March 2017: Slow Food, Easter, Manet and a weekend in 'Campania Felix'Wednesday, 15 March 2017
Welcome to the Hidden Italy March newsletter. Apart from Slow Food and Easter celebrations, Manet and weekend in a mountains north of the Amalfi Coast we have also included a new section, the Deal of the month (this year a cooking school in the noble home in the heart of Palermo, where Giuseppe di Lampedusa wrote The Leopard)
Hidden Italy March 2017:
Hot off the presses, we have finally laid our hands on the new Hidden Italy walking tour brochure for 2107-2018, a 50 pages full-colour extravaganza, which details all our nine guided tours two-week guided tours and the twenty-one self-guided tours, including new ones in Puglia, Abruzzo and the Sierra Nevada in southern Spain (I know, not exactly Italy, but the Romans were there for a long time, and it is a fabulous hike…..). If you would like a copy please send us an email with your name and postal address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Events in March
Slow Food Day, 8 April, www.slowfood.it. Food is as much an ethical question as a questions of good taste, which has implications for all of us. To raise awareness, the Slow Food Association has organised the Slow Food Day where dozens of towns and cities, from Turin in the north to Bari in the south, will celebrate the best of local and sustainable foods.
Easter celebrations, Bormio (Lombard Alps), www.bormio.eu. Easter is possibly the most heart-felt event in the church calendar in Italy. One of the most spectacular celebrations is help in Bormio, a beautiful Alpine town close to the Swiss border. On Easter Sunday, Piazza Kuerc, the main square of the town, is packed with crowds ready to see the elaborate floats each of the five districts of the town prepare as apart of the annual competition, a tradition that dates from the 1800s.
Great Gardens of Italy, throughout Italy, www.grandigiardini.it. To celebrate their twentieth anniversary, the Grandi Giardini Italiani (the Great Gardens of Italy) have added another eight members to their association, bringing the total of these extraordinary private gardens open to the public to one hundred and twenty four, from Villa Parravicini Revel in Como to Casa Cuseni in Taormina.
Exhibitions in March
Manet and Modern Paris, Palazzo Reale, Milano, til 2 July, www.manetmilano.it. Manet was one of the fathers of modern art. This important exhibition explores the influence of the master presents over eighty works from the Musee d’Orsay and examines Manet’s impact on his contemporaries. It includes seventeen paintings and twenty drawings by Manet as well as over forty works by artists such as Cezanne, Gaughin and Monet.
Masterpieces from the Sibillini Mountains, art from the earthquakes, Palazzo Campana, Osimo (Ancona), til 1 October, www.capolavorisibillini.it. The series of earthquakes that rocked central Italy in 2016, destroyed and damaged many museums in and around the towns of Ascoli Piceno, Fermo and Macerta. Many of the works from these museums are now held in the Museo Civico of Osimo, where a selections of the masterpieces are on display, along with an open restoration workshop.
Museo Guttuso, Villa Cattolica, Bagheria (Palermo), www.museoguttuso.com. After a year and a half of restoration, the principle collection of Sicily’s (and Italy’s) most important artists has finally opened to the public in Bagheria on the outskirts of Palermo, the artist’s birthplace. The collection includes over eighty works donated by the artist himself as well as a collection of works by his Sicilian contemporaries.
Deal of the month:
Cooking lessons with the Duchess, Butera 28 (Kalsa district, Palermo), www.butera28.it. A wonderful weekend in the heart of old Palermo, staying in anoble residence that was once the home of Prince Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, the author of the wonderful novel The Leopard. The offer includes two nights’ accommodation in this historical building, a guided visit of the palazzo and a cooking lesson (minimum of six people) on Saturday morning with your hostess, the Duchess of Palme, followed by lunch with the duchess and her family. The cost if 550 euro per couple.
Hidden Italy weekend: a visit to ‘Campania Felix’ and the rolling hills east of Naples.
If you draw a line north from Salerno, starting on the coast south of Amalfi and passing through the Picentini Mountains and then another going east from Naples across the fertile Campania plains towards, at the point the two lines cross, you will find the beautiful village of Nusco, sitting on top of a hill covered by oak and chestnut forests, which divides the Ofanto and Calore Rivers. It is spectacular setting, surrounded on three sides by the Picentini Mountains.
It was founded in the 9th century when its first bishop rounded up the people from the neighbouring farmlands and created village, a collection of hovels clustered under the castle walls. With its strategic location overlooking the valleys that linked the two halves of the Norman kingdom in Puglia and Campania, Nusco thrived. In the 16th century a Cistercian monastery was founded and became a celebrated centre of learning, giving Nusco the nickname of the Athens of the south. In 1639 the town was devastated by the plague, losing half its population, an event from which it never recovered.
Today it is a busy farming town of four thousand two hundred people, it’s fascinating history evident in the grand palazzos that line the well-maintained lanes and piazzas of the old town. A very long way from the tourist hordes, with its relaxed atmosphere, rich traditions and its closeness to the Monti Picentini National Park, Nusco is the perfect base to explore this rarely visited part of southern Italy.
How to get there:
By car: Drive along the A16 Napoli to Canosa autostrada, taking Avelino Est exit and then the State highway 7 Nusco. By public transport: Take the train from Naples to Avelino and then the bus from Avelino to Nusco (www.air-spa.it). By air: The nearest airport is at Naples, 92 kms away.
Where to stay:
Albergo Villa Rosa (locality Gumbi). This beautiful country home has been converted into a 15 room, 3-star hotel with a large garden, swimming pool and solarium. The hotel’s restaurant serves local specialities using ingredients from the garden. Doubles from 70 to 90 euros.
Hotel Colucci (Via Passaro 21, Nusco). A modern hotel at the entrance to the town, which has 20 rooms, minimalist furnishings and an attractive garden. Doubles from 70 euro.
B&B Donna Chiara (Vico Seminario, 2, Nusco). Three elegant rooms in an historic hotel in the centre of the old town. Breakfast is served on their ample terrace with views over the streets. Double from 60 to 70 euro.
La Dimora (Via Sorbo 56, Montella). A handsome historic palazzo in the centre of this attractive neighbouring town, with 6 rooms furnished in classical style. It has a restaurant and a panoramic terrace. Double rooms from 50 to 60 euro.
Where to eat:
La Locanda di Bu (Via Stigmatine, 1, Nusco). This elegant restaurant is one of the points of reference for regional cooking in ‘Irpinia’, the historic name for this district, headed up by Michelin-starred chef Antonio Pisaniello and assisted by his wife, sommelier Genny Auriemma, who ably matches the regions fine wines to the dishes. Around 50 euro per person.
Azienda Agrituristica Nonna Rosina (locality Marmore). Traditional home cooking based on their own ingredients, including homemade salamis, olive oil and pastas, is the hallmark of this farm-based restaurant. Around 20 euro per person.
Ristorante Da Rosa (contrada Sparaniello 8). A short drive outside Nusco, this family-run restaurant serves real local home-cooking: fresh cheeses, fresh pasta, grilled meats and salads made from fresh gardens ingredients.
What to do:
Check into your hotel, join the passeggiata down Via Santa Croce and have an early dinner.
Explore the old town. Head down Via Santa Croce to Piazza Sant’Amato, the heart of the town. Here you will find the cathedral and the little church of San Giuseppe, recently restored, which holds a magnificent polychrome marble altar from the Neapolitan school. You can also visit the Museo Diocesano in the bishop’s palace. Have a break in the charming café Borgo Antico in Corso Umberto 1. Other places to visit in the old town include Palazzo Astrominica, the home of local poet Agostino Astrominica (1899 – 1967), the town library and the chapel of the Blessed Trinity. To finish your morning exploration, climb up to the ruins of the Lombard castle that tops the town (destroyed in the devastating 1980 earthquake) to enjoy the extraordinary views over the Picentini Mountains to the south.
Discover the secrets of the ‘Irpina’ cuisine by enrolling in an afternoon course and the Cena (Campus Enogastronomico Nusco Avellino) School run by Antonio Pisaniello (starred-chef of the Locanda di Bu) and his sommelier wife Genny Auriemma. In a half-day course, you can learn to cook a selection of local specialities such as different types of hand-made pastas; focaccia and grilled meats, accompanied by fine local wines. The school is in a restored 18th convent in the centre of town (which also has six rooms you can stay in).
Sunday, the outdoor option:
Nusco looks south to the Monti Picentini, an impressive range of mountains (the highest peak Monte Cervialto reaches nearly 2000 mts) which are part of the Apennine Range and, on the southern side, include the Monti Lattari, that rise above the Amalfi Coast. The pretty town of Montella (11 kms south of Nusco) sits at the foot of the mountains and is the perfect base to explore them.
The beautiful Regional Park of the Monti Picentini, covered by beech and chestnut forests, is criss-crossed with marked walking trails. The simplest way to get going is to contact the Associazzione Terre di Mezzo based in Montella. They will be able to accompany you also the trails as well as organise (in the right season) half-day truffle hunts in the forests and chestnut hunts. For something different you could visit the Piccolo Ranch Montella for a half-day ride up into the mountains. They also organise multi-day excursions into the mountains, including a 3-day ride that takes you up to the top of Mt Cervialto.
Sunday, the touring option:
Today this part of the world seems a slightly out of the way kind of place (Hidden Italy you could say) but in the Middle Ages (and before) the river valleys that wind east-west through the Apennine Mountains connected the two richest provinces in southern Italy, Puglia in the east and Naples in the west. The little towns that have survived in this area have a rich and fascinating history, well worth exploring.
Montella, 11 kms south of Nusco, is well worth a visit. The star attraction is the Convent of St Francis a Folloni, that was founded by the saint in the 11th century. It was amplified and enriched over the centuries and reached its maximum splendour in the 16th century. It was closed down under Napoleon and then restored in the 1930s by King Umberto of Savoy, who used to withdraw here. The Norman castle that overlooks the town offers its extensive views up to the mountains.
With its network of twisting lanes and stairways, its stone doorways, arches and noble palaces, Calitri, 35 kms east of Nusco, is well worth a visit as well. The town also has an impressive, even haunted, castle that was ruined and then restored after the 1980 earthquake. It holds an interesting ceramics museum.