September 2017: food in Rome, music on Lake Como, a weekend in Sardinia

Friday, 15 September 2017

Welcome to the September version of the Hidden Italy newsletter:  food festival in Rome, a music festival on Lake Como, Ferragamo, Hockney and a weekend overlooking the Costa Smeralda.

Hidden Italy in September

Hidden Italy in September

Hidden Italy in September:

While the plains and the coast of Italy has been sweltering in unusually hot conditions, up in the mountains, we were very fortunate to complete the Trails to Freedom hike this year in near perfect conditions: crisp evenings and mild sunny days.

The hike takes nine days and follows the route four young Australian soldiers to escape from Nazi occupied Italy in September 1943.  With the help of local partisans, they were able to cross the Italian Alps and get into to safety in Switzerland on 4 October.

We covered over one hundred kilometres, cross five passes with an accumulated climb of five thousand metres.  It’s a long haul through spectacular country.  We do though have one day, taking a series of cable cars up to the peak of Mt Rosa.  It was a great hike with a terrific group – can’t wait to do it again next year.

Events in September:

Events in September:

Taste of Roma, Auditorium Parco della Musica, Rome,, from 21 to 24 September.  This annual festival is a celebration of some of Rome’s finest and most innovative chefs and restaurants.  It includes demonstrations and cooking classes as well tastings of 60 dishes prepared by 15 different chefs.

UNESCO Listings, Historic Beech Forests and the Venetian walls of three northern Italian towns,  A significant part of Italy’s rich heritage has been further protected for the future with two decisions by UNESCO to list the perfectly preserved city walls of three towns (Bergamo, Palmanova and Peschiera del Garda) and ten birch forests (including two in Tuscany, five in Abruzzo, one on Monte Cimino near Lake Bolsena in Lazio and the glorious Forest Umbra on the Gargano Peninsula in northern Puiglia) as part of the ‘patrimony of humanity’.  This makes a total of 53 UNESCO sites in Italy.

Bellagio and Lake Como Music Festival, Lake Como,, until 22 October.  It is hard to think of a grander location for this annual concert series than the shores of Lago di Como, Italy’s most romantic lake.  The festival features original works by the Bellagio Festival Orchestra and lakeside concerts by the Pomeriggi Orchestra and runs until the end of October.

Exhibitions in September:

Exhibitions in September:

Salvatore Ferragamo: 1927, The Return to Italy.  Palazzo Spini Feroni, Museo Ferragamo,, until 2 May, 2018.  Leaving Italy in 1915 as a modest cobbler from Naples Salvatore Ferragamo returned 12 years later as the shoe-maker to the stars.  He established himself in Florence, becoming one of the most important designers in Italy in the 20th century.  With works of art, fashion, design and, of course, plenty of shoes, this wonderful exhibition recreates the creative and cultural life of Italy in the of the Roaring Twenties that was so influential on his career.

Love and Revolution; Artistic Couples in Avantguard Russia, Man Museum of Art, Nuoro (Sardina),, until 1 October.  The extraordinary adventure of the Russian Avantguard is recounted in this unusual exhibition. which presents the works of six post-Revolution artists, who were couples in art and in life: Natalia Goncharova and Michail Larionov; Varvara Stepanova and Alexander Rodchenko; Lyubov Popova and Alexander Vesnin.

David Hockney, Internazionale d’Arte Moderna, Ca Pesaro, Venice,, until 22 October.  English by birth, Californian by adoption, David Hockney (born in 1937) is one of the great figurative artists of the 20th century.  This exhibition presents 82 portraits, each painted in less than three days, and one still life, produced between 2013 and 2016.

Hidden Italy weekend: A quiet retreat on the Costa Smeralda:

Hidden Italy weekend:  A quiet retreat on the Costa Smeralda:

When the lights go out on the August holidays on Costa Smeralda in the north of Sardinia, the yachts weigh anchor, the fashionable and the wealthy pack their bags, the busy coastal towns heave a quiet sigh and a sense calm returns to this celebrated stretch of coastline.  It is, however, a sense of calm that you can find all year around in San Pantaleo, a small village in the hinterland, where the clamour and bright lights seem to have been stopped by the granite mountains that separate San Pantaleo from the coast.

Although only a few kilometres from Porto Cervo and Porto Rotondo, driving up a road that winds through granite mountains and Mediterranean scrub, San Pantaleo seems another world, a relaxed authentic slice of Sardinian life: old men sit on benches enjoying the early autumn sun, green grocers broadcast their wares from rattly old trucks and children chase footballs around the town’s only square, all watched by café patrons sipping coffee and spritz.  

San Pantaleo was little more than a collection of shepherds’ huts when a small church dedicated to the saint was consecrated in 1894 and the hamlet was declared a town.  In the 1960s this remote part of Italy was brought to life thanks to the enormous coastal developments of a consortium led by the Aga Khan.  Hidden behind three granite peaks, San Pantaleo avoided the extravagances of the coast.  In the 1970s, it’s wildness and authenticity did, however, attract the attention of national and international artists, who established workshops and holiday homes here. 

Today the roads are sealed, the town has grown, it holds cultural events of national importance and in the evenings people drive up from the coast for an aperitivo in the square, but San Pantaleo remains true to its roots with an atmosphere that is discrete and informal.  It’s a perfect base to explore this fascinating part of Sardinia.

How to get there

By car:  San Pantaleo is 17 kms from Olbia.  To reach it, you drive north out of Olbia, along the state highway SS 125, following the signs to Porto Cervo – Arzachena – Palau and then the signs for Porto Cervo – Baja Sardinia – San Pantaleo.  By plane:  The closest airport is Olbia.  By ferry:  Olbia is linked to the ‘continent’ by ferries that leave from Genova, Livorno and Civitavecchia.

Where to stay

Hotel San Pantaleo is a simple but elegant 3-star hotel in the centre of town.  Doubles start from 130 euro per night.

Hotel Arathena is a very charming 4-star hotel on the edge of town, fashioned as a small hamlet, with small self-contained houses surrounded by forest.  It also has an excellent restaurant, open to the public, Trattoria Balbacana.  Doubles from 160 euro per night.

Ca La Somara is a lovely agriturismo in the countryside a short drive from San Pantaleo, set in a restored farmhouse.  Doubles from 85 euro per night.

For those who can’t do without the seaside and a bit of luxury, the Capo d’Orso Hotel is a splendid resort 25 kms from San Pantaleo with beautiful views over the Maddalena archipelago.  Doubles from 280 euro.

Where to eat

A refined and welcoming restaurant, Giagoni is only a short walk from San Pantaleo’s central piazza.  It specialises in fish and seafood but also serves an excellent ‘porceddu arrosto’ (roast suckling pig).  Meals around 55 euro per person.

Trattoria Jchnos is a much-loved institution in the centre of town, which serves classical ‘gallurese’ meals such as gnocchetti and spaghetti with bottarga.

What to do:

Saturday morning:

Your first morning should be dedicated to exploring the workshops and bottegas of the town, beginning with a coffee and croissant at the Caffe della Piazza.  From here you can set out along the oleander-lined lanes, stopping at the parish church (built in 1903 and later enhance by copper gates created by the Danish artist Olaf Christiansen).  The best-known artisan in town is Davide Solinas, at his La Bottega del Ferro Battuto you can admire and/or buy sculptures and decorations made from wrought iron.  At Petra Sarda presents vases and various objects in ‘gres’, a local ceramic produced at extreme heat.  Antique furniture can be found at L’Antiquaire de San Pantaleo, while elegant clothes, accessories and fabrics are sold at Foresta G.  Works by the town’s two most famous artists can be found at the Galleria di Michele Greco (pastel coloured paintings) and at the studio of Pat Steele (naïve paintings much loved by the late Roman singer-songwriter Fabrizio De Andre).

Saturday afternoon:

Of course, you can’t come to Sardinia and not enjoy its famous beaches.  The two closest are Cala Razza di Junco and Rena Bianca, pure white sands and emerald water near Porto Cervo.  But before you set out, we suggest you stock up at La Cantina, an ‘alimentare’ in the centre of town, which sells the best of local produce including many types of breads, cheese, salami – perfect for a picnic in the shade of the maritime pines.

If you want to see a bit more, head north along the road to Cannigione and then Palau, along the way you will pass endless little bays and beaches.  A kilometre from Palau, you come to the ‘altura di Palua’, a lookout point with views across the Maddalena archipelago, the islands of Spargi and Budelli to the blue mountains of Corsica rising in the distance.  On the way back to San Pantaleo, you can stop at the Cala Lepre, a beautiful bay near Capo d’Orso, where, between 3 and 9 September, you can admire the spectacle of the maxi yachts (40 metres plus) competing off-shore for the Rolex Cup, an annual event hosted by the Porto Cervo Yacht Club.

Saturday evening:

A must for any visit to San Pantaleo is an aperitivo at the Café Nina, where you can enjoy an icy glass of Vermentino wine and a selection of nibbles served on a ‘plate’ of pane carasau, a delicious disc of crisp bread.  After dinner, time for the bright lights and a bit of glamour at nearby Porto Cervo, where you can have a cocktail in the piazza and then visit the MdM (Monte di Mola Museum) which is currently hosting an exhibition of the works of the celebrated Mexican artist and muralist Diego Riviera (lover and collaborator of Freida Kahlo).  An evening at Porto Cervo would not be complete without one last drink at the Clipper Bar, favoured watering hole of sailors and the Rolex Cup teams.  Perhaps best to put aside some money for a taxi back to San Pantaleo.

Sunday morning:

The Associazione Gaia tra Le Onde (in the nearby town of Arzachena) organises walks into the granite mountians that surround San Pantaleo.: Sant’Andrea, Pelchia Manaa, Pelchia Minori, Punta Muvlone, Balbacan and other peaks, which reach a height of 650 mts.  The departure point is at Stazzo Manzoni, a short drive along an unsealed raod from San Pantaleo.  There are three grades of walks available:  straight forward walks through the cork oak forests; more demanding treks and technical climbs that require previous experience and training

Sunday afternoon:

Jump in the car and explore the surrounding area.  Aggius is very attractive town 40 kilometres inland from San Pantaleo, surrounded by granite mountains.  It has the largest ethnographic museum in Sardinia, which describes the history and life of the region.  It also highlights the textile traditions for which the town is famous.  Laghetto Degna, a short drive from the centre of Aggius, is a perfect place for a picnic.  Alternately, you could drive to the nearby agriturismo Il Muto di Gallura for lunch, well known for its traditional home-cooking.

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