August 2015: festival in Siena, 150th anniversary of conquest of Matterhorn and a weekend on Capri

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Hidden Italy August newsletter

Welcome to the August Hidden Italy newsletter! In this month's issue: a magnificent music festival in Siena, the 150th anniversary of the conquest of the Matterhorn (Cervino in Italian), and getting up close and personal with one Florence’s great treasures.  It’s a hot, hot August in Italy, so we’ve also included a weekend on the mythical island of Capri, the quinessential Italian summer holiday.

Hidden Italy August news:

Hidden Italy August news:

The 2016 guided tours are open for bookings.  Due to demand we are offering a second Sardina guided tour (6 to 18 May 2016) and a second Gardens of Tuscany guided tour (3 to 15 May).  Full details on the website.

As for me, I have just arrived in Venice with my son Peter, both of us excited to be doing the first Trails to Freedom hike in the Alps (20 to 28 August).  I'll be staying on for the Trieste and Friuli and Verona and the Dolomite tours in September, Pete will be heading back to school.

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Events in Italy, August 2015:

Events in Italy, August 2015:

Cervino 150, Breuil-Cervina, Valtournenche, www.cervinia.it.  It was 150 years ago this year that Mattehorn (known as Cervino in Italy), the most enigmatic and contested peak in the Alps, was conquered twice in three days: the first time by a team lead by Englishman Edward Whymper from the Swiss side and the second by an Italian team lead by Antoine Carrel from the Italian side.  Events to celebrate these extraordinary feats continue throughout the summer, including a night illumination of the peak and open days with Alpine mountaineers, although the highlight was definitely  the meeting of Apline guides from both on the peak of the Gran Becca on 17 July.

The Chigiana International Festival and Summer Academy, Siena, til 31 August (www.chigiana.it). For the first time in its long history, the Chigiana Musical Academy is combining its two great summer events, the international concerts series and the advanced music courses that draw students from throughout the world.  Protagonists include Max Richter, Salvatore Sciarrino and William Kentridge.  Concerts will be held throughout the city, including the concert debut of the summer courses, which were founded in 1932.

Exhibitions in Italy in August

Exhibitions in Italy in August

Arnaldo Pomodoro: Continuity and Innovation, .Campo dei Miracoli, Pisa, til 31 January, 2016.  Pomodoro is one of Italy’s finest contemporary artists, his elegant and fascinating bronze sculptures adorn the palazzi and squares of many Italian, as well as the UN forecourt in NY.  Over 100 of his works (plus designs, sketches and notes) and on display in the cathedral square, their sleek modernity dialoguing with the stateliness of the complexes’ own magnificent art.

Ghiberti’s Rose Window, Florence Cathedral, www.ilgrandemuseodelduomo.it.  For the first and only time you have the opportunity to see one of the unrivalled masterpieces of the Florentine Renaissance up close and personal.  Completed in 1406 by the great Lorenzo Ghiberti, the 6 metre diameter rose window has undergone extensive restoration and is on public display before returned to its proper place, 30 metres above the entrance of the cathedral.  It is on display in the Baptistery and the 10 euro ticket is also valid for the cathedral dome, the belltower and the crypt – quite a treat!

The Hidden Italy Weekend: Anacapri: a summer haven on the Isle of Capri.

The Hidden Italy Weekend: Anacapri: a summer haven on the Isle of Capri.

Capri is the ultimate Italian summer destination: a beautiful butterfly-shaped island off the tip of the Sorrento peninsula south of Naples, it is baked by a hot sun, its chilly crystal clear water and rocky coves crowded with expensive boats and sunworshippers, the narrow lanes of its stylish villages bustling with shoppers by day and crowded with outdoor cafes and restaurants by night, the quintessential southern Italy experience.

Fortunately, there are also quieter parts of this lovely island, including Anacapri the second town, which sits under the western peak of the island, a place to withdraw to and relax after the theatre of Capri town and its famous ‘piazzetta’.  It is a perfect base from which to explore this enchanting island.  There is much to do on Capri, we have crammed it into a single weekend but you could easily spend several weeks here.

How to get there:

Ferries and hydrofoils for Capri leave from the Molo Beverello in Naples and from the port of Sorrento, arriving at the Marina Grande on Capri.  From here you can take a cable car and then a bus to get to Anacapri or you can simply grab a taxi directly there for around 20 euro.

Where to stay:

For a very special treat, you can stay at either the Hotel Capri Palace, which has one of the first spa’s in Europe and an extraordinary collection of contemporary art (double rooms start at 450 euro per night) or at the magnificent Caesar Augustus Hotel, perched 300 metres above the sea, with spectacular views of the island from the hotel’s terrace or rooms (double rooms also starting at 450 euro).  For something a little more affordable, you could try the Hotel Orso Maggiore, which has fourteen rooms with sea views starting at 170 euro per night or the b&b Il Tramonto, which has refined and comfortable rooms and a splendid view over the sea from the terrace with double rooms from 110 euro.

What to do:

Friday:

After settling into your accommodation, we’d suggest an aperitivo in the Annacapri town square followed by dinner at one of the town’s excellent restaurants.  For a splurge, try dinner at the Olivo del Capri Palace, a two starred Michelin restaurant where chef Oliver Glowig produces an exquisite array of Mediterranean dishes combining ingredients from the sea and land, the ‘traditional’ menu is 150 euro per person, the ‘degustation’ menu is 190 euro per person.  The Ristorante Il Riccio is a romantic alternative, situated down on the coast below Anacapri, near the famous Grotta Azzurra.  A simple restaurants without pretensions much loved by Arisotle Onassis, Il Riccio serves traditional cuisine for around 50 euro per person.  You could also the Trattoria Mamma Giovanna on the edge of the town surrounded by olive and lemon groves, which serves classic Caprese dishes, for around 35 euro per person.

Saturday:

We’d suggest spending the first day exploring the art and stunning nature around Anacapri, it’s a busy programm that could easily be spread over two or three days.  First stop is the Casa Rosa, a fascinating villa painted ‘Pompeii red’ in the centre of town.  For thirty years in the late 1800s, the ‘Casa’ was the home of an eccentric American colonel who gathered together an eclectic collection of antiquities, sculptures and paintings that are still on display.  From here you can spend the rest of the morning exploring the traditional houses and lanes of the quarters of Boffe and Follicara, including a visit to the 17th century church of San Michele and then the most famous Villa San Michele, home of the celebrated Swedish doctor and writer Axel Munthe, which, like the Casa Rossa, is filled with a vast collection of archaeological pieces, including busts, columns, mosaics, a Greek tomb and even a granite sphinx.  Alternatively, for something a little more relaxing, you could go up to enjoy the endless views from the highest peak of the island, taking the twelve minute chair lift ride to the top of Monte Solaro and then a 15 minute walk through pine and chestnut forests to the hermitage of Santa Maria di Cetrella, the patron saint of fishermen.

Either way, we’d suggest returning to the centre of Anacapri to have lunch on the terrace of Ristorante Il Cucciolo, enjoying its excellent seafood and wonderful views.

In the afternoon, you can head for the Porta della Differenza (the Gate of Difference) at the top of the Phoenician Stairs, a flight of 921 steps that leads down to the Marina Grande (this grand piece of engineering was the only link between Capri town and Anacapri until a road was built in 1877). From here you can visit one of the stars of the island, the celebrated, and original, Grotta Azzurra, a vast cavern illuminated indirectly by sunlight, which was decorated in Roman times with twelve marble statues attached to its walls).  It was re-discovered by two German artists in 1826 and became a huge tourist attraction for the 19th century traveller.

Having visited the grotto, you can continue on to the ruins of Villa Damecuta, one of twelve imperial Roman villas that ringed the island.  If you are still feeling energetic, from the villa you can take one of the regular local buses to the beginning of another trail, the ‘walk of the fortresses’, which follows a road linking a series of small fortifications overlooking the sea at the northern end of the island (the forts were built in 1799 by the English to defend the island from Napoleon’s invading forces).  The walk finishes at the Punta Carena, where you can have a well-earned dinner under the pergolas of the Ristorante Lido di Faro, before getting a bus back to Anacapri.

Sunday:

A day dedicated to the ‘lower’ part of Capri, starting with fifteen minute bus ride down to the famous Piazzetta, the heart of Capri town.  From here it is a short walk to one of the most relaxing and magical parts of the island, the Gardens of Augustus, laid out by the German industrialist Friedrich Alfred Krupp in the 1930s.  Another of the island’s engineering masterpieces starts here, the Via Krupp, a dramatic narrow, twisting roads that descends to the Marina Piccola.  It is a short walk from the gardens to the Certosa di San Giacomo, a beautiful ex-convent from the 13th century, with more gardens, cloisters and breathtaking views.  From here you can return to Capri via Via Tragara, which has also grand views over the Marina Piccola.  For lunch, we’d suggest a pizza or a delicious seafood spaghetti sitting outdoors at the Ristorante Villa Verde, not far from the Piazzetta.

In the afternoon it’s time to visit some of the archaeological highlights of the island, including the Villa Jovis, an hour’s easy walk from the Piazzetta, where the Roman emperor Tiberius built his vast palace, high above the sparkling sea.  Much of the villa remains, including cisterns and reservoirs, with different sections connected by stairs corridors and tunnels.  At the end of the road is the famous Tiberius’ Leap, from which, so the legend goes, Tiberius flung disobedient servants and boring lovers.

To finish your weekend, a stroll and shopping along Via Capodimonte in the heart of Capri town:  some things to buy include: local perfumes, fragrances and soaps from Carthusia;  local works of art at the Pop Gallery;  local gastronomic delights at il Mondo di Mariantonia; and finally, a pair of Caprese sandals, made to measure at Antonio Viva, starting at 50 euros.  To finish your stay in style, we’d suggest dinner at the classy Ristorante Antonio, where a meal based on a modern interpretation of the traditional cuisine will cost around 60 euro per person.

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