GOLDEN E-MAIL FROM VENICE

Each of us have special things in our lives that rock our worlds. For me, it’s when I meet my readers in person or get an email like this one, telling me how my advice brought joy to their trip to Italy.
Katy and Mark are travelers I met at the New York Times Travel Show in January. They bought 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go, followed my Golden Day advice on their recent trip to Venice…and had an extraordinary, personal experience–even at the height of tourist season!
Here’s what they wrote…
We took your suggestions and visited Santa Maria Della Salute, taking us to the Dorsoduro section, an area we hadn’t explored but loved because it was so less crowded.
Santa Maria Salute, VeniceSalute Altar
And we also went on the hunt for the Church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli, again taking us to a neighborhood we hadn’t been to. As you described, it was an absolute treasure and a bit of a miracle that we found it!
Santa Maria Miracoli, Venice
We admired it from the outside and then soaked up every inch inside as we shared the church with just one other couple.
Santa Maria Miracoli, Venice
Ceiling Detail

Ceiling Detail

Santa Maria Miracoli, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go
By the time we left the church we were ready for lunch. Following your Golden Day suggestion we set out to find Fiaschetteria Toscana. If this was Marcella Hazan’s favorite Venice restaurant we knew we would be in for a real treat. And it did not disappoint! We ate outside in the little square across from the restaurant, enjoying a delicious lunch.
VENICE - FIASCHETTERIA TOSCANA
At the end of our meal I went inside the restaurant to use the restroom and mentioned to the waiter how we happened upon the restaurant and showed them the paragraph in your book. The waiter suggested that I repeat the story to the owner, which I did. The owner thanked me and told me that his wife was friends with Marcella and with that she appeared at his side. Her husband then repeated the story to her and she confirmed that Marcella was her friend and she thanked me profusely for coming to the restaurant. 
I returned to my table and shared the story with my husband as we finished up our wine. A few minutes later, the owners wife appeared at our table with an envelope of photos with her & Marcella. She then proceeded to tell me that she and Marcella had been friends since they were little girls. She told me that she was a treasured friend and that she missed her dearly. She then showed me a copy of Marcella’s first cookbook, which Marcella had autographed for her. She thanked me again for coming to the restaurant and sharing the piece in your book with her. She said that I had brought back her friend, in doing so. At that point I had to hold back my tears. It was such a wonderful, heart-warming experience, that all happened because of your Golden Day tip. This happened, a week ago Friday, and was the highlight of our time back in Venice. 
I just had to share this with you!!!
Many thanks,
Katy & Mark  Petrochko
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Grazie Mille to you, Katy and Mark, and to all you readers out there who’ve shared with me your Golden Day experiences!  You are an inspiration as I return and discover more and more of Italy’s boundless treasures and wonderful natives.
CLICK HERE for the latest edition of 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go…
Susan Van Allen, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go, Women's Travel
Buon Viaggio!

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APRIL: Sacred Month of Venus, Goddess of Love and Beauty

Buona Primavera = Happy Spring!

The Romans considered April the Sacred Month of Venus, Goddess of Love, Beauty, Fertility, and Sex…

Her presence is eternal…you see her all over Italy, in sculptures, paintings. You feel her spirit beckoning you to lighten up, enjoy all the flavors and pleasures…Here in the Uffizi in Florence is the Botticelli painting of her being born from the sea…Botticelli's Birth of Venus at the Uffizi, Florence

The Romans believed they were the chosen descendants of this beauty. As Virgil wrote in the Aeneid, it was Venus who seduced a Greek mortal and thus became the grandmother of Romulus and Remus, those twins suckled by a she-wolf on Rome’s Palatine Hill, who founded the Eternal City. Here she is in Rome’s Capitoline Museum, in her own private niche..

Italy Travel, Women's Travel, Women's Tours to Italy,Here she is in the Naples Archaeological Museum, as Venus of the Beautiful Buttocks…

Susan Van Allen, Women's Tours to Italy, Italy Travel, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should GoHere she is in The House of Venus, Pompeii — FINALLY opened after restoration, a Must-See!

Susan Van Allen, Women's Tours to Italy, Italy Travel, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should GoIt’s no wonder Italy brings us such happiness, with this Goddess in charge!

For more places where Venus, her sister Goddesses, Madonnas, and heroines are adored…check out 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go…

Susan Van Allen, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go, Women's Travel

 

 

 

 

Golden Day 136: Bernalda, Basilicata with Dream of Italy’s Kathy McCabe

On a hilltop in the southeast corner of Basilicata, sits the medieval village of Bernalda…

BERNALDA -= OVERVIEWI became intrigued by this spot in 2012. That’s when Francis Ford Coppola opened his newly-renovated 5-star Palazzo Margherita here. Coppola’s grandfather Agostino was born in Bernalda, and left in 1904, never to return.

BERNALDA - COPPOLA

I’m grateful to have a friend who visited– Kathy McCabe, Editor of Dream of Italy newsletter, and Producer/Host of the fabulous PBS Dream of Italy TV series. She’s here to share her experience of this extraordinary place…

BERNALDA - KATHY McCABE“The town itself is like being in Italy in the 1950s,” she says. Coppola calls it “the real Italy.”

Bernalda, Basilicata, Kathy McCabe, Susan Van Allen, Italy Tours, Women's Tour Italy

The unassuming Palazzo Margherita entrance opens to “a surprising oasis”…lush, blooming gardens, fountains…

Bernalda, Basilicata, Palazzo Margherita, Susan Van Allen, Italy Tours, Italy Travel, Women's Travel

The 9-room hotel feels more like a home, stunningly designed by Coppola and daughter Sofia, in partnership with French interior designer Jacques Grange. Local artisans and restorers worked to incorporate original elements (floor tiles and chandeliers) of the 1892 palazzo, and every guest room is unique. Here’s Sofia’s room:
Bernalda, Susan Van Allen, Italy Travel, Italy Tours, Women's Travel, Kathy McCabe

A highlight of Kathy’s stay, offered free to every guest, was a cooking class in the Palazzo kitchen, where it’s delightful to learn the local pasta specialty: ear-shaped orechiette
Bernalda, Basilicata, Susan Van Allen, Italy Travel, Italy Tours, Women's TravelAnd for after dinner entertainment, there’s a screening salon, with a selection of 300 classic Italian films and documentaries…
BERNALDA - SCREENING ROOM

If you’re not staying at Palazzo Margherita, you can still go to the Cinecitta Caffe, next door, that’s open to the public. When Coppola is around, you’re very likely to find him sitting there.

Bernalda, Basilicata, Francis Ford Coppola, Italy Tours, Italy Travel, Women's Travel, Susan Van Allen

Kathy’s interview with the award-winning director at the Palazzo will be featured in Season 2 of PBS’s Dream of Italy series…

Bernalda, Basilicata, Palazzo Margherita, Francis Ford Coppola, Kathy McCabe, Susan Van Allen, Italy tours, Italy travel, Women's Travel

Exploring Bernalda, you can also enjoy a visit to the 15th century Castello….

Bernalda, Castello, Basilicata, Palazzo Margherita, Kathy McCabe, Susan Van Allen, Italy tours, Italy Travel, Women's Travel

Refresh yourself deliciously at Gelateria Novecento, Corso Umberto Primo 246…
BERNALDA - GELATERIA NOVECENTO
And go to Barbacoa, Via Carioli 7, 338 739 830, that serves high quality grilled meats and has an extensive collection of wines…

BERNALDA - BARBACOA

Grazie Kathy!

We’re looking forward to seeing more of this in the upcoming PBS Dream of Italy show…To read Kathy’s full story of her stay at Palazzo Margherita, and for great insider’s advice about Italian travel, subscribe to the Dream of Italy newsletter, http://www.dreamofitaly.com

 

 

BUDGET TIPS FROM NEW YORK TIMES TRAVEL SHOW…DISCOVER ITALY 2017

Ciao Amici!
Happy to tell you that the 6th year of the Discover Italy panel at the New York Times Travel Show was a huge success. We: me, Kathy McCabe of Dream of Italy, Beth Rubin of Select Italy, Brandon Shaw (The Roman Guy), and Kenny Dunn (Eating Europe Tours)–loved sharing our experience and travel advice with the packed house of Italy enthusiasts….
Susan Van Allen, Italy Travel, Women's Tours to Italy, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go

It was such a fun, informative session, full of laughs, and great questions from the audience, that ended with us sharing some tips on how to save money. We’re all ears when it comes to that!

*Book your train tickets early (for the big city to big city routes). Like plane fares, prices go up the closer you purchase to departure. And go ahead and ride 2nd class–there’s not such a big difference between 1st & 2nd on Italian trains. Check out http://www.trenitalia.it or http://www.italotreno.it to reserve.
*Rent a manual car–automatics are so much more expensive! Go to http://www.autoeurope.com for sales…
*Stay at an agriturismo  (working farm), which immerses you in Italian rural life…with prices that may start around 30euros, including meals! Here’s a great way to start searching: http://www.agriturismo.it
*Get in on the Aperitivo tradition. Many bars and restaurants in Italian towns and cities offer a “Appy Hour” where a free buffet (salamis, cheeses, etc) can be enjoyed for the price of one cocktail. You’ll notice signs for them as you wander around…
*Go South! Excluding the Amalfi Coast, hotels and restaurants in southern Italy, places like Naples, Puglia, Calabria, and Sicily are much lower priced than northern Italy.

AND, lucky for us, as of today 1euro = $1.07 — the lowest it’s been in years!
Time to book your trip…
Wishing you all Happy 2017 Italy travels, and hope to meet you next year at The Show!

 

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NEW EDITION – 100 Places In Italy Every Woman Should Go

susan-van-allen-Italy-Florence-100-Places-Every-Woman-Should-GoCiao Amici!
I’m so grateful that 2016 included the release of the Third Edition of “100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go.” Wonderful surprises have come into my life since this book first hit the stands in 2009. It’s been thrilling to hear from travelers who enjoyed discovering new places and experiences through its pages, and that the book added so much fun to their Italian travels.

100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go, Susan Van Allen, Italy Travel, Women's Travel, Women Only Tours

Here’s a Sneak Preview/Excerpt…
It’s the Perfect Gift for the Italophile in your life…
AVAILABLE at your Local Bookstore, AMAZON, and BARNES & NOBLE

PREFACE

I fell in love with Italy at a dining room table in Newark, New Jersey. It was Nana and Papa’s dining room, my maternal grandparents—immigrants from Southern Italy. The walls were painted in a pale-rose stenciled pattern, the table spread with an ivory-colored lace cloth. On the mahogany sideboard sat a soccer-ball-sized jar of wild cherries marinating in syrup, next to a Capodimonte lamp, with porcelain figures of fancy ladies in flouncy dresses fanning themselves under the shade. A soprano on the hi-fi sang “Un Bel Di Vedremo”—“One Beautiful Day We’ll See Each Other.”

Nana, with her apron tied up under her marshmallow-baggie arms, lit the candles. My mother and aunts carried in platters heavy with mozzarella, roasted peppers, shiny black olives, steaming bowls of macaroni. I sat propped up on a telephone book, clinking my tumbler of half-red wine/half-water along with the grown-ups toasting, “Salute!” By the time the feasts were finished, the candles had burnt to their bottoms, dripping onto the lace cloth. Papa poured Strega, a golden liqueur, into curvy glasses, and sliced a dome-shaped, slathered-with-whipped-cream rum cake.

This was my first Italy: a big, delicious, loving heart.

Every August Papa would get on a ship to visit his sisters who still lived near Naples. He’d send back postcards of statues and churches. He’d return after Labor Day with beads from Venice, rosaries blessed by the Pope, rocks from Mount Vesuvius.

Italy became magical and mysterious, beckoning me—a billowy cartoon finger wafting out of a pot of bubbling tomato sauce.

When I got there for the first time in 1976, I arrived in Roma Termini with a pack on my back and a bursting anticipation. The trip was a sweltering August blur of standing awestruck in the Sistine Chapel, tasting my first gelato, getting my bottom pinched. Naturally there was romance: on the train I’d met a bel ragazzo named Luciano who’d sat across from me in the compartment. We fell madly in love for forty-eight hours and rendezvoused in the Forum: moonlight, a Chianti bottle with a straw-covered bottom, two nineteen-year-olds singing Beatles songs to each other.

Feeling transformed into a woman of the world, I headed to my Roman cousins where I was embraced with smothering-lovering and seated at their dining room table, coming full circle to my childhood Italy.

The spell was cast. Italy grabbed hold of my heart forever. Over these many years it’s drawn me back, again and again.

Tonight as I’m sitting here in an apartment on Rome’s Piazza Paradiso, way past bedtime, even for Italy, I’m realizing there’s been absolutely no logic to my times here. The trips started off with visits to the major sights in the big cities, but then out went the plans, and instinct flung me to such spots as a classroom near Rome’s Colosseum where I struggled to tackle the subjunctive, a quiet farm road in Puglia surrounded by old olive trees, dancing at the Excelsior in Florence with my husband one New Year’s Eve.

I became the “girlfriend with the lists”—scribbling down places I’d loved visiting and passing them along to my traveling pals. If I was back in the States counting the days till my next trip, I lived in Italy vicariously—knowing that Babs was in Rome seeing all those provocative Bernini sculptures with my notes in hand, Sheila at a glove shop in Florence, Louise drinking wine at my favorite bacaro in Venice.

When the opportunity to write this book came along, so did elation, gratitude, and then a freezing panic. How could I choose 100 out of the infinite pleasures I’d experienced in Bell’Italia? So let’s just get the most obvious fact out of the way: there are more places than any one book could hold. I’ve even left out some of the most obvious—such as the Sistine Chapel, Pisa, and Michelangelo’s David—things well covered in other guidebooks.

In these pages, I’m sharing with you some places from my list of favorites, along with those my savvy Italian and American friends have raved to me about. I’ve put a spotlight on goddesses, the Madonna, female saints, beauties who’ve inspired masterpieces, women who’ve taken power. After all, isn’t the fact that women have been worshipped here for thousands of years one of the reasons we love Italy so much? Though in modern times females haven’t yet triumphed as far as business and political realms go, as Luigi Barzini in The Italians says: “Men run the country, but women run men.” Here where la famiglia is the power source, women are at the core of it.

What about your male traveling partners? They’re likely to enjoy a lot of these places, too, whether it’s a museum, beach, or spots for adventure and learning. Okay, the guys probably won’t be into buying lace in Rapallo, but they’ll certainly enjoy Venus of the Beautiful Buttocks in Naples!

Italy seduces both sexes, with irresistibly feminine appeals. Shaped like a boot we’d love to strut around in, she transforms herself as she transforms travelers. She’s the nurturing mama, the drop-dead-gorgeous vixen, the compassionate spirit. She’s even the unreliable girlfriend who exasperates you with travel snafus, but you forgive her because she’s so darn charming. She’s constantly coaxing, “Come on, lighten up and enjoy my beauties and flavors.”

Treat this book like a cookbook. What do you want a taste of? Botticelli’s Birth of Venus? The best chocolate in Rome? A ceramic painting class in Deruta? A wine therapy spa treatment in the Veneto? Allow your mood to be your guide, savoring the experience Italian style, letting it unfold with an unhurried Old World pace.

To make a full meal of it, I’ve included suggestions for Golden Days—matching a place to a nearby restaurant, just like I do when I send out lists to girlfriends. These are only suggestions, because each of us has our own deeply personal experience of encountering Italy.

But as unique as each encounter is, I’m amazed at always hearing, even from travelers without a drop of Italian blood in them, the same words: “It felt like home.” Home, in the sweeping sense of a place that brings peace and comfort, a place that stirs the soul.

For me, Italy brings back that childhood dining room table feeling. It sneaks up on me now, looking out the window of this apartment in late-night Rome. There’s a light shining on a little Madonna altar across the way, her robe the same rose as those dining room walls. Out of the shadows, from a nearby restaurant, comes a dark-haired signorina, walking as if she absolutely knows she’s a descendant of Venus, with her Adonis—a bel ragazzo in a leather jacket—linked to her side. They stop for a smooch under the Madonna, pressing up against each other as if this was their last night on earth.

Italy, once again, playing an endless beautiful song.

My wish for you is to enjoy her many places of pleasure, wherever your desires lead you to go.

—Susan Van Allen
Rome

 

 

GOLDEN DAY 135: Acerenza, Basilicata, Part Two

Outside Acerenza’s historic center, grazie to Salverio Cancerllera and Antonella D’Andria, I met some of the village’s finest artisans…In a cave at Le Cantine del Grillo..
20160527_160122624_iosThere was rich, soulful Aglianico…straight out of the barrel…
20160527_154701275_ios20160527_154946114_iosNext was Il Re dei Panettoni=King of Panettone, Vincenzo Tiri, at his humble, family run bakery…

20160527_162528374_iosVincenzo rocked the Panettone World, twice winning the Grand Prize in Milan for this Christmas time sweetbread…a triumph for this young, 35-year old baker in a remote southern region, AND quite a surprise, as Panettone is a specialty of the north…

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Making Vincenzo’s parents in this family run bakery, (since 1957), very proud…

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Tiri’s panettone is a taste bud revelation. He’s a genius/master, starting with dough that rises for 40 hours, mixing it with local products–candy-ing fruit from the nearby orchards. This one that I tasted was flavored with white chocolate and espresso=DIVINE and not just for Christmas!

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And finally, it was time to meet The Magician=Antonio Saluzzi at his workshop…Décor Saluzzi…

20160527_181101529_ios-copyFollowing age-old traditions, with passion and incredible skill, he creates…

20160527_172506992_ios20160527_173349338_ios20161116_210835935_iosA lovely agriturismo nearby is La Loggia del Monaco , beautifully set in the countryside with  with a view of Acerenza on the hill in the distance, a great restaurant…

20160527_145000559_iosAnd welcoming host, Rocky Calitri…

Go and visit this treasure of Basilicata! One of the treasured  Borghi Piu Belli d’Italia in this beautiful country…

 

GOLDEN DAY 134: ACERENZA, BASILICATA: PART ONE

Last May, I had the great pleasure of discovering Acerenza, Basilicata…Basilicata, Acerenza, Borghi Piu Belli, Italy, Women's Travel, Susan Van AllenAND to meet the mayor=Sindaco Fernando Scattone! The hilltop treasure is one of a group of villages designated by I Borghi Piu Belli d’Italia=The Most Beautiful Villages in Italy, which includes small hidden places up and down the boot that have maintained their architectural, cultural, and culinary traditions over the centuries. The Roman lyric poet Horace, born near Acerenza, described this spot as “an eagle’s nest”, perched above fertile plains, olive groves, surrounded by rivers.
20160527_100628028_iosI can walk from one end of the walled medieval village to another in about ten minutes…
20160527_072939640_iosBut it’s so pleasant to take my time and stop to meet the welcoming locals, for a caffe at Fossato…

Basilicata, Acerenza, Caffe, Susan Van Allen, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should GoAt the bakery…

Basilicata, Acerenza, Susan Van Allen

And then there’s Antonio, who shows me around the impressive Museo Diocesano–where stunning Greek vases and religious treasures are displayed…

Basilicata, Acerenza, Susan Van Allen, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go

20160527_082241233_ios20160527_085154239_iosThe blockbuster attraction of Acerenza is its eleventh century Cattedrale, dedicated to the Madonna of the Assumption and Saint Canio.

acerenza

It’s architecture was inspired by the Abbey of Cluny in France, and it remains one of the finest examples of Clunaeic-Romanesque architecture in all of Italy. Some say that the name of the region, Basilicata, came from this church, that was classified as a Basilica in the Middle Ages, when Acerenza held the area’s judicial power. Steps below the sanctuary lead to a Renaissance crypt–gorgeously sculpted and frescoed, shown to me by my lovely guide, signorina Antonella D’Andria of the ProLoco,

Acerenza, Basilicata, Borghi Piu Belli d'Italia, Susan Van Allen

In the crypt is the tomb of Sant’ Canio. His staff, that can be seen through this glass enclosure, has been known to miraculously move! Though not while we were there…

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For an extraordinary lunch, just around the corner from the Duomo, is Ristorante al Duomo, (Largo Glinni 13, 0971 741402), where excellent local wine and specialties are served…cured meats and mozzarella…

20160527_105922579_iosHomemade pasta with spicy sausage and mushrooms…
Basilicata, Acerenza, Susan Van Allen

A luxurious place to spend the night, in nearby Forenza, is the Masserie del Falco

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masserie

that has a spa, cooking school, surrounded by splendid rolling hills…and outdoor dining…

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20160526_175552017_iosStay tuned for more on Acerenza…in the meantime, for more info: http://www.prolocoacarenza.it

GOLDEN DAY 133: Matera, Part Two…The Prehistoric Side

As amazing as it is to see the side of Matera that has been continuously inhabited and is being revitalized…on the other side of the ravine is the chance to see the Prehistoric Caves of Matera…

matera-italy-2Especially with Michelantelo Camardo, who lives in the Sassi and is passionate about the exploration of this natural treasure…

Michelangelo Camardo

Along with us was Antonella and expert guide Cesare, who opened the door to this church built into the rock, Cristo La Selva..where musical concerts are held during the summer season…

MATERA-PREHISTORIC WITH CESARE

CRISTO LA SELVAAnd further along was this fantastic grotto…and place for a picnic…20160526_142858508_iOS

AND if you’re looking for a great B&B in Matera, my fabulous friend, Travel and Destination Wedding Photographer Johanna Jacobson of Ambient Image, has this advice for La Corte dei Pastori:

Susan Van Allen, Women's Travel, Basilicata, Italy, Italy Travel

I loved this little gem carved into a cave.  It’s located in the Sassi, next to some great restaurants, but nevertheless super quiet and private.  Zero humidity issues even though you are sleeping in a cave.  You would never know one of the top tourist attractions is a church “rupestre” located just above your heads. It’s well worth upgrading to the larger suite and calling them directly to book – they upgraded us for very little with a better price than online booking sites.  The location is quiet and stunning.  The owners are “real” Italians – in fact if you don’t speak any Italian it could be a bit difficult to communicate regarding parking or locating the B&B, but it’s worth it.  Parking is a bit tricky – you can park for a few hours nearby in the actual Sassi to unload your things and then you’ll likely have to park about 10 minutes away in a lot.

Grazie always to all of you who lead me to hidden treasures of bell’Italia!

P.S.–If you’re planning a destination wedding in Italy, check out http://www.ambientimage.com

 

 

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Golden Day 132: Matera, Part One

To discover Matera is delving deep into Italy’s rich history. Deep, as in going back to the Paleolithic Age, when cave settlements began in Matera’s hillside rocks.

Matera

What’s amazing is the area, in southern Basilicata, has been continuously inhabited since then–through classical Greek and Roman, medieval, baroque, and modern times, Matera’s Sassi=communities of dwellings built into the stones, grew and continue to change styles and shapes. In 1993 UNESCO recognized these Sassi as a World Heritage Site. And Matera has been named a European Capital of Culture for 2019.

It’s a stunning place to experience a Golden Day. Mine began with meeting a native guide, Antonio Manicone, of Matera Tour Guide, whose passion for his city brought fascinating details to his walking tour of the Sassi.

MATERA - 2016 - SASSI TOUR GUIDE

The panorama from the plateau above the Sassi conjures up scenes from Biblical movies–Mel Gibson used it for The Passion of the Christ, Pasolini for the Gospel According to Saint Matthew.

PASOLINI

And Antonio pointed out a spot where Warner Brothers had just finished filming Wonder Woman.

WONDERWOMAN

Antonio’s grandmothers had lived in the Sassi, before 1950, when the government stepped in and had the area evacuated, as it had become impoverished and the details of its isolation and desolate living conditions exposed in Carlo Levi’s bestselling Christ Stopped at Eboli.

CHRIST STOPPED AT EBOLI

Over the past decades, the area has been revitalized–homes have been renovated with plumbing and electricity, restaurants and hotels welcome travelers who want the full immersion experience.

Matera

One of the most beautiful spots was the Santa Lucia alle Mave church, where frescos from the 11th to 17th century remain.

Matera, Santa Lucia alle Mave

It was lovely to stroll the pedestrian only promenade above the Sassi…

Matera, Susan Van Allen

And have lunch at Al Falco Grillaio (Via Domenico Ridola 17, 0835 331128)–Homemade cavatelli with cruschi (dried peppers) and caciocavallo cheese…

Matera, Al Falco Grillaio

Or Antonio recommends Ristorante del Caveoso (Via Bruno Buozzi 21, 0835 312374),  a beautifully restored cave home, with a terrace overlooking the sassi, where local seasonal specialties, including truffles, accent homemade pastas and grilled meats…

CAVEOSO

I had the pleasure of spending the night at Albergo Sextiantio Le Grotte Delle Civita, in a luxuriously renovated cave room–Antonio told me that he and his father were part of the team who worked on the amazing 2-year restoration of the property…

Matera

The albergo restaurant/breakfast room is in what was once a church…

MATERA BREAKFAST

And the view out my door=Awesome!

MATERA - 2015 - VIEW FROM ALBERGO SEXTIANTO

CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFO ABOUT VISITING MATERA — Buon Viaggio!

Golden Day 131: Castelmezzano and Pietrapertosa with My Bella Basilicata

 

valerie3Valerie Fortney-Schneider is a freelance writer with years of experience in the travel industry, and a history degree, who returned to her roots and created the company, My Bella Basilicata.  She guides travelers through the region and is also the woman to go to for genealogy research. Guests rave about the memorable vacations she creates for them, where they can go beyond finding birth or death records, to the villages where their ancestors were from, walk the streets and talk to the natives, sometimes find the houses where their grandparents lived and even distant relatives. Her writing showcases her passion for Basilicata, in various publications and websites such as International Living.

I’m so grateful she’s joined in to give her advice for Golden Days in the Dolomiti Lucane towns of Castelmezzano and Pietrapertosa.

Castelmezzano

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These are two towns wedged in the rocky peaks of the “Little Dolomites” of Basilicata.  It’s a great place for adventure-lovers to enjoy outdoors activities…

Castelmezzano from aboveCastelmezzano means “Middle castle,” a Norman settlement between the castles of Pietrapertosa and Brindisi Montagna. Pietrapertosa is the highest town in the region and was settled by Arabs who built a crowded network of streets and houses in the rocks, called the Arabata quarter. The elevation gives gorgeous views and the vast forests of the Gallipoli-Cognato National Park offer a wealth of trails for hikers. Both are beautiful and offer a different kind of atmosphere than most medieval hill towns.PietrapertosaThese two towns look at each other across a deep ravine and remained isolated for centuries, until they linked together by way of a zipline. The High-wire Volo dell’Angelo (Via Maestri del Lavoro 19, 3319340456) is a thrilling flight that is as close to free flying as I’m ever going to get, an adrenaline rush that is also oddly calming as you glide over spectacular scenery with birds and clouds above you, and gorgeous countryside below.01_volodellangelo_coppiaIf you prefer to keep your feet on the ground, there is a nice hiking trail that connects the towns called the Sette Pietre (7 stones) that is studded with 7 stone sculptures and takes you down to the ravine and back up the other side.  Plan about 1.5 to 2 hours each way,  walking at a moderate pace.083d8082944cb5679bcc1adb05d3a80b

percorso_7_pietre

In Pietrapertosa, walk through the lanes of the Arabata and to the ruins of the castle.  You”re almost guaranteed to see eagles and hawks overhead.  In Castelmezzano, stroll all the way through the tangle of streets and up to where the castle once sat on the crest.  You’ll see the footholds carved in the rocks that in days gone by, were handy for residents to scramble up for better surveillance over possible invaders.  At the overlook you can see for miles – as far as the Ionian Sea on a clear day!

Castelmezzano from Pietropertosa (2)These towns are both magical at night with the suffused light and the rock formations, and provide excellent star-gazing!  With almost no light pollution and the high elevation, you can see a dazzling array of stars.

foto pietraIn Pietrapertosa the Orsa Minore is a good gathering spot with a terrace, where you can enjoy a glass of wine, a gelato, or a cappuccino and cornetto, sort of the “one stop shop” kind of welcoming bar. It is also the reception for the Albergo diffuso Costellazioni

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In Castelmezzano there are two bars on the main street through town where you can rub elbows with the locals and enjoy their warm welcomes and friendly attention.  You’re likely to be taken by the hand by somebody during your stay and invited home for a coffee or wine! It’s that kind of a town!

be0841e21e82a81f59e7883657f2691fIn Castelmezzano’s historic center is the delectable restaurant Al Becco della Civetta, with a panoramic patio out back that looks at the horseshoe shape of the town with the peaks behind it.  They use seasonal ingredients and regional recipes and give them a bit of flair. Order anything with the locally-loved cardoncelli mushrooms, the locally-produced cheese, caciocavallo podolico, and the homemade cavatelli with crispy-fried peppers (called peperoni cruschi).

Fusilli with bread crumbs and peperoni cruschi

Fusilli with bread crumbs and Peperoni Cruschi

Outside town is an agriturismo called Grotta della Eremita where you can enjoy their free-range meats, like pork cooked in aglianico wine or their farm-raised rabbit with wild fennel.  (My mouth is watering thinking about it!)

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In Pietrapertosa, La Locanda di Pietra is something special with its rustic rooms and rural simplicity (which means good food!)  The handmade pasta with truffles and pecorino is incredible, as is the savory grilled podolico tagliata steak.

la-locanda-di-pietraDown below town is a down-home agriturismo, I Sapori del Parco, with a fixed price super-abundant meal of home-grown and home-cooked local dishes that will leave you stuffed and satisfied (and wanting to hike those trails to work off the meal!) 

Pietrapertosa has an albergo diffuso, a fabulous concept where suites are scattered around the village in renovated buildings. This one is whimsically done and called Le Costellazioni, subtitled “Sulla Riva del cielo” for grander effect (on the edge of heaven).  The suites are cozy and you get to feel like you’re living like a local for a night or two.

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In Castelmezzano, the nicely outfitted Locanda Castromediano(Via Michele Volini, 50, 85010 Castelmezzano PZ, Italy) is easy to find and comfortable and rooms look out at the arched outline of town and the Dolomiti Lucane mountains.  

5358670Spring is a beautiful time to visit with wildflowers in the meadows and hills.  The Volo dell’Angelo opens the first of May.

ValeriePostFlight ValinflightSummer brings festivals and events to enjoy, and the nights are cool despite the heat of the day.  A special festival in Pietrapertosa is the Arab Nights (called Sulle Tracce degli Arabi) where they pay homage to their Arab roots with a taste of the orient in food, dance and pyrotechnics.

03_pietrapertosa_sulletraccedegliarabi_2014  Autumn brings harvest festivals and woodland goodies like mushrooms, truffles and chestnuts…96bb8d3e18860d9d4de026f32d3114a6

Grazie Mille, Valerie! Check out her website My Bella Basilicata for guidance on visiting this stunning region!

P.S. — I’m grateful to report I visited these villages in May-with a warm welcome from Pietrapertosa’s Mayor Pasquale Stasi and Antonella Amico, a darling signorina who is a native of Castelmezzano and runs the Volo del’Angelo there…

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It was a joy to climb around the ruins of the Castelmezzano castle and the old tower/fortress in Pietrapertosa…

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20160525_171804302_iOSWith Vice-Mayor Rocco joining in…

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Church bells, Sunset, Fantastic Views all around…another Paradise in Italy discovered…

These villages are part of a group called I Borghi Piu Belli d’Italia–The Most Beautiful Villages in Italy–CLICK FOR MORE INFO to discover these treasures…

 

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