arthisto July 10th, 2009
We have space available on this tour, but you will need to move quickly. Rooms are being booked, train reservation are being made, and emails are flying. If you would like to be a part of this small group that will see Italy the AHA way, just fill out the application and hit the submit button, or contact me directly at 831.475.3807 or email@example.com.
Naturally, I am so looking forward to this trip to Tuscany with its hilltowns and castles, and then the beauty of Sorrento and Positano hanging on the cliffs above the warm waters of the Mediterranean Sea. What a gorgeous combination. Four days of enjoying hearty Tuscan cuisine and wines while exploring ancient Etruscan towns as well as beautiful Renaissance jewel-like hilltowns. Then off to the Southern Riviera of Italy, the Amalfi Coast. Here, just south of Naples, there is an entirely different feeling, food, wine, and history.
A more detailed description of the trip is below. Enjoy!
After arriving in Rome and having our first cappuccino in Italy together, we will gather into our spacious, panoramic-windowed van and travel toward the tiny hill town of Proceno, in southern Tuscany. However, on our way, we will drive up a hill to soaring Orvieto for a delicious lunch and the first of many an awe inspiring wander. No one actually knows the age of Orvieto, however we do know that around 750 B.C. the Etruscans thrived here, inheriting it from their Iron and Bronze Age ancestors. How exciting it is to visit a city that has survived for thousands of years, with its bustle interrupted only once, in the 14th century, by the Black Plague. We will meander at our own pace through Orvieto’s crown jewel, her Cathedral, with its brightly colored mosaic facade. Built over a mere 300 years, it holds precious art that I love to visit and share. So, within two hours of landing in Italy you will be immersed in its ancient beauty, and this will just be the beginning.
Forty minutes deeper into beautiful Tuscany and we will arrive at Castello di Proceno. This castle/fortress was built in the 11th century and has been creatively redesigned into several beautiful apartments. This is my favorite landing spot in all of Tuscany. Once we check in and relax a bit, we will take a walk around town so that you can get your bearings. It isn’t difficult as it is tiny, but the views, in all directions are dreamlike, no, actually they are “calendar-like”. I will introduce you to Pucci and Giovanni, the owners of the castle, Roberto the grocer, where you can buy anything from locally made salami, to bedroom slippers, and Gianfranco, of Trattoria da Gianfranco. The castle will be our home for the next four days as we explore more picturesque hilltowns and savor some of the most delicious food and wine you will have ever tasted.
On the list of must sees, in these first four days, are the cathedral of Sovana, that took so long to build that it actually spans two architectural periods. So, as we sit in the back of the church you will see that two of its three aisles are Romanesque and the third is Gothic. Amazing! The hilltown hamlet of Pienza that was, luckily for us, caught in a time warp. During the first half of the 1400′s, Pope Pius II, responsible for the revitalization and redesigning of his beloved hometown, was called away to raise troops for a crusade to the Holy Land. He left a Papal Bull, in beautiful Latin, that stated nothing should be touched until his return. Unfortunately, in 1465 he died while away, and Pienza dutifully has left everything just as it was. Because of this, a visit to Pienza gives us a real-time snapshot of Tuscan life in the 1400′s. Pienza was miraculously spared during World War II bombing raids, however the machine gun holes in the exterior side wall of the cathedral are a reminder of what happened here when both Germans and Americans took turns occupying Pienza and the surrounding towns. This is a fascinating area with lots to explore, learn and taste. Brunellos come from here as does a most delicious soft, not salty, pecorino cheese.
And who can be in this area and not visit the most haunting of all hilltowns, Civita di Bagnoregio? Not me! Civita sits a top a rock spur, built entirely of rock taken from the spur, it appears to be something organic that simply grew out of the mountain. However, because of earthquakes over the centuries much of the spur and city have dropped away, leaving Civita sitting like a diamond nestled in a round solitaire setting. There is one approach to the city, a walking bridge that spans the gorge that encircles Civita. Often, in the morning, the city is engulfed in clouds or fog and it appears that the bridge leads to no where. Sometimes the fog fills just the gorge with Civita above as if floating in the sky. This is like nothing else you would have seen up to this point, and you will remember it always. Comfortable walking shoes, a camera, and a hefty appetite are a must for Civita da Bagnoregio.
Eventually, we will have to say goodbye to our castle and Tuscany, and head south to Rome where we will jump a fast train and travel further south to the dramatic Amalfi Coast. This is the land of old lemon trees, heavy with the fruit that will lend itself to that delicious, yellow, after dinner concoction, limoncello. The land of soft buffalo milk mozzarella, and fresh fish. While here we will divide our time between Sorrento and Positano. Even though they are only separated by a one hour drive, they are so beautiful and unique unto themselves, that I want you to experience both. Sorrento is built high above the Mediterranean on a flat plateau, where you can walk to the edge and look straight down into the warm, see-through water. Positano is built in a cove and its villas, hotels, shops and restaurants look like pastel building blocks tumbled down a hill. Here, overlooking the aqua waters of the Mediterranean, where centuries ago pirates marauded, we will wander, shop, visit Pompeii, Capri, and maybe even Amalfi, mostly by sea. With all the fresh seafood and crispy white wines you can take in, you will ask yourself, “Can it get any better than this?” Nope!
Which will be your favorite? Cobblestoned Tuscany, with its full o’flavor red wines and where you met the locals and stayed in a castle, or the warm seafront terraces and fishing villages of the Amalfi Coast? These will be ongoing comparisons that may never have a definitive conclusion. As for me, after 20 years of loving these places, I could say it’s like comparing apples and oranges, but it’s not, it’s cobblestones and lemons.
Physical level: Strenuous