January 2018: New tour in Tuscany, the Beats and a weekend on Bitter Mountain

Monday, 15 January 2018

Welcome to the Hidden Italy newsletter for January:  we present an Insider’s Tour to Tuscany, the father of the Beats; the big ships out of Venice (yeh!); a celebration of ancient trees and a snowy weekend on the Bitter Mountain in southern Italy.

Hidden Italy January 2018

Hidden Italy January 2018

To celebrate the new year, we have a new guided tour:  An Insider’s tour of Tuscany (2 to 3 Sept ‘18)

Designed and lead by Hidden Italy’s Anna Sagaria, this week-long tour will show you the very best of Italy’s most beautiful region: its most fascinating cities and towns; its greatest art; secret gardens; Italy’s finest cooking and wine; and some of the most beautiful landscapes in Europe. 

Few people are better prepared to do this than Anna, the tour takes you to the three places closest to her: it starts in Florence (where she has lived for the last seven years); visits Siena (where she studied art history and languages); and finishes in San Quirico d’Orcia (where she was born and raised) – a true ‘insider’s’ experience! 

For details:  http://www.hiddenitaly.com.au/guided-tours

Exhibitions in Italy in January:

Exhibitions in Italy in January:

Kerouac:  Beat Painting; MaGa-Museo Arte Gallarate (Milan); www.museomaga.it.  Father of the Beat Generation, Jack Kerouac’s writing is found in bookshops and libraries around the world.  His paintings, on the other-hand, are only found in a few museums, such as the Whitney in New York and the Pompidou Centre in Paris.  This impressive exhibition brings together a range of paintings and drawing that show the creative force and energy of the author of ‘On the Road’.  It is accompanied by photos by Robert Frank and Ettore Sottsass and a film homage by Peter Greenaway.

Maurizio Galimberti: San Nicola ReMade; Villa Reale; Monza (Milan); til 28 January; www.villarealedimonza.it.  A mosaic of over 9000 Polaroid pictures recreates the spectacular 13th frescoes of the Basilica of San Nicola in the mountain village of Tolentino in Le Marche which were shattered by the earthquake of 2016.  These are contrasted with the giant format Polaroids (50 x 60 cms) the photographer, Maurizio Galimberti, took on his return in 2017, their isolation and damage capturing the tragedy of the events.

Kandinskij and Klee: Music and Spirituality in Art; Palazzo Magnani, Reggio Emilia; www.palazzomagnani.it.  More than an exhibition, this is an immersive experience, combining over fifty works by the Russian abstract painter with the music of John Cage as well as works by his contemporary Paul Klee with the music of Igor Stavinskij.

Pope Leo X Restored; Uffizi Gallery, Florence, www.uffizi.it.  In view of the 500th anniversary of Raphael’s death in 2020, the artist’s magnificent portrait of the Medici Pope Leo X has been fully restored and is now on view at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.  Unable to make his nephew’s wedding in Florence in 1518, the Pope Leo commissioned the portrait and had it stand in for him at the service – very cool.

Events in Italy in January

Events in Italy in January

Giudecca Canal, Venice.  YEH!  Finally, reason has prevailed and the giant cruise ships that have been able to pass through the heart of Venice along the Giudecca Canal to St Marks, directed to the main land port of Porto Marghera, effective in three to four years.  While offering extraordinary views to the passengers, the ships were completely out of place and caused significant damage to the already fragile environment of the most beautiful city in the world.

The Arboreal Patriarchs of Andrea Mori; Palazzo Creval, Sondrio; http://www.creval.it/eventiCreval/mostre/mostra-mori/359; until 26 January.  Sondrio is the capital of the Valtellina, a valley in northern Lombardy that runs east west along the border with Switzerland, below St Moritz.  This exhibition documents life, history, traditions and memories associated with five, majestic multi-centuries-old trees (a fir tree, three larches and a chestnut tree) that the artist Andrea Mori recorded on a twelve-day hike along through the valleys and mountains of the Valtellina.  The exhibition includes five rooms, each dedicated to one tree, plus a sixth with a giant map of the artists route.

Italian Michelin Guide 2018, www.viamichelin.it.  With the addition of Norbert Niederkofler’s Ristorante St Hubertus in in the Hotel Rosa Alpina in San Cassiano in the Dolomites, Italy now has nine restaurants with the coveted three Michelin stars, making Italy is second most ‘Michelin-starred’ country in the world, with a total 356 starred restaurants.

Hidden Italy weekend: skiing the ‘Bitter Mountain’ in the deep south of Italy.

Hidden Italy weekend:  skiing the ‘Bitter Mountain’ in the deep south of Italy.

Sitting on top of Montalto (at 1956 mts asl the highest peak in the Aspromonte, or the ‘Bitter Mountain’, National Park in the heart of Calabria) the bronze statue of Christ the Redeemer seems to exhort you to embrace the glory of Creator’s work: from its summit you have an extraordinary 360-degree view that ranges from the shores of the Ionian Sea in the east to the shores of the Tyrrhenian Sea in west; from the Serre Mountains in the north to the Straits of Messina and the coast of Sicily to the south, with two active volcanoes smoking on the horizon:  Mt Etna and the island of Stromboli.

The Aspromonte is one of the wilder parts of Italy.  Abundant rain means that the mountains are covered in thick birch, beech and pine forest that recall the northern Alps.  It is a fabulous to explore, however, although there is a network of marked trails, it is advisable to have a local guide, particularly if you push into the interior of the park, which, in the not too distant past, has provided haven for outlaws, bushrangers and even the occasional member of the ‘Ndranghetta, Calabria’s notorious criminal organisation.

In winter, when the cold currents from the Atlantic hit the slopes of the massif, the tops of the mountains can be covered with as much as two to three metres of snow.  The small town of Gambarie (1350 mmts asl) is located on the western slopes of Aspromonte and gives best access to the park.  It is a cute little town with a number of good hotels, a popular resort in both summer and winter.  Although skiing has a long tradition here (the first chair lift in southern Italy was inaugurated here in 1956) the area is little known outside the South, which is a very good thing as this means the slopes are never crowded, the services are pleasingly cheap, and the area preserves its unique frontier character.

How to get there:

By car:  Calabria is the toe of the Italian boot and you’ll need to drive south from Naples along the A2 autostrada towards Reggio Calabria the regional capital, taking the Gallico exit and then the provincial highway 7, clearly signed for Gambarie.  By train:  Santo Stefano can be reached by regular trains either from Reggio Calabria or from Villa San Giovanni and  a regular bus shuttle runs from here to Gambarie.  By air:  the closest airport is at Reggio Calabria, only 30 kilometres from Gambarie.

Where to stay:

Grand Albergo Gambarie.  Built in the 1930s, this 3-star hotel was the first hotel in Gambarie.  It has 52 rooms, with doubles starting from 70 euro per person, breakfast included.

Hotel Centrale:  not surprisingly, this 3-star hotel is in the centre of town, its 48-rooms date from the 1950s.  It has a spa, swimming pool and a very good restaurant.  Doubles range from 70 to 80 euro.

B&B Le Civette:  This welcoming accommodation has five timber-lined double rooms, each with en suite bathrooms.  Doubles with breakfast cost around 50 euro per night.

Where to eat:

Al Terrazzo:  This restaurant offers a modern interpretation of traditional dishes based on ‘0 kilometre’ ingredients.  Its specialities include wild mushroom soup; the ‘fiore del re’ (the flower of the king) which is a veal medallion stuffed with mushrooms; and slow cooked beef cheeks.

La Tavernetta:  Delicious home-cooking in a cozy ambience of exposed brick and timber. And a large open fireplace.  Its menu features bean and mushroom soup; fresh pasta or polenta with pork or wild boar sauces and petrali, the traditional treat based on dried figs, mulled wine, walnuts and dried grapes, all covered in chocolate.

Trattoria Siclari Fortunata:  this family-run tratt’ has a rustic atmosphere and serves old-school cooking, such as macceroni with meat sauce, roasted lamb and potatoes as well as a robust antipasto made up of a variety of salamis, local cheeses and pickled vegetables.

What to do:

Friday evening:

Check into your hotel then join the evening passeggiata, enjoy an aperitivo and have dinner before getting an early night, ready for tomorrow’s efforts.

Saturday: action.

There are a variety of activities for all interests:

Hit the slopes.

Gambarie has five runs (three red, one black and one blue) with two more under development.  Most of the runs start from the top of Mt Scirocco (1660 mts asl) and are reached by two chairlifts, one of which starts in Piazza Mangeruca in the centre of town.  Two other ski lifts take you up to the top of Mt Nardello (1770 mts asl) to the start of the black run, Telese, and the red run, Nino Martino.

The ski lifts and chair lifts run from 09.00 to 17.00 each day.  A single up and back ride costs 6 euro; a one-day ski-pass costs 20 euro, while a weekly-pass costs 80 euro.

Go snow-shoeing and cross-country skiing.

The main hiking trails around Gambarie extend between Mt Scirocco and Mt Basilico (1738 mts asl).  When there’s snow, snow-shoeing and cross-country skiing are a wonderful way to explore these wild forests.  Among the most beautiful trails is trail number ‘111’, which is rated as medium to high level of difficulty if you do the whole trail.  It starts in Gambarie and takes you up to Montalto.  It is 24 kms out and back and takes from 9 to 10 hours, although it can shorten by taking the chairlift up to Nardello and starting out from there, only covering only 12 kms, much of it downhill.

An equally beautiful but less demanding trail is number ‘120’.  It takes you from Gambarie to the top of Mt Scirocco in around 1.5 hrs, from where you can look across the Straits of Messina to Mt Etna and watch the sun set over the Tyrrhenian Sea.  Trail number 132 is easier but no less spectacular, a 3 km walk that takes you to the frozen waterfalls of Maesano.

Although the trails are well-marked, it’s probably advisable to use local guides, eg Assotur (tel: 339 816 1814) or Associazione Abra Calabria (tel: 347 339 9042).

For the adventurous:

The Association Abra Calabria also organises overnight treks into the valleys and especially around the slopes of Montalto to enjoy the winter wonderland under the moonlight, sleeping in sleeping bags in customised snow caves.  Apart from the great natural beauty there is always the chance of spotting local wild life, including wolves that have been recently re-introduced into the park – a truly memorable adventure!

Sunday: touring

Visit Reggio Calabria.  The regional capital is only 30 kms, or a thirty-minute drive, from Gambarie.  It is a bustling coastal city of around 200,000 people that sits on the Straits of Messina, a narrow stretch of water which separates mainland Italy from the island of Sicily.

Any visit to Reggio must start with the National Archaeological Museum and the Bronzi di Riace (the Warriors of Riace), two magnificent 5th century BC statues that were found by a snorkeler off the Calabria coast in 1972.  They are two of the few surviving full-size ancient Greek bronzes (most which were melted down to make weapons and canons in later times). They are one of Italy’s great artistic treasures, demonstrating the superb technical craftsmanship and exquisite artistic features that were achieved at this time.

After the museum, take a walk along the waterfront following the Lungomare Falcomata, with spectacular views across of the Straits to Messina to the looming, smoking form of Mt Etna, Europe’s most active volcano.

Le Nasse (Via Lemos 6) is the perfect place for lunch – an elegant, old-school restaurant that serves the finest seafood in town.

In the centre of the city, you can visit the cathedral, which was founded by the Normans in 11th century; the Church of the Ottimati, founded in the 9th century by the Byzantines; and the city’s castle which was first founded in 7th century BC but reached its current form under the Spanish in the 16th century, restructured to protect the Reggio from Turkish raids.

Also well worth a visit is the very interesting Observatory of the ‘Ndranghetta, a museum dedicated to the history and current activity of one of Europe’s most notorious criminal organisations, Calabria’s own ‘Ndranghetta, housed in an estate recently confiscated from one of the gang families.

To finish your time in Raggio, go for a stroll down Corso Garibaldi in the later afternoon. Its Reggio’s main shopping street (most of the shops are open on Sunday afternoon) which comes alive with a famous passeggiata.  Take an outdoor table, have an aperitivo and watch the world go by - the perfect way to finish your visit.

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October 2018: Carra, the Devil's violinist and a hidden bay on the Amalfi Coast

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