June 2021: Frida Kahlo; the Venice Biennale; Risotto and a weekend on Napoleon's ElbaTuesday, 15 June 2021
Exhibitions in Italy in June:
Frida Kahlo. The Chaos Within. (The Fabricca del Vapore, Milano, https://mostrafridakahlo.it; until 25 July). There is no doubt that Frida Kahlo is a central figure of Mexican art, as well as the most famous Latin American painter of the twentieth century. With her husband Diego Rivera, one of the most important muralists in Mexico, they form one of the most emblematic couples in the history of world art. The exhibition "Frida Kahlo - The chaos inside" is a sensory journey that, with the support of technology, gives the opportunity to closely observe the life and works of Frida, her relationship with Diego Rivera, her daily life and elements of popular culture so dear to the painter.
Fede Galizia. The Amazon of Painting. (Castello del Buonconsiglio, Trento; https://www.buonconsiglio.it; until 24 October). Fede Galizia (1587 to 1630) was a portrait and still-life painter who lived in Milan at the turn of the 17th century. Naples, Monaco and the Habsburg court were some of the places where her work was commissioned, which testifies to her fame reaching far beyond the Lombard capital. This innovative exhibition investigates the great success she had as a female artist living at that time, within the historical context of the Counter-Reformation.
Casa Balla. From Home to the Universe, and Back. (MAXXI, Rome; https://www.maxxi.art/en/events/casa-balla; until 21 November). Over thirty years, Giacomo Balla, one of Italy’s most influential 20th century artists, transformed his family home in Rome (Via Oslavia 39B) into an extraordinary work of art. It has recently been opened to the public for the first. To celebrate the event, an important thematic exhibition is being hosted in the spectacular Gallery 5 of the MAXXI (Museum of Contemporary Art) where works by Balla are contrasted with works by contemporary artists including Ila Bêka & Louise Lemoine, Carlo Benvenuto, Space Popular and Cassina with Patricia Urquiola.
Events in Italy in June:
Fondazione Cologni Mestieri d’Arte (Via Lovania 5, Milano; www.fondazionecologni.it/en). Italy is a country renowned for centuries for the skill and quality of its craftsmen and artisans. ‘Made in Italy’ is guarantee of the highest quality products. The Cologni Foundation is a private, non-profit organisation which aims to promote a ‘new Renaissance’ of Italian ‘intelligent hands’. Its initiatives mostly aimed at the young, including training, scholarships, exhibitions as well as two the creation of two marvellous websites that present the work of the best of the Italian artisans: https://italia-sumisura.it/en/ and www.well-made.it/en/
Venice Architectural Biennale 2021 (Giardini, Arsenale and Forte Margherita; www.labiennale.org/en; until 21 November). The Biennale is an international celebration of architecture that occupies much of ‘La Serrinissima’, this year focussing on the question of how, together, we can live now. Twice postponed, this year’s version has been curated by Lebanese architect Hashim Sarkis and presents the work of one hundred and twelve architects from forty-six countries. A special Golden Lion will be presented posthumously to Lina Bo Bardi, architect, editor and designer.
Ente Nazionale Risi/National Rice Authority (Milano; https://www.iltuoriso.it/). I bet you didn’t know that Italy has around two hundred varieties of rice. Well, they do. The National Rice Authority has just launched a website that not only details all the characteristics and uses for each one but also includes recipes: https://www.iltuoriso.it.
Hidden Italy: a weekend on Elba Island with the Emperor
Two hundred years ago (5 May, 2021) Napoleon Bonaparte died on the lonely shores of St Helena, a miserable island in middle of the South Atlantic Ocean, perhaps murdered by his British captors, who are suspected of having slowly poisoned him with daily doses of arsenic.
The British had been far more gracious seven years earlier when they exiled him for the first time, sending the Emperor to the lovely Tuscan island of Elba. On signing the Treaty of Fontainebleau a month earlier, Napoleon had agreed to renounce his imperial throne in return for the sovereignty over Elba and a stipend of two million francs a year (which he never received). He was given a hero’s welcome by the locals. His English captors were remarkably deferential, installing him (with his entourage) as the lord of the island. He only stayed for 10 months before escaping in a small boat (despite the close surveillance by Sir Neil Campbell and his troops) and reviving his imperial ambitions but his presence left a strong memory on this pretty island and there are many traces of his time here. With Italy re-opening, the bicentennial of the Great Man’s death is as good an excuse as any to visit Elba, and explore some of the places touched by Napoleon.
Elba is Italy’s third largest island (29 kms long and 19 kms wide). It has exceptionally clear water, fine white-sand beaches and a lush wooded interior perfect for walking. Even in the height of summer, the inland villages remain mostly quiet. Portoferraio is very much the capital, a colourful port overlooked by a warren of old alleys. Elsewhere the most attractive towns are Capolieri and Porto Azzurro in the southeast and Marciana in the west, the last of these offering access to woodland hikes and an impressive chairlift up to Mt Capanne (100 mts). Biodola occupies an idyllic sweeping bay near Portoferraio. If you have some extra time, you can also take ferries to some of the other islands of the charming little archipelago.
Elba has an ancient history (starting with the Etruscans and Romans who mined minerals here) but it was the ‘300 days of Napoleon’ of which the locals are most proud.
How to get there:
By car/ferry/train: Moby Lines ferries leave from the port of Piombino (south of Livorno) for Portoferraio (www.mobylines.com). Toremar ferries also leave from Piombino and go to Portoferraio, Marciana and Cavo (www.toremar.it). Marciana is a 30 miunte drive from Portoferraio. By air: The nearest airports are Pisa, 107 kms south of Piombino, and Florence, 159 kms to the east.
Where to stay:
The Hotel Hermitage in Portoferraio is a refined 5-star classic, on the beach at Biodola. Doubles from 250 to 380 euro per night b&b.
The Hotel Biodola, is a 4-star hotel, with a funky Mediterranean style. It is also on the beach at Biodola. Doubles from 120 to 190 euro per night b &b.
The Hotel Cernia on Capo Sant’Andrea, Marciana, has a splendid 10-hectare garden and is renowned for its excellent gourmet restaurant. Doubles for 110 to 160 euro per night b&b. The degustation menu is around 35 euro per person.
Hotel Ilio, also in Capo Sant’Andrea, Marciana, is a 3-star boutique hotel with a spectacular location above the coast. A double, half-board costs from 105 to 240 euro per day.
Where to eat:
Rendezvous da Marcello, in Marciana Marina on the east of the island, specialises in seafood, including the potato antipasto, which is stuffed with a mix of squid and prawns, topped with breadcrumbs and baked. You can also try their octopus salad or grilled fresh fish, including swordfish. Around 45 euro per person.
Pizzeria Il Mambo overlooks the port at Rio Marina. It offers fish baked in their woodfired oven as well as a variety of pizzas. They also offer local dishes such as sburrita, a fish soup served on toast rubbed with garlic, and stoccafisso (salted cod) cooked with tomatoes, potatoes and pepperoni. From 35 euro per person.
Ristorante da Giacomino is in the hamlet of Vitticio near Portoferraio and has a spectacular terrace perched high above the sea. It offers seafood and specialises in antipasti/tapas, including a delicious snapper baked on a bed of potatoes. From 35 euro per person.
The Ristorante Calanova is a beachside restaurant in Capoliveri in the south of the island. It can only be reached on foot along an unsealed road or by sea – it is well-worth the effort. It offers an excellent range of seafood including honeyed octopus, paccheri (a flat tubular pasta) with flathead sauce and stewed octopus ravioli. Around 50 euro per person.
Il Castagnaccaio is in the heart of the old town of Portoferraio, six hundred metres from the port. It serves over thirty types of pizza as well as farinata, a fried chickpea bread, and castagnaccio, a pie made from chestnut flour, raisins and pine-nuts. Around 15 euro per person.
Getting around the island:
All the towns are connected by buses. In addition, council minibuses run several times between town centres and their outlying beaches in the summer. Renting a bike or a scooter is a good way of exploring the island. Cars are also available from the agencies in Portoferraio and cars can be carried by the ferries from Piombino..
Friday and Saturday: go exploring
Settle into your hotel and have a delicious dinner looking out of the Tuscan sea.
Saturday: Go kayaking
Start your exploration with an early morning visit the local farmers’ market (the Mercato della Terra e Mare, promoted by the local Tuscany Slow Food chapter, open every Saturday from 9.00 til 13.00).
The best way to really appreciate the beauty of the coastline is to get into a kayak. Econauta (0565 976707, www.econauta.net) is an outdoor sport company founded by local adventurer Umberto Segnini, where you can hire your own kayak (they also run kayak tours, see the website for the calendar). An uncomplicated route is a round trip to the Torre della Linguella. Along the way you pass under the fortress of Portoferraio, stop at the beach a della Ghiaie to admire the rock formations before passing under Villa dei Mulini, where Napoleon and his sister lived and continue on to the 16th century Torre della Linguella, which was once a Medici prison (next to this there are also the remains of a Roman villa). The round trip from Portoferraio by kayak takes around one hour, not including stops to swim.
Back at the port you can enjoy a well-earned at the Bar La Vela, a popular spot for local sailors, and
Saturday afternoon: go exploring
In Portoferraio, visit the lovely Teatro dei Vigilanti that was commissioned by Napoleon, transforming what was the Carmine order church into a charming tiny concert hall (Piazza Gramsci), then drive west to first visit Casa Drouot in the inland village of Poggio (Via Lena, 4). A handsome palazzo, Casa Drouot was the residence of the governor during Napoleon’s period, it has been recently restored (including period frescoes) and has an interesting collection of memorabilia from the time.
From here, strap on your walking shoes and take the paved trail up to the sanctuary of the Madonna del Monte, the most venerated site on the island (forty minutes’ walk away). The chapel next to the sanctuary was used by Napoleon. Ten minutes further is Masso del Aquila (a striking natural ‘sculpture’ of an eagle). On this point, Napoleon and his collaborators set up a secret semaphore and communicated with their colleagues to plan his escape.
Sunday: hit the beaches.
Enjoy the balmy weather on the beach. The best sand beaches are found on the southern side of the island at Cavoli, which is protected from the wind and surrounded by granite boulders. Further around, on the south-west side, the most popular spot is the pebble beach at Pomonte, particularly good for the snorkelling around the wreck of the Elvis Scott.
Pomonte is also a good place to windsurf with afternoon winds picking up after 14.00. Boards can be hired from Pomonte Surf Paradise (338 4579145) and Wind-Snack (393 9860506) which also has a windsurf school. The Lido di Capoliveri on the south-east is also popular with windsurfers and can be reached from the village of Capoliveri by mountain bike, which can be hired from Rent Elba Bikes (there is a course with over 100 kilometres of bike trails behind the beach).
For a more leisurely day, you can take a cruise out towards the neighbouring archipelago of Capraia passing through a marine sanctuary that is home to the ’tursiopi’, small dolphins that are native to the area. In the right season, you will also have the chance to see to whales. On the way, you will pass some of the most beautiful coastline of Elba.