April 2021: Modigliani, Stromboli and a weekend in Cagliari, capital of SaridinaThursday, 15 April 2021
Exhibition in April 2021
Nello Studio di Modi; online; https://istitutoamedeomodigliani.it/virtual/. Although he died only aged 36, Amadeo Modigliani left an indelible mark of 20th century art. It was in Paris that the tear-away Tuscan made his mark, entering into the circle of the elect which Picasso, Duchamp and Utrillo. To celebrate the centenary of his birth, the Istituto Amadeo Modigliani proposes a virtual tour of his workshop, among painting, drawings, sculpture and personal memorabilia.
Le Signore dell’arte (the Women of Art); Milano; Palazzo Reale (www.palazzorealemilano.it); until 6 June. This important exhibition celebrates the great female artists who worked in the 1500s and 1600s. One hundred and fifty works by thirty four talented and determined painters, including Artemisia Gentileschi and Sofonisba Anguissola.
I Macchiaioli: a Revolution en plein air; Forte di Bard (Valle d’Aosta); www.fortedibard.it; until 6 June. Starting in Florence in the 1840s, the Macchiaioli movement took their work out in the open air, revolutionising 19th century Italian art and laying the foundations of modern painting. More than design, it was the patches of colour (le Macchie) that defined the image, capturing an impression of immediate naturalness.
Events in April 2021
Stromboli; Aeolian Islands (Sicily). No more free-camping on the rim of one of Europe’s most active volcanoes. Last month, the mayor of Lipari made the difficult decision to ban the ascent beyond 270 metres of the island/volcano of Stromboli without a qualified guide. Previously, it had been possible to grab your sleeping bag to the top of the mountain and watch the sunrise over the crater whenever. The decision was forced by a number of resent accidents, including an eruption last summer that killed a tourist and probably isn’t a bad idea!
Cycling on the ‘white roads’ of southern Tuscany; www.stradedisiena.it. The area around Siena in southern Tuscany is a land of exceptional beauty, characterised by rolling hills dotted by medieval villages and cypress pines, criss-crossed by a network of unsealed country lanes, the ‘white roads’. To make the most of this marvellous patrimony, the thirty or so municipalities of the ‘Senese’ have posted a comprehensive range of the best cycling itineraries, including the famous Eroica and Strade Bianche, including maps, accommodation, rental places and repair shops.
Gladiators: the History and the Myths; Archaeological Museum of Naples; www.museoarcheologiconapoli.it; until 30 June. Gladiators as symbols of courage and physical resistance, the archaeological museum turns its lights onto these extraordinary characters, drawing on its very rich collection to consider not only their public lives but also their private lives, including their social roles, their habits and life-style out the arena and even their diets.
Hidden Italy weekend. Cagliari: ‘a strange and rather wonderful place’
D H Lawrence compared Cagliari to Jerusalem: ‘strange and rather wonderful, not a bit like Italy’. Every time that I have arrived in the capital of Sardinia, usually by plane, time seems to slow down. The city (and most of the rest of Sardinia, for that matter) has a relaxed, no-fuss ambience that you don’t find in the cities on the mainland (the ‘Continent’ as the Sardinians refer to the rest of Italy).
Once I was lucky enough to arrive by sea on an overnight ferry from Palermo, docking at the Stazione Marina as the sun rose. Cagliari is dominated by Castello, a 13th century Pisan castle, that looms over the port from a high bluff. It is a spectacular scene entering the harbour and watching as the city wake up, boats buzzing and delivery trucks working the waterfront.
Almost all Cagliari’s attractions are enclosed within the four oldest quarters of the city: Castello, Marina, Stampace and Villanova. You’ll probably spend most of your time in the old citadel Castello not for its hotel (it has none) but for its historic buildings, museums and the breath-taking views from the ramparts. Marina, at the foot of the castle, is the oldest area, its narrow lanes reach back up the hill from the port, following the plan that the Romans laid out two thousand years ago. Stampace, to the west of Marina, is the funkiest district with plenty of bars, shops and music venues. Villanova to the east is more subdued, a quiet area with galleries, boutiques and some excellent bistros.
The busy waterfront that runs front of Marina has been modernised in recent times, and is now lined with arcades and cafes, the dock’s filled with expensive yachts and sail boats. A paved cycleway/walking path runs behind the wharves, taking you past two of Sardinia’s most important religious monuments: the Sanctuary of Bonaria and the Sant’Elia football stadium to Poetta, Cagliari’s lido: six kilometres of fine sand beaches. Plenty of things to fill up a weekend in Cagliari.
How to get there:
By boat: The Tirrenia Line has regular ships to Cagliari leaving from Civitavecchia, Naples and Palermo (https://en.tirrenia.it/). By plane: Alitalia has regular flights from Milano Linate and Roma Fiumicino airports. Ryan Air has flights from other airports including Bologna, Parma and Pisa. By train: regular trains connect Cagliari with the city, taking around six minutes. There is also a bus service. The short taxi ride costs around 15 euro.
Where to stay:
Hotel Regina Margherita (Viale Regina Margherita). This elegant, strategically placed, four-star hotel is an institution in the city. Doubles with breakfast from 160 euro.
Hotel Miramare (Via Roma). Set in an 18th century palazzo on the buzzy street that overlooks the port, this small, refined hotel has comfortable rooms enhanced with an interesting collection of 20th century art. Doubles with breakfast from 110 euro.
T Hotel (Via dei Giudicati). A short walk outside the centre this tall, modern hotel has all the mod cons: contemporary interior design; a good restaurant and a wellness centre. It is favoured by visiting politicians and soccer teams. Doubles with breakfast from 124 euro.
Sardinia Domus (Largo Carlo Felice). This welcoming, well-located, B&B is in the heart of the historical centre of the city. Its four comfortable rooms celebrate modern Sardinian design. Doubles with breakfast from 80 euro.
Where to eat:
Trattoria Lillicu (Via Sardegna). This rambunctious restaurant is simply decorated and has inside and outside dining. We’d recommend eating inside and embracing the energy and joy the place. The food is simple but surprisingly good, serving traditional Cagliarian cooking which is difficult to find elsewhere. Around 20 euro per person.
Dal Corsaro (Piazzale Regina Margherita). This elegant restaurant is something of an institution and has been run by four generations of the same family. Its immaculately prepared classic seafood and meat dishes are memorable and it has a comprehensive wine list. From 60 euro per person.
L’Osteria di Castello (Via Lamarmora). This welcoming family restaurant serves a range of Dishes steeped in local traditions. Around 25 euro per person.
Café Libarium Nostrum (Via Santa Croce). With tables on the most panoramic terrace, the Café is open from 07.30 to 02.00 at night every day, serving breakfast, light lunches, aperitifs and candle-lit dinners. Dinners from 30 euro per person.
Lo Scoglio (Sant’Elia, Locality La Spiaggiola). Fresh fish is the centre piece of this elegant restaurant on the edge of town, with a terrace overlooking the Sant’Elia wetlands. The antipasti and main courses are excellent but it is best known for its entrees such as linguini in squid ink. From 50 euro per person.
Cagliari: the city centre
Check in to your hotel and then go for a walk and an aperitivo down on the waterfront. The best introduction to Sardinia and old-school Sardinian cuisine is the trattoria Lillicu. This lively restaurant is in the heart of the buzzy Marina district. They have pleasant outdoor seating but it is best to find a place indoors to enjoy the energy and fun of this institution. They specialise in the freshest seafood. They have a menu but I find it best to simply leave the choice to the waiters and enjoy the experience.
Saturday morning: explore the city.
Assuming you are staying at the Hotel Regina Margherita, head out of the door after breakfast, turn right and walk downhill towards the water. Via Roma is an arcade street that runs behind port, filled with shops and cafes. Narrow lanes run up the hill into the Marina district, always animated with the coming and going from the city’s biggest grouping of restaurants and hotels. Being close to the port, Marina was heavily bombed in WW II, the damage still starkly visible in places.
Two of the districts most intriguing sites are underground. In Piazza Eulalia, a subterranean complex lies directly under the altar of the church of St Eulalia, a fragment of the Roman dating from the 1st century AD. A raised walkway provides a god view of broad limestone slabs of a pedestrian road leading to a major temple. Further up the up Marina’s backstreets is the church of San Sepolcro, whose surprisingly spacious interior holds a huge, eye-popping gilded altar piece dating from the 17th century. Down below is the crypt, hacked out of a natural hollow in the rock. This creepy space is empty except for images of Death painted on the walls and ceiling, one of which bears the words ‘Nemini parco’ (I spare no one) scratched in his scythe.
Back on the surface head up the hill to Via Spano and follow this busy pedestrian shopping street as it winds downhill under the city walls to Piazza Yenne, a large, cobbled piazza that is ringed by open-air restaurants, bars and some excellent gelato shops, including the Isola del Gelato, one of Cagliari’s best ice-cream shops, overing an extravagant selection of lip-smacking concoctions. Being near the university, the piazza comes alive in the evenings.
On the other side of Piazza Yenne is the district of Stampace, a bohemian area filled with student digs and artisan workshops. It also home to the church of Sant’Efisio, one of the oldest in the city, whose crypt served as a cistern in Roman times. If not the patron saint of the city, Sant’Efisio is Cagliari’s most loved saint and is the focal point of its most important religious celebration with finishes with a pilgrimage each year to the site of his martyrdom, forty south.
If you are energetic and have the time, the well-preserved remains of the city’s Roman amphitheatre is a short walk west along Corso Vittorio Emanuele, which was cut out of living rock in the second century AD. It held over ten thousand spectactors and still hosts concerts in the summer.
Otherwise, walk back to Piazza Yenne have a coffee, visit the Comunal markets and then take a small rattling lift (thus avoiding a long flight of stairs) up to the district of Castello, the citadel that occupies the long ridge that dominates the city.
The administrative centre of the city was moved up here when the Pisans ruled the town in the 13th century. Since then, it has been the area of the ruling elite – the Pisans forbad native Sardinians to enter Castello, as did the Spanish who superseded them. The cathedral and Royal palace are found up here. An aristocratic stillness pervades the dark, narrow alleys, squeezed between towering Medieval apartment blocks, disturbed only by the hum of antique shops, watch-makers and restorers’ studios. One of the main reasons for coming and the spectacular views from the ramparts of the city’s defensive walls. Although it is quite ghostly at night, some excellent restaurants and cafes have opened up here recently.
The most impressive part of Castello are the Bastions of St Remy, the southern spur of the southern defences, which was remodelled between 1899 and 1902. It’s triumphal tone is a little diluted by graffiti and students smoking weed but the breath-taking views make the effort to get up here worthwhile. There are a couple of café/restaurants at the Bastions, which are perfect for a light lunch, including the Antico Café and the Café degli Spiritu.
Saturday afternoon: Get some culture.
Above Castello, a fortified archway gives access to the Citadella dei Musei, a museum and study complex erected on the site of the former royal arsenal. It is home of one the most important museums in Italy, the Archaeological Museum, and is a must-see for any visitor to Cagliari who wants to understand the island’s extraordinary history.
Sardinia has been inhabited since 6000 BC. One of the highpoints of the island’s history was the Nuraghic Period, that flourished between 2000 and 1000 BC. The most obvious remnants of this extraordinary civilisation are the over seven thousand colossal stone towers that are scattered across Sardinia. The Archaeological Museum holds an invaluable collection from this period as well as collections from the later Phoenician, Carthagian and Roman periods.
Worth an afternoon in itself, there are also several smaller museums in the complex including and excellent historical art museum; a fascinating, if slightly gruesome, museum of 19th century anatomical wax models; and an excellent museum dedicated the Siamese (Thai) art and artifacts donated by a local benefactor.
Saturday evening: Chill out in the Villanova district.
Below the eastern walls of the citadel, Villanova is wealthy residential zone that has some very nice shops, sophisticated bars and a number of very good restaurants, the perfect place for an aperitivo and a quiet dinner.
Cagliari: go to the beach
Cagliari is a city of water, with the port at its doorstep and two large wetlands on either side, the habitats of cranes, flamingos and cormorants. Beyond the Stagni di Quartu, the wetlands on the western edge of the city, is Poetto, six kilometres of fine sandy beach with small bars and showers conveniently located nearby.
Poetto is a fifteen-minute bus ride from Piazza Matteotti, passing the Sant’Elio football stadium. The first time I visited Cagliari, I chose to walk out there (there is also a cycleway). Before arriving at the beach I spent an hour or so photographing the birdlife on the wetlands, which included flocks of pink flamingos, a permanent feature of the area (the story goes that once these migratory birds got a taste of the local life, they fell in love with Sardinia and never left).
The liveliest of Poetto’s beaches is at the westernmost end, where you will also find the Marina Piccola, an anchorage for boats and an area for concerts. They also have open-air cinemas here in July and August. If you don’t have your parasol with you, the best solution is to bathe from one of the lidos that line the beach, where you pay a few euros for entry and the use of showers, a deckchair and the use of other facilities. You can also rent pedaloes, canoes and surf-bikes.
One of the best places to eat is the Spiedo Sardo, opposite the Lido D’Aquila, while the lido itself has the restaurant Da Pietrino, which overlooks the sea. Across the road, Insonnia is a bar with music, an ideal place to while away a Sunday afternoon and evening.