August 2019: Land Art, Alchemy, Rossini, Roman ships in Pisa and a hot weekend in Anacapri

Thursday, 15 August 2019

Exhibitions in August:

Exhibitions in August:

Photology Air (Art in Ruins): Land Art in America; Tenuta Busulmone, Noto (Sicily), until 3 Nov;  Set in the restored ruins of an ancient monastery in the country outside Noto in south-eastern Sicily, this new exhibition space has a long program, starting with the photography of Gianfranco Gorgoni, large format images starting in the 1960’s made in collaboration with some of the masters of the ‘Land Art’ movement, including Christo and Richard Serra.

Ars Regia 2019-2020: La Granda Alchemista; Palazzo Taffini d’Acceglio; Savigliano (Cuneo, Piedmont);, until 6 Jan ’20.  Piedmont, and particularly the district around Cuneo (known as ‘la granda’) has a long tradition in alchemy and the ‘black arts’, which is still alive today.  Divided into eight sections, this fascinating exhibition explores a range of themes of the esoteric through paintings, photos and sensual installations.

Jannis Kounellis, Prada Foundation, Venice; until 24 Nov;  This is the first retrospective of Greek-Italian artist Jannis Kounellis, master of the Arte Povera movement, since his death in 2017.  Set in the beautiful Ca Corner della Regina palazzo, it brings together over sixty works spanning the whole of his career.

Events in August:

Events in August:

The Ancient Ships of Pisa, Medici Arsenal; Pisa; open Wed, Fri, Sat and Sunday;  In 1998, the first of a series of extraordinary findings was made in San Rossore, a small town on the coast south of Pisa: a perfectly intact Roman ship buried in alluvial silt.  After twenty years of research and restoration, the Museum of the Ancient Ships of Pisa has opened to present the treasure trove.  This wonderful museum, housed in a 15th century building on the Arno River in Pisa, features seven Roman ships found around San Rossore, dating from between the 3rd century BC and the 7th century AD, as well as over eight thousand historic pieces found in the area.  The museum has eight sections  that consider the river and its floods; ancient commerce; Roman navigation, and life on board and life on board a slave galley.

Parma, the City of Bikes; Parma (Emilia Romagna);  with its well-organised city centre and pedestrian zones, Parma, one of the gastronomic capitals of Italy, is also one of Italy’s most bike-friendly cities.  The new ‘Bicincitta-Infomobility’ app, helps visitors make the most of the what the city has to offer, including over 330 bike-sharing points with the opportunity of day-rentals.  The Cicletteria, near the exit to the station, is a point of departure for a number of rides out of town, including: the Via Francigena (following the route of the Medieval pilgrim road); la Ciclo Po (following the banks of the Po River) and the new Parma Bike and Food Valley (a gastronomic route that goes from Parma to Busseto).

Rossini National Museum; Palazzo Montani Antaldi, Pesaro (Abruzzo);  This new museum explores the life of Chiacino Rossini, one of Italy’s most beloved musicians, the composer of the operas Barber of Seville and William Tell, among many others.  Using paintings, music, theatrical settings, costume and interacive points, the composer’s life is recounted from his modest start in Pesaro to international fame.

Hidden Italy Weekend: a hot weekend in Anacapri:

Hidden Italy Weekend:  a hot weekend in Anacapri:

The Phoenician Stairs (Scala Fenicia) on the island of Capri must be one of the oldest pieces of civil architecture still in use in the world.  The nine hundred and twenty one stairs were carved out of living rock by the ancient Greeks in the 5th century BC and, until 1875, were the only link between the buzzy town of Capri and their eternal rivals at the top of the island, the smaller and sleepier town of Anacapri.  They are still in operation.

The stairs, which were restored in 1998, start at the Marina Grande, the main port of the island.  They initially wind through peaceful lemon groves and secret doorways before being swallowed up by thick forest of Mediterranean scrub and starting the serious climb.  Once out of the forest the views are extraordinary, looking across the whole of the island and back to the mainland, with Mt Vesuvius smoking in the background.  Depending on your fitness, and allowing for the odd photo op, the climb takes around an hour (thirty minutes if you are coming down). 

The top is marked by a thousand-year old architrave, the Porta della Differenza (the Gate of Difference) which is the border between the (always richer) municipality of Capri town (thanks to its ports a freshwater sources) and the municipality of (always poorer) municipality of Anacapri.  The Porta was the scene of violent clashes between the two adversaries over many centuries, a rivalry that has only lessened (but not gone away) in the last few decades.  Be that as it may, the Anacapresi may have the last laugh in the end as their very pleasant little town now provides something of a refuge from the hustle and bustle of Capri, particularly in the summer months – a very good base from which to explore this ancient and fascinating island.

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 25 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 evening: settle in

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 restaurant 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 morning:  go for a walk

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 lunch under the pergolas of the Ristorante Lido di Faro, before getting a bus back to Anacapri.

Saturday afternoon: explore the town

Exploring Anacapri town is a busy program that you could easily be spread over a couple of 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.  Next stop is the most famous Villa San Michele, home of the celebrated Swedish doctor and writer Axel Munthe, another foreign intellectual who made Annacapri his home in the 19th century.  Like the Casa Rossa, his home, which is now owned by the Swedish government, is filled with a vast collection of archaeological pieces, including busts, columns, mosaics, a Greek tomb and even a granite sphinx that guards his famous terrace which has breathtaking views across the sea to Mt Vesuvius.

The rest of the afternoon can be spent exploring the traditional houses and lanes of the quarters of Boffe and Follicara, including a visit to the 17th century church of San Michele.  Alternatively, for something a little more relaxing, you could go up to enjoy the endless views from the highest peak of the island by 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 dinner on the terrace of Ristorante Il Cucciolo, enjoying its excellent seafood and wonderful views.

Sunday morning:

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.

Sunday afternoon:

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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