Summer 2013: Caravaggio; Napoleon; a weekend in the 'Portofino of the south'.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Welcome to the Summer 2013 edition of the Hidden Italy newsletter: three new guided tours for 2014; a hidden Caravaggio; Napoleon; Manet; fine food in Milan Centrale station and a weekend in the Portofino of the south…

Hidden Italy New Itineraries, 2014:

Hidden Italy New Itineraries, 2014:

Not one, not two but three new guided tours for 2014:  Sardinia in May (although 2014 is already full we have opened 2015 for bookings) Trieste and Friuli in September (8 places still available) and Sicily in autumn in September/October (6 places still available).  These very special places complement the on-going tours to Sicily in spring in May and Verona and the Dolomites in September.  Get your boots on and click on the link to find out more.

Exhibitions in Italy, Summer 2013:

Exhibitions in Italy, Summer 2013:

Manet, return to Venice; Ducal Palace, St Mark’s Square, until 18 August.  This wonderful exhibition explores the link between the French master and the Italian Renaissance, particularly with that of Venice.  Sixty four works by Manet, mostly from the Museo d’Orsay, including Dejeuner sul l’herbe and Le Fifre, are exhibited beside works by Titian, Lotto and Carpaccio, amongst others.  The most interesting is the direct contrast between two of the most famous nudes in Western art: Manet’s Olympia (1867) and Titian’s Venus of Urbino (1583).  Not to be missed!

Venice Biennale: the 55th Exhibition of International Art, until 24 November (www.labiennale.org).  Venice has been ‘flooded’ with the works of 150 artists from 37 countries, including for the first time representation from Angola, Kuwait and the Vatican City.  The works and national pavilions stretch from the Giardini in the Castello district to the Arsenale.

Rebirth, stories of how modern Italy was made; Palazzo Mazzetti, Asti (Piedmont); until 3 November.  This fascinating exhibition (in the wonderful northern wine and food town of Asti 60 kms east of Turin) tracks the creation of modern Italy through the boom years of 1945 to 1970, though cinema, publicity art, photography, graphic art and design.

Events in Italy, Summer 2013:

Events in Italy, Summer 2013:

Bistro Milano Centrale, Milano Centrale Railway Station.  Milano’s cavernous Centrale station is a monument to Mussolini’s dreams of grandeur, not exactly the place you’d expect to find gourmet food, and yet, here it is, Bistro Milano Centrale, a culinary extravaganza set in a faithfully restored ...

A new Caravaggio on the Milanese canals:  San Giorgio church, Bernate Ticino.  Restoration of the altarpiece, the Deposition of Christ. by Peterzano, Caravaggio’s master, painted in 1584, in the tiny church in a tiny village on the banks of the Ticino River, 30 kms from Milan, has revealed that the master only painted the face of the presiding priest in the painting, leaving the rest to be finished by his young apprentice, Caravaggio, including a beautiful portrait of the Christ (viewing by appointment:  339 646 2788)

Napoleon by Canova, Pinacotecca di Brera, Via Brera 28, Milano.  In 1809, while briefly King of Italy, Napoleon established the Royal Gallery of Brera, to hold art that he had ‘collected’ in his travels.  To commemorate this, a giant, and rather flattering, bronze nude of the Emperor as Mars the god of war, by Canova was installed in the courtyard in 1859.  The gallery has become one of the most important galleries in Italy.  Merril Lynch have funded the restoration of the magnificent sculpture, which interestingly will be done on the spot, with the restorers working in a clear glass cube enabling visitors ot observe all the phases directly (it can also be followed via the gallery’s intenet site: www.brerabeniculturali.it.

San Pietro Apostolo, Onna (L’Aquila) Abruzzo (www.abruzzobeniculturali.it).  This small medieval church, along with much of the town of Onna, was destroyed in the earthquake that devastated Abruzzo, the mountainous region on the Adriatic coast in southern Italy, in 2009.  It has recently been reopened, thanks to the 3.5 million euro donated by the German government in recognition of the reprisal killing of 18 inhabitants by the Nazis in June 1944.  Further funding will be provided to contribute to the complete restoration of the village.

Hidden Italy Summer weekend 2013: Scario, the ‘Portofino of the South

Hidden Italy Summer weekend 2013:  Scario, the ‘Portofino of the South

Some people call Scario, 70 kms south of the Amalfi Coast, Little Provence because of its colours; the intense smells of the sea combined with that of the wild lavender in the hinterland; its bucolic tranquillity and the fact that artists such as Jose Ortega, a student of Picasso, and Roman singer/song writer Francesco de Gregori, have made this hidden corner of the Mediterranean their home.  Locals, on the other hand, refer to it, tongue in cheek, as the Portofino of the south for its multi-coloured houses, it small port full of yachts and its clutch of fashionable bars and restaurants.

Whichever version you prefer, this little fishing village has much to offer.  Although only an hour’s drive from Amalfi, Scario’s pretty waterfront, isolated beaches and mountain walking trails remain remarkably free from the crowds that are drawn to its more famous neighbour.  It is one of the gateways to the magnificent UNESCO listed Cilento National Park, a towering limestone headland that butts into the Policastro Gulf covered with marked trails and fringed with small uninhabited beaches reachable only on foot or by boat from Scario - the perfect place for a Hidden Italy getaway (in fact I think we might have to consider it as part of a future guided tour)!

How to get there:

The nearest airport is at Naples.  Direct trains which take between 2.5 and 3 hours, connect Naples to Policastro Bussentino, 4 kms from Scario – there are buses and taxis available.  If you’re driving take the A3 autostrada that heads south from Naples to Reggio Calabria and take the exit for Padula and then the highway 517 for Policastro Bussentino.

Where to stay:

Hotel Giardino is a three-star hotel in the heart of Scario, a short walk from the waterfront passeggiata, with a garden facing onto the sea, a private beach and an excellent restaurant (doubles start around 90 euro per night).  The Ora Resort Marcaneto, is slightly outside town, surrounded by green, with panoramic views of the gulf and a swimming pool (doubles from 80 to 100 euro per night).  Il Rifugio del Contadino is a beautiful country house on the slopes of Mt Bulgheria behind Scario, with spectacular views, walking trails and a celebrated restaurant (doubles from 70 euro per night).

What to do:

Friday evening:
Settle in to your hotel and then go for a walk along the waterfront or up through the olive trees to the lighthouse.  Afterwards you can return to the waterfront (Lungomare Marconi) for dinner at Ristorante U’Zifaro, renowned for its seafood, eg orecchiette with pistacchios and prawns, around 35 per person, and finish the evening with a delicious homemade gelato from Bar Mose (flavours include ricotta-pear or ricotta-pistacchio)

Saturday morning:
After breakfast, head to the port to catch one of the boats that take you along the coast of the national park.  You can take a full day trip or a half day trip visiting untouched beaches, enchanting bays and ancient grottos.  The offerings vary from a simple fishing boat to larger cruisers which include fishing and lunch on board (Mega Tourist).  For something more exciting, you can explore the coast on board a sailing boat (Ciacchi & Velieri, based in nearby Maratea) or go diving in the marine park (Sub Center Fomdale).

Saturday afternoon:
After lunch back at the ranch and a nap, time to explore the little town, starting with a quick visit to the Archeological Centre (hosted in the local Middle School) which has a small but interesting collection including the jaw bone of a Neanderthal child from over 100,000 years ago.  Then to the shops on the waterfront including Zu Pietro for local wine and gastronomic treats and Clany, for artisan leather goods and ceramics and to try the gelatos at Bar Gelateria Tony.

Saturday evening:
Get your walking shoes out and follow the well-marked trail to Spinosa Point and the Grotta dell’Acqua, with its stalagmites and stalactites, enjoying the spectacular views of the coastline and gulf along the way.  Wait for the sunset before returning to Scario, where you can have an aperitivo at the J-Pub and dinner on the waterfront at Tipiteca, which offers both seafood and dishes from the hinterland such as paccheri (flat pasta) alla cilentana (sausage, eggplant and pecorino cheese), around 30 euro per person.

Sunday morning:
Time to hire a car for the day and explore the hinterland and the Cilento National Park, starting at Bosco, famous for a brutally supressed uprising against the king of Naples in 1828.  A large ceramic mural by Jose Ortega (a student of Picasso who lived in the village) celebrates the event.  It is also possible to visit the Ortega Museum dedicated to the artist.  From here you can carry on to the town of San Giovanni di Piro and beyond this into the surrounding forests to the magical sanctuary of San Giovanni Battista, founded by Byzantine monks in the 11th century.  From here trails fan out across the national park, including the Sentiero degli Eremiti (the trail of the hermitage) a climb up through lavender fields to the top of Mt Bulgheria with breathtaking views (3 hours return) or a walk down to the beach of Marcellino (3 hours return).

Sunday afternoon:
An afternoon tour, starting with a stop at Policastro Bussentino, 4 km from Scario, which was an important Greek and Roman port and has Norman fortifications, and then a further 40 kms on to the monastery of San Lorenzo di Padula, a vast baroque masterpiece, which was founded in 1306 but reached its maximum splendour in the 17th century.  The vast convent complex covers over 50,000 square metres and is Unesco World heritage listed. 

Sunday ‘nature’ alternative:
Just in case you have a bit of extra time…. you could spend the afternoon, or a whole day, embracing nature, starting with a visit to the WWF oasis at Morigerati, 40 mks from Scario, which stretches along the Bussento River, where there is one of the largest otter colonies in Europe!  There river disappears underground to re-emerge at the Grotta del Risorgenza and a canyon of rapids and waterfalls (the tiny hamlet of Morigerati is itself worth a visit).  A further 7 kms from here is Caselle di Pittari, with a museum dedicate to the grottos and caves of the area.  The other nature tour is to the Valley of the Orchids, at the top of the national park between the hamlets of Sassano and Teggiano 40 kms north of Scario.  This itinerary is 13 kms long and designed to be driven, stopping along the way some see some of the 184 different types of wild orchids and over 100 species of wild aromatic plants that are native to the region (best seen in the spring, ie until mid-June).

Sunday evening:
Dinner at the Locanda di Romeo in Bosco on the way back to Scario, which proposes 96 different types of pasta dishes, including ‘strascinati soleggiati’ or the ‘sunny’ pasta, based on sun-dried Pacchino cherry tomatoes and eggplant.  Back in Scario, you’ll probably want to extend your stay by a couple of days, there is really far too much to see and enjoy here…  why rush?

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