Pietrapertosa: With a reputation as one of the most dramatic towns in Italy, Pietrapertosa is the highest village in all of Basilicata, a little known region in southern Italy.


Sitting precipitously on the edges of the rock upon which it is built, Pietrapertosa is justifiably known as the "City in the Clouds," a designation that often scares and amazes visitors.

The zipline is a main attraction

At 3,500 feet above sea level, more adventurous travelers thrill to the views of the town and its surroundings from Il Volo dell'Angelo, reputed to be the world's longest, highest and fastest zipline.


More sedate visitors will enjoy countless ancient ruins including the 9th century Saracen castle, a fortification dominated by a natural arch that was once used as a look-out and offers spectacular panoramas.

Belluno's location offers something for everyone
Belluno: Everyone knows about Venice but roughly 60 miles north, slightly more than an hour's drive from the meandering Grand Canal, sits Belluno, one of the best kept secrets in northern Italy.


Filled with Renaissance architecture, palazzi and churches, Belluno is tucked beneath the snowcapped Dolomite Mountains while rising upon high bluffs overlooking the Piave River. The result being 360-degree views that led to its Celtic name belo-dunum  which means "splendid hill."

Belluno sits in the shadow of
the Dolomites

Founded sometime between 220 and 200 ABC, Belluno's geography made it strategically advantageous not only for itself but for other villages to the south. It was also an important supplier of iron and copper.


In more modern times Belluno was an important hub for transporting lumber on the Piave River.


An earthquake in 1873 heavily damaged much of the town including the cathedral, however the campanile was spared.

Sperlonga peers out the the infinite from its cliffside perch
Sperlonga: While most people are more familiar with the island of Capri as a former hideaway for many Roman emperors, the coastal town of Sperlonga sits half the distance between Rome and Naples making it more convenient for weekend escapes.


Located near the Via Appia, or Appian Way, Sperlonga, with its lovely pristine beaches, was originally known for the sea grotto along its coast which gave the town its name.


Emperor Tiberius later embellished the grotto with a magnificent villa filled with exquisite sculptures that are today exhibited in at Museo Archeologico di Sperlonga. Many of the sculptures celebrate the deeds of Odysseus.

The grotto is a famous attraction in Sperlong (

For the best scenery, the Torre Truglia, which sits at the tip of Sperlonga's promontory is the best place for taking pictures.

Coastal Cefalu in Sicily appeals to Italian film makers (Taylor)

Cefal├╣: When it comes to seaside villages, Cefalu, Sicily, just an hour outside of Palermo, is one of the best. Not only is Cefalu famous for its cathedrals filled with mosaics, it is also popular, thanks to its notoriety as a favorite setting for many Italian films, including the Academy Award winning "Cinema Paradiso" (1968).
Cefalu thrives on Sicily's ties
to "The Godfather"  (Taylor)

Thanks in large part to the success of "The Godfather" trilogy, which has its roots in Sicily, Cefalu has capitalized on those films as a means of promoting its close associations with Italian film-making.


Hundreds of thousands of visitors flock to Cefalu each year to stroll leisurely along the picturesque seafront promenade and to view the sunset from La Rocca, the city's beloved mountain.

Cefalu's picturesque narrow streets are ideal for making movies

There is evidence of human activity in the area dating as far back as prehistoric times and, sometime during the 5th and 4th centuries BC the sacred Temple of Diana was built over an existing cistern associated with the worship of the waters.

The trulli of Alberobello are always fascinating to visitors  (Taylor)

Alberobello: It has only been in recent years that the back side of Italy's boot has become a popular destination for visitors. One of the main attractions in the region of Puglia is the tiny hamlet of Alberobello with its distinctive buildings known as "trulli."


Trulli are traditional dry stone huts that are specific to the Itria Valley in Puglia. Typically, a trullo is rectangular building with a pyramidal, domed or conical cornbelled roof.

Rush hour in Alberobello (wikipedia)

Roughly worked limestone boulders are collected from nearby fields, whitewashed and built directly onto the limestone bedrock without using mortar or cement.


So unique are these enchanting little dwellings that Alberobello was made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996.

Italy's small town bring large rewards  (Taylor)

Alberobello is great fun for a casual stroll through town and shopping, but the best overall views of the village can be seen from Piazza del Popolo at the Belvedere Trulli lookout.


So there you have it, a dozen new places (less two) to visit in your search for some of the best kept secrets in Italy and on the planet.


Friday, December 8, 2017

Great small towns in Italy (Part I)

Atrani is Italy's second smallest city but it has big rewards
ITALY  A wise traveler once wrote that "every 

place is undiscovered until you discover it yourself."

No matter how famous or unknown, regardless of 

size, until the experience becomes your own, it

 exists only in your imaginations.

Many favorite villages are
coastal towns (Taylor)
Savvy travelers are

always searching for

hidden gems to satisfy 

their wandering


Many destinations offer countless unknown 

charming spots that will capture your heart, but no 

country in the world does it better than Italy.

Dramatic Amalfi Coast

In a recent edition of 

the online version of 

the popular travel 

magazine listed  Italy's ten best kept small town 


Today we offer five of the ten with the other five to

follow next week in the hope they will either

establish new places for you to visit or allow you to

bust your buttons with pride to learn that you, too,

"discovered" them on your own.

Atrani as seen from the heights of Ravello (

Atrani: Every place along the Amalfi Coast is "just 

around the corner" which means that Atrani, the

second smallest town in Italy, is often overlooked by

travelers en route to the larger, better known towns

of Amalfi, Positano and Sorrento.

Actually, Atrani can be viewed from the heights of

Ravello along with two of its sister villages, Maori and


Nestled between two cliffs overlooking the 

Tyrrhenian Sea, Atrani offers top quality ceramics,

splendid churches, lively piazzas and an abundance of

family-operated trattorias.

And, as we said, it's just around the bend from


Saluzzo was mentioned in two major literary works
Saluzzo: Though it may sound like one of the 
families from "The Godfather", the quiet medieval 
village of Saluzzo is situated just an hour south of
Turin by car.


Tiny as it may be, Saluzzo is the setting in at least two


major literary works; Boccaccio used it in the final

story of the "Decameron" and it was also the site of

the "Clerk's Tale" in Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales.''

Cathedral of the Virgin Mary in
Saluzzo  (

Famous for it red-tiled

roofs, bell towers with

their ancient spires and

the snow-capped 

Cottian Alps, the city of Saluzzo is built on a hill

overlooking a huge, well-cultivated plain that is

chock full of natural of natural resources.

Collodi eases down its hillside live a river of buildings
Collodi: All you need to know about Collodi is that


it is famous for being the home of Pinocchio's 

creator Carlo Collodi. Dating to the 12th century 

when the castle was built for defense, Collodi 

cascades down a hillside like a river of stone. 


This lovely medieval town which is situated in

Tuscany between Florence and Pisa, is noted for its 

homage to the little wooden boy with the tallest 

Pinocchio statue in the world.


The Garzoni Gardens with its Renaissance statues 

and stunning fountains are close by in the event that 

mechanical wooden puppets and talking crickets have

no appeal.

Castelluccio is famous for its rainbows of color

Castelluccio: At 5,000 feet above sea level, Castelluccio is the highest community in the 

Apennines. Though relatively unknown to every day 

tourists, skiers and trekkers are familiar with the 

village during the appropriate seasons.


The town dates from the 13th century but the

Romans settled there much earlier. Two major

seismic events in Central Italy in 2016 and earlier this

year, destroyed more than 50% of the settlement but 

it has recovered nicely and is once again a thriving 

agricultural destination.

Fields of wildflowers add to the charms of Castelluccio

Castelluccio is famous for its lentils and fields 

that create a wild array of colors during the

spring/summer "flowering season." Arguably the

most beautiful village in the Apennine Mountains,

Castelluccio also features numerous picturesque 

piazzas that compliment its beautiful church.

Panoramic view of Monte Isola  (
Monte Isola: Sometimes the best discoveries are 

those that take a little effort to reach. Part of the 

reason, of course, is their inaccessibility, and Monte 

Isola fits the bill. Not only is Monte Isola the largest 

lake island in Italy, it is also the biggest in South and

Central Europe.


To get there requires an hour and a half drive from


Milan followed by a 20-minute ferry ride across the 

lake to the town of Iseo, which is also the name of 

the lake. There is also regular ferry service to the main ports of Carzano and Peschieria.

The floating pier from
Filled with quaint lakeside cafes and trattorias

as well as delightfully comfortable B&Bs, Monte

Isola is one of those places that beckons immediately.


Visiting the beautiful chapel shrine of Madonna della 

Ceriola, is also a bit of a challenge. At just under 2,000

feet, on the highest point on the island, Madonna 

della Ceriola can only be reached by walking from 

the tiny village of Cure.


If this quintet of charming little-known destinations 

whets your appetite for the magic of Italy, take a

deep breath and wait one more week to learn

 about the next five on the list.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Skiing at night in the Swiss Alps

Night shrouds Nendaz in glittering lights (
SWITZERLAND Ol' Man Winter is heading this way, and in Switzerland, that means ski season is set to begin.

There's only one thing better than skiing in Switzerland and that is skiing in Switzerland at night where you can turn yourself into a human comet as you make your way down the slopes.
St Moritz is a year-round resort where ski season begins early
When the sun goes down and the sky is clear with a full moon to guide the way, it's "dancing with the stars" Swiss-style as a distant village looms ahead where a crackling fire and hot toddies await.
Hairpin turn on the ski slopes at St Moritz (
St. Moritz is a good place to begin where night fun gets underway on Fridays at 7 pm in Corvatsch. At 2.5 miles, the Corvatsch Chastelets slope is the longest floodlit run in the country.

No need to do it all in one fell swoop however. There's a wood-fired oven at the Murtel middle station where pizza and hot chocolate will recharge your batteries for the final run into the village.
Heading for Hossa Bar
The apres-ski meeting place to be is the famous Hossa Bar where locals and visitors gather during the Friday "Snow Nights" between 7 pm and 2 am. With a menu featuring huge burgers, chicken wings and hot dogs done to American-style perfection this is the place to be.

If you decide not to ski the entire run, the only thing to remember is that the last cable car departs at 1:40 am.

St Moritz offers more than its share of winter activities with lively festivities throughout the season. You can even play snow golf or place bets on horse racing on one of the frozen lakes.
Ski by the light of the silvery moon in Nendaz (
Nendaz may at first be an unfamiliar name to many, but once you experience the thrill of full-moon skiing in the Valais, it's a place you won't soon forget.
When the sun sets, Nendaz
comes alive (
The time-honored tradition begins at Tracouet mountain restaurant with a welcome drink and a themed dinner at 8 pm. An hour later, at 9, the Jean-Pierre ski run opens for moonlit trips down the illuminated slope.

Skiiers and spectators alike will find plenty of places to sip a cup of vin chaud, hot mulled wine, along with the romantic, haunting sounds of Alphorns and storytellers to boot.
Powdered tranquility
No need for non-skiers to despair, the Swiss think of everything. There's a gondola which makes regularly scheduled runs up and down the mountain to Tracouet.
Full moon guides the way to Arosa (
One of the best year-round destinations in Switzerland, thanks in large part to its semi-remote location, is Arosa. Arriving by train from the town of Chur, Arosa is a typical alpine village nestled beside a small pond beneath a bowl of snow-capped mountains.
There's always a sled when you
tire of skiing  (wikipedia)
Go to bed early and rise before the sun comes up to be the first skier to make tracks on freshly groomed virgin snow. The Proschieri ski lift or the Statzertali chair lift open at 6:30 am to transport you to the Arosa Lendzerheide slopes.
Skiing and trains are synonymous in Arosa  (
In winter the Swiss sun sleeps in, so the ski runs are illuminated early for those wanting to make tracks before sunrise.
The slopes beckon (
After a hour or so of pre-dawn activity, the Alp Statz Restaurant will re-fortify you for the rest of the day with a delightful buffet breakfast.

Arosa is also a marvelous place to stroll at night with numerous cozy cafes, horse drawn sleighs and dancing fires to warm your soul after a day in the mountains.
Makin' tracks to Arosa for winter night skiing
And don't forget, part of the fun of skiing in Arosa is the train ride to get there. Grab your skis, hop off the train and walk just a few yards to your hotel. It just doesn't get any better than that.

When night falls in winter in Switzerland, that's a signal to head for the slopes.