August 2016: the best restaurant in the world? Banksy, Pompeii and a weekend in Umbria

Monday, 15 August 2016

Hidden Italy in August:

Hidden Italy in August:

Thank you for your support this year – 2016 has been Hidden Italy’s busiest year to date (after more than twenty years exploring this wonderful country) and I have to say I can’t think of a better way to get to know a country and its people than walking through the countryside staying in villages and towns. 

A rough calculation suggested I have done over 15,000 kilometres along the trails and paths of Italy (the equivalent of fifteen times up and down the peninsula) and, as I head off for the autumn guided tours, I’m looking forward to doing many more, discovering and sharing new places.

Events in August:

Events in August:

Osteria Francescana, Modena,  Move over Bulli, Chef Massimo Bottura is sitting on top of the world after the respected British magazine Restaurant nominated his restaurant, Osteria Francescana, in Modena (between Bologna and Parma) the best restaurant in the world for 2016!  Bookings can be made directly through the website, but allow plenty of lead time. 

The Ghetto, Canareggio, Venice,  The original ‘ghetto’ was founded in Venice 500 years ago.  To celebrate its complicated and fascinating history, a series of events have been programmed throughout 2016, including a guided culinary tour that is run every Sunday the end of the year, starting at 5.30 and includes visits to three synagogues, kosher tappas and a traditional dinner for 35 euro e head.

Museo degli Innocenti, Florence,  A masterpiece designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, the Ospedale was the first lay institution founded in Italy to care for orphans, opened in 1416.  Today it is the home of one of the finest museums in Florence, including works by Botticelli and Ghirandaio, which has reopened after over three years of restoration.

Exhibitions in August

Exhibitions in August

War, capitalism and liberty, the works of the artist known as Banksy, Palazzo Cipolla, Roma, until 4 September.  Banksy is the pseudonym of the most famous ‘street artist’ in the world, his remarkable stencils and murals, challenging the public with their black humour and anger.   This fascinating exhibition has been assembled from private collection in his native England and the USA.

Mitoraj in Pompeii, the archaeological park of Pompeii, Naples, until January 2017.  The ruins of Pompeii offer an extraordinary setting for thirty monumental bronze sculptures by the Polish artist Mitoraj.  Each piece represents a mythical personality, such as Dedalus in the Temple of Venus, the Centaur in the Forum and a Centurion in the Thermal baths, and shows the profound links that contemporary sculpture has with antiquity.

Mantova, Cultural Capital of Italy 2016.  The swirling steel arms stand in stark contrast to the elegant cobblestones of the courtyard of the Ducal Palace in the heart of Mantova, an elegant city half way between Milan and Venice,  The work of Hidetoshi Nagasawa is just a small part of the initiatives offer to celebrate this marvellous city’s role as the cultural capital of Italy for this year.

Hidden Italy weekend in August: Scario, the Portofino of the South

Hidden Italy weekend in August:  Scario, the Portofino of the South

Some people call Scario, 70 kms south of the Amalfi Coast, Little Provence because of its colours; the intense smells of the sea combined with that of the wild lavender in the hinterland; its bucolic tranquillity and the fact that artists such as Jose Ortega, a student of Picasso, and Roman singer/song writer Francesco de Gregori, have made this hidden corner of the Mediterranean their home.  Locals, on the other hand, refer to it, tongue in cheek, as the Portofino of the south for its multi-coloured houses, it small port full of yachts and its clutch of fashionable bars and restaurants.

Whichever version you prefer, this little fishing village has much to offer.  Although only an hour’s drive from Amalfi, Scario’s pretty waterfront, isolated beaches and mountain walking trails remain remarkably free from the crowds that are drawn to its more famous neighbour.  It is one of the gateways to the magnificent UNESCO listed Cilento National Park, a towering limestone headland that butts into the Policastro Gulf covered with marked trails and fringed with small uninhabited beaches reachable only on foot or by boat from Scario - the perfect place for a Hidden Italy getaway (in fact I think we might have to consider it as part of a future guided tour)!

How to get there:

The nearest airport is at Naples.  Direct trains which take between 2.5 and 3 hours, connect Naples to Policastro Bussentino, 4 kms from Scario – there are buses and taxis available.  If you’re driving take the A3 autostrada that heads south from Naples to Reggio Calabria and take the exit for Padula and then the highway 517 for Policastro Bussentino.

Where to stay:

Hotel Giardino is a three-star hotel in the heart of Scario, a short walk from the waterfront passeggiata, with a garden facing onto the sea, a private beach and an excellent restaurant (doubles start around 90 euro per night).  The Ora Resort Marcaneto, is slightly outside town, surrounded by green, with panoramic views of the gulf and a swimming pool (doubles from 80 to 100 euro per night).  Il Rifugio del Contadino is a beautiful country house on the slopes of Mt Bulgheria behind Scario, with spectacular views, walking trails and a celebrated restaurant (doubles from 70 euro per night).

What to do:

Friday evening:
Settle in to your hotel and then go for a walk along the waterfront or up through the olive trees to the lighthouse.  Afterwards you can return to the waterfront (Lungomare Marconi) for dinner at Ristorante U’Zifaro, renowned for its seafood, eg orecchiette with pistacchios and prawns, around 35 per person, and finish the evening with a delicious homemade gelato from Bar Mose (flavours include ricotta-pear or ricotta-pistacchio)

Saturday morning:
After breakfast, head to the port to catch one of the boats that take you along the coast of the national park.  You can take a full day trip or a half day trip visiting untouched beaches, enchanting bays and ancient grottos.  The offerings vary from a simple fishing boat to larger cruisers which include fishing and lunch on board (Mega Tourist).  For something more exciting, you can explore the coast on board a sailing boat (Ciacchi & Velieri, based in nearby Maratea) or go diving in the marine park (Sub Center Fomdale).

Saturday afternoon:
After lunch back at the ranch and a nap, time to explore the little town, starting with a quick visit to the Archeological Centre (hosted in the local Middle School) which has a small but interesting collection including the jaw bone of a Neanderthal child from over 100,000 years ago.  Then to the shops on the waterfront including Zu Pietro for local wine and gastronomic treats and Clany, for artisan leather goods and ceramics and to try the gelatos at Bar Gelateria Tony.

Saturday evening:
Get your walking shoes out and follow the well-marked trail to Spinosa Point and the Grotta dell’Acqua, with its stalagmites and stalactites, enjoying the spectacular views of the coastline and gulf along the way.  Wait for the sunset before returning to Scario, where you can have an aperitivo at the J-Pub and dinner on the waterfront at Tipiteca, which offers both seafood and dishes from the hinterland such as paccheri (flat pasta) alla cilentana (sausage, eggplant and pecorino cheese), around 30 euro per person.

Sunday morning:
Time to hire a car for the day and explore the hinterland and the Cilento National Park, starting at Bosco, famous for a brutally supressed uprising against the king of Naples in 1828.  A large ceramic mural by Jose Ortega (a student of Picasso who lived in the village) celebrates the event.  It is also possible to visit the Ortega Museum dedicated to the artist.  From here you can carry on to the town of San Giovanni di Piro and beyond this into the surrounding forests to the magical sanctuary of San Giovanni Battista, founded by Byzantine monks in the 11th century.  From here trails fan out across the national park, including the Sentiero degli Eremiti (the trail of the hermitage) a climb up through lavender fields to the top of Mt Bulgheria with breathtaking views (3 hours return) or a walk down to the beach of Marcellino (3 hours return).

Sunday afternoon:
An afternoon tour, starting with a stop at Policastro Bussentino, 4 km from Scario, which was an important Greek and Roman port and has Norman fortifications, and then a further 40 kms on to the monastery of San Lorenzo di Padula, a vast baroque masterpiece, which was founded in 1306 but reached its maximum splendour in the 17th century.  The vast convent complex covers over 50,000 square metres and is Unesco World heritage listed. 

Sunday ‘nature’ alternative:
Just in case you have a bit of extra time…. you could spend the afternoon, or a whole day, embracing nature, starting with a visit to the WWF oasis at Morigerati, 40 mks from Scario, which stretches along the Bussento River, where there is one of the largest otter colonies in Europe!  There river disappears underground to re-emerge at the Grotta del Risorgenza and a canyon of rapids and waterfalls (the tiny hamlet of Morigerati is itself worth a visit).  A further 7 kms from here is Caselle di Pittari, with a museum dedicate to the grottos and caves of the area.  The other nature tour is to the Valley of the Orchids, at the top of the national park between the hamlets of Sassano and Teggiano 40 kms north of Scario.  This itinerary is 13 kms long and designed to be driven, stopping along the way some see some of the 184 different types of wild orchids and over 100 species of wild aromatic plants that are native to the region (best seen in the spring, ie until mid-June).

Sunday evening:
Dinner at the Locanda di Romeo in Bosco on the way back to Scario, which proposes 96 different types of pasta dishes, including ‘strascinati soleggiati’ or the ‘sunny’ pasta, based on sun-dried Pacchino cherry tomatoes and eggplant.  Back in Scario, you’ll probably want to extend your stay by a couple of days, there is really far too much to see and enjoy here…  why rush?

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