June 2018: Puglia, Colisseum and an island off Tuscany

Friday, 15 June 2018

Welcome to Hidden Italy’s June newsletter:  Puglia self-guided walk, the Colosseum as few get to see it, a theatre festival on a live volcano, and a weekend swimming and walking on a wild island off the coast of Tuscany

Hidden Italy in June:

Hidden Italy in June:

We are very pleased to announce our newest self-guided itinerary:  Puglia 1, an 8-day/7-night self-guided walk exploring the Gargano Peninsula.  The ‘spur’ on the boot of Italy, Gargano is an expansive promontory covered by one of Italy’s oldest national parks. It is surrounded by sparkling waters, white limestone cliffs and pretty fishing villages – the perfect place for walking.  Full details:  w ww.hiddenitaly.com.au/self-guided-walks/

Due to cancellations, we also still have places available on the Trails to Freedom walk (21 – 29 August 2018) a challenging but very satisfying hike in the Italian Alps, please let us know.  Full details: http://www.hiddenitaly.com.au/guided-tours/

Exhibitions in June:

Exhibitions in June:

Visible and Invisible, Desire and Passion: The Biennale of Drawing; Rimini; www.biennaledisegno.it; until 15 July.  Drawing is the essence of all ideas, great works often emerging from a simple sketch.  Every second year, Rimini, on the Adriatic coast, pays homage to the art of drawing, a major event which attracts thousands of visitors.  This year thirty three different exhibitions are programmed, showing over two thousand works of art, including Picasso’s Guercino and works by Duhrer, Fellini (the local hero) and Beecroft.

Wings of Glass: Lino Tagliapietra; Lino Tagliapietra Museum, Murano (Venice); www.linotagliapietra.com.  Glass is his life – Lino Tagliapietro, one of the great masters of glass, returns to his native Murano with this exhibition of “Thirty Seagulls in Flight”.

‘Made in Italy’ in California; Palazzo Spini Ferroni; Museo Ferragamo; Florence; until 10 March 2019, www.ferragamo.com.  The stylist Salvatore Ferragamo was one of the fathers of the concept of ‘Made in Italy’.  The interesting project explores the influence of Italian migration and ‘made in Italy’ on the culture of California during the 1920’s, the years in which Ferragamo himself lived in the USA.

Events in June:

Events in June:

S.U.P.E.R:  Seven Unique Places to Experience Rome; ticket 18 euro; www.coopculture.it.  Via a single ticket, this extraordinary concept allows a very special visit to the Colosseum Archaeological Park in the heart of Rome.  It gives you access to the Colosseum itself, the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill but also to seven sites that are normally not available to visitors: Nero’s Crypt, the Palatine Museum. August and Livia’s homes; the Aula Isiaca, Romolo’s Temple and the Santa Maria Antiqua, unqieu sites with precious collections of paintings and sculptures that are unable to support the influx of mass tourism (the Colosseum had seven million visitors in 2017!).

Marvellous Creatures:  The Festival of the Eco Logical Theatre; Stromboli (Aeolian Islands, Sicily); 23 June to 1 July; www.festaditeatroecologico.com .  The island/volcano of Stromboli is the extraordinary setting for this annual festival.  A range of musical, theatrical and dance shows, performed in the open air without using any electricity for amplification or lighting, only instruments, voices, sunlight and candle light.  This year’s festival focuses on imaginary creatures, human and nearly human, from Frankenstein to Pinocchio.

Hidden Italy Weekend: Capraia, walking on a wild island off the Tuscan coast

Hidden Italy Weekend:  Capraia, walking on a wild island off the Tuscan coast

Capraia is a fragment of Italy flung into the blue Mediterranean Sea, closer to Corsica than it is to the mainland.  Although only eight kilometres long and four kilometres at its widest, in the 5th century, the beginning of the Dark Ages, its isolation provided refuge for a number of monasteries.  Capraia sat in the middle of Medieval sea lanes and was fought over by the Pisan and Genovese navies.  In 1538, it was sacked by the Ottoman pirate Dragut.  Its isolation made it the perfect spot for a high security penal colony.  For over one hundred years, starting in 1873, two thirds of the island was occupied by the prison.  When the prison was closed in 1986, this secretive island was opened to the public, its lack of development happily preserving its uncontaminated natural beauty.

A three-hour ferry ride from Livorno, Capraia is part of the Tuscan Archipelago National Park and marine reserve, along with its better-known neighbours of Elba and Montecristo.  Today it has a population of four hundred people, one road and a single small town (Capraia Isola) which clustered around the only port in the shadow of a 16th century Genovese fort, Forte di San Giorgio.  Capraia produces some good wine on its rocky slopes (the celebrated vineyard, La Piana, www.lapianacapraia, is only a fifteen-minute walk from town) and is well-known for the exquisite anchovies that are caught in its pristine waters but it is now tourism, modest though it may be, which makes the economy go around.

Capraia is a popular stopping point for sailors making their way between Sardinia, Corsica and Tuscany.  In the summer, the island’s laid-back atmosphere, unspoilt nature, walking trails and rocky bays draw tourists although never enough to create a crowd – in the height of the August holiday, it’s still possible to find your own beach or take a solitary walk along the trails above the sea.  June is a great time to visit Capraia, when the temperatures are still mild but warm enough to swim.

There is some fine walking on all the islands of the Tuscan Archipelago.  In fact, each year the islands celebrate the Tuscany Walking Festival, which occurs twice:  the first time during the spring break that stretches between the public holidays of 25 April (Liberation Day) and 1 May (May Day) and the second in the autumn, from 22 September to 7 October (w ww.tuscanywalkingfestival.it).

How to get there:

Ferries run daily from Livorno (www.toremar.it).  The journey takes around three hours.  Return tickets cost 43 euro.  Livorno can reach via the autostrada A12.  Livorno is also linked by regional trains to Florence.  From June, Capraia is connected to Isola d’Elba by daily ferries, which take around one hour.

Where to stay:

Residence La Vela (Via Genova 46).  Set in a handsome 18th palazzo looking on to the castle, the Residence offers self-contained apartments for 2, 4 and 6 people, starting from 450 euro per week.

Hotel Il Saracino (Via Lamberto Cibo).  A small pastel coloured hotel in the heart of the old quarter, this charming three-star hotel has a swimming pool, gardens and comfortable rooms decorated in ‘ye olde fishing port’ style.  Doubles from 130 euro

Uappala Resort (Via della Mandola 1).  Situated in the green of the Mandola Park, overlooking La Grotta, the only beach equipped with umbrellas and a bar, the resort has a very good fish restaurant.  The Resort opens in June.  Doubles start at 102 euro.

Agriturismo Valle di Portovecchio (Localita Il Pollaio).  Set in the ground of the former penal colony, this family-run agriturismo produces honey, liquors and jams but is also a fascinating place to stay.


Where to eat:

Garitta (Via Assunzione 10 – 13).  This very good restaurant is above a bar-gelataria, overlooking the port.  Dishes include raw fish antipasto and a seafood carbonara with bottarga.  Between 45 and 50 euro per person.

Il Carabottino (Via San Giorgio).  A simple restaurant in the centre of town, you can sit under a gazebo and eat fish such as John dory, barracuda and schnapper.  Fixed menu 38 euro per person.

Nonno Bepe (Via Assunzione 320).  Small spartan and rustic, this little trattoria is famous for its fried fish.  Around 35 euro per person.

Cherie (Via Assunzione 320).  Considered one of the best restaurants on the island, Cherie has large glass windows overlooking the port.  Around 30 euro a head.

What to do:

Friday evening:  Check in to your accommodation, have an early dinner and get to bed early, ready for a full weekend.

Saturday morning:  explore the coast.

Capraia has over thirty kilometres of unspoilt coastline, most of it under the tutelage of the marine reserve.   There are a number of swimming spots within walking distance from the town:  the Torretta del Bagno is a bay at the foot of the castle, one of the few beaches that you can reach directly from the land;  the Cala Zurletto, is a bay a short walk from the castle following the only road out of town; nearby is the rocky Spiaggia del Frate (the Monk’s Beach); while La Grotta is the only beach where you can hire umbrellas, which has a café/snack bar.

Otherwise, the best way to explore the coast is by water, either hiring a rubber dinghy or by taking an organised half-day of full-day tour of the island.  The Ageniza Viaggi Parco Via Carlo Alberto 42, www.isoladicapraia.it) both hires dinghies and organises tour (they also rent houses around the port and in the town).

Saturday afternoon:  explore the town.

The most important historical monument on the island is Forte di San Giorgio, is an imposing building which sits on a headland overlooking the port.  It was originally built by the Pisans in the 11th century and then rebuilt by the Genovese in the mid-16th century after it was destroyed by the pirates lead by Dragut.  The town clusters around the castle walls and preserves a charming, old-world atmosphere, with narrow tree-lined lanes and spectacular views.  There are a number of churches of historical interest.

Having mooched around the old town, it’s time to walk down to the picturesque port, a kilometre away down a winding road.  It’s a pretty spot, with a lookout point, access to a sandy beach and string of bars and trattorias overlooking the harbour.  The perfect place for a swim, apertivo and dinner.

Sunday morning:  go for a walk.

There are three well-marked hiking trails on the island, all of which leave from Piazza Milano on the edge of town. 

The easiest is the Reganico Trail.  This two-hour circuit walk takes you south out of town via the Strada del Semaforo, an impressive piece of engineering built by convicts over one hundred years ago.  At a marked point you turn left and dip down towards the sea, passing through a valley filled with colourful, low-lying Mediterranean scrub, before turning north and following the coastline back towards town.  Along the way you can stop for a swim at the Cala della Zurletto and make a detour to the Bellavista lookout point, with views of Elba on the horizon.

A more challenging walk is trail to Monte delle Penne (420 metres above sea level), the round trip taking approximately 5 hours.  You take the same Strada del Semaforo south out of town, instead of turning left you continue straight ahead across an area known as il Piano di Santa Stefano, where evidence of the earliest settlement in Capraia were found.  Along the way you pass the marvellous vineyards of La Piana, which are visitable by appointment (+39 3920592988).  When you come to a junction, go right and climb up to the peak of Monte dell Penne, passing along the way Il Stagone, a small lake which is the only permanent body of freshwater in the whole archipelago.  It is thick with vegetation and in spring is a resting point for migratory birds.  A good point to rest up for the final climb to the mountain peak, from which you have a spectacular view including, on a clear day, the mountains of Corsica.

The most challenging walk is to the southern tip of the island to Monte Arpagna (410 metres above sea level), which takes 6 hours return and can be extended with a couple of very worthwhile side trips.  You take the Strada del Semaforo out of town again, continue past La Piana vineyards, until the junction.  Instead of going right here, you go left and continue south, skirting around the side of Monte Pentica (426 metres above sea level) and climbing to the peak of Monte Arpagna, where you are reward with the best view from the island, taking in the whole the Tuscan Archipelago.  From here you have the choice heading to the left and continuing on to the Zenobito Point, the southern most tip of the island, with the ruins of a Genovese tower and the Cala Rossa, a beautiful rocky red volcanic bay (an extra two hour round trip from Monte Arpagna) or you can right and head to Trattoio Point, the western most tip of the island (an extra hour round trip from Monte Arpagna).

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