the ‘Aeolian Islands’ Category

Italy’s Best Beaches: Italian Concierge Top Picks by Region

Monday, August 11th, 2014

On the blog, we usually like to keep things short, but we recently did a feature on Italian beaches in the newsletter, and I couldn’t contain myself.

With 4,725 miles of coastline with beaches of every color, temperature, variety and backdrop, it’s impossible not to gush.

Since Roman times, the coasts of Italy have hosted vacations to stars and powerful political figures from around the world. But they’re not just for the rich and famous, of course.

For the summer, Italians everywhere decamp to the coast, whether near, such as the lucky Ligurians and Puglians who really don’t have very far to go, or far, like the Romans who head to glamorous Amalfi or Ponza, undiscovered by US market, or the well-heeled Milanese who like to spend their summers “roughing” it in Calabria or travel down to the heel to Puglia.

Here’s our guide to Italy’s best beaches on each coast of the boot:

Best Beaches in Northern Italy

In Liguria Ponente, where the French Riviera coast continues into Italy along the Ligurian Sea, you’re spoiled for choice. The Cinque Terre, a national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site composed of five villages built into cliffs, are very popular with visitors.

This area, the eastern Liguria the coast that stretches from Genova to La Spezia, is known as the Liguria Levante. The easiest way in my opinion to explore this area is to take the regional train along the coast and get off wherever you see a shore that suits you.

Versilia, which sits on the border of Liguria and northwestern Tuscany, is a the place to find beach resorts, while the Art Nouveau gem, Viareggio, is not my favorite but provides a nearby beach escape for Florentines. Prepare to pay for a lettino (lounge chair) and umbrellone (beach umbrella) and to sit close enough to your neighbor to apply his sun lotion for him.

Not to be missed in this area is Pietrasanta, the artsy town where Michelangelo stayed when obtaining his marble from the caves of Fantiscritti. Filled with galleries, sculpture workshops and hip trattorie, Pietrasanta is also home to the famous sculpturer Fernando Bottero, who was having his lunch at the table beside me at Gatto Nero in Pietrasanta one day.

The marble caves behind Massa Carrara are also worth a stop between Cinque Terre and points south. You can easily take the tour inside Fantiscritti marble cave and then lunch at Colonnata, best known for the production of Lardo (more on that in the next newsletter).

Further south in Tuscany, the Maremma, the area of Punta Ala and Castiglione della Pescaia has a more relaxed, nature-park atmosphere with small beaches you can more or less have to yourself (outside of August at least). Alan Ducasse co opened L’Andana with Bellavista winery from Franciacorta as their luxury resort near the sea.

Best Beaches in Southern Italy

I could go on and on about Sicily, and her satellite and archipelagoes where you can visit a different type of beach every day of the week, running the gamut from sparkling white sand to deep black. Among my favorites is Cala Junco on Panarea, now a UNESCO world heritage site for natural beauty.

On the Amalfi coast, you’ll find splendid views, but primarily pebbly beaches, and small coves. In Positano, known for the breath-taking view of the city crawling up the hill behind the beach, check out the public Fornillo and Spiaggia Grande beaches.

On the eastern coast, the beaches in Abruzzo, Le Marche, and Puglia are well loved by Italians. In these regions many beaches outside major towns are protected natural areas, so you’ll be free from colorful umbrellas. Just remember to bring all your own food and water and follow park rules regarding waste disposal.

Though I dislike superlatives, if I had to say where is the “best beach in all of Italy,” I do have an answer. For those who prefer a long beach with white sand, there is the Peninsula Sinis, a pristine beach near Oristano on the western side of Sardegna. Nearby, you can visit the Phoenician site of Tharros, definitely worth a visit.

Italian Sojourn-May 2011-SICILIA

Friday, June 10th, 2011

WHAT TO SEE IN SICILIA-

Some of  my clients feel one week is enough  time to see “ALL” of Sicily.  I am here to tell you it is not.  You will miss a lot if you think that allocating only seven nights  to see the entire  island allows you to see it all .  Sicily deserves more of your time.   With more World Heritage Sites than other regions, Sicily needs to be seen and seen well.  You should consider  off islands such as the Egadis, Aeolian and Pantelleria  as additional  places to visit while you are in Sicily.  It is easy for you to  fly into to either Catania or Palermo Airports.  There is also a smaller airport named Birgi located in Trapani, but Birgi is only served by secondar low cost airlines.  Birgi is a good airport if you want to include a visit to Pantelleria.  But you would need an extra 3 days to visit that islands.

I have just returned from three weeks in Italy. My travels began in Palermo  early May where I immediately reserved dinner at one of my favorite places in Palermo, Osteria dei Vespri.

The Osteria dei Vespri is located adjacent to Palazzo Gangi, the famous palazzo where Gattopardo was filmed years ago  and staredBurt Lancaster ( The movie is unfortunately S L O W).     Osteria dei Vespri is listed in  a booklet “Le Soste di Ulisse”" a small guide published by a collective grouping of Sicilian producers of fine wines, small hotels and ristorante.  The criteria to be included is difficult and as far as I can tell is all about quality of product.  We had a minestra di lenticche di Ustica which was surpurb. ( Lentils).  Find the guide on line http://www.lesostediulisse.it/

On this particular trip, we toured Sicily counter clockwise.  I am unsure how many times I have been to Sicily,   as it is surely over twenty  visitsby now.  One of those visits I spend almost two months on Panarea in the Aeolians, what fun.   Needless to say, I no longer need a map to navigate the island and have pre-selected my favorite places, to visit and dine in along the way.  It is always a pleasure to return to Sicily.  The gastronomy of the island is familiar to me, since they are flavours that were served in our home growing up in NJ.  Wild fennel, almond paste, and pignoli nuts, raisins, sword, stratto( Tomato paste extract) ,  eggplant and tuna.  As with all of Italy, one is never far from where the food is produced.   Sicilian cuisine is one of my favorite regional cuisines in all of Italy.

Departing Palermo, we stopped at the Greek Temple of Segesta  the theatre on Monte Barbaro`.    Greek Doric in style and dating from 5th c, the temple sits in a valley  fortunatelly undisturbed by man.   Nearby is the Parco dello Zingaro, or park of the gypsy where hiking trails begin at the tonnara, and take you past stunning scenery of  blue coves, and rocky coast.

We drove west to the Province of  Trapani and based at a simple and comfortable B&B  Finestra sulle Saline located overlooking the salt pans and the Egadis Islands.  We took the barchetta over to the Island of Mozia /Mothia which was once a Phoenician naval base 600BC and was one of the most prosperous colonies at that time.  There is an easy hike you can take around the island where you can see the sunken Roman road which was used to connect the island to the mainland millenia ago.   The museum and island are owned by the Whitaker Foundation producers of Marsala wine.

Positioned near Trapani one can also visit medevil Erice.  It is so easy to drive to eastern Trapani, and then take the funicular up hill so you do not have to drive the winding  road which is similar to driving  Aspen’s Independence Pass.  Erice, has 360 degree views and one can see Monte Colfano and the plains surrounding the city and beyond.  But for me the best part of Erice  is the visit to Maria Grammatico for her desserts. Raised by the nuns, Maria wrote Bitter Almonds which tells of her life and the art of Sicilian marzipan, and luckily gives us her recipes ( my favorite biscotti della regina) which you can dunk into the passito from Pantelleria.  The thought makes a girl want to get on a plane in Colorado and go.

Located on the island of Levanzo, one of the three Egadis Islands, is privately owned La Grotta del Genovese and is a site not to miss, though many do.  Another of my favorite places to direct travelers to.    You need to be  in shape as the hike down and then back up hill to and from the grotto takes a bit of effort but you are rewarded when you get there.  The grotto contains petroglyphs and pictographs which date from 12,000-7,000bc and attest  to the time when the islands were connected to the Atlas mountains in Marocco and to Sicily proper.  Spending the day on Levanzo time is suspended as you ponder exactly how much time 12,000 years ago really means.

Now here is where the speed travelers miss out,  unless you have extra time, you will miss visiting  The  Greek colony of Selunite and the Cava di Cusa the stone quarries that supplied the Greek colony of Selunite with their stone.  Selunite  is situated  on the shore line of the Mediterrean sea.  The coast is untouched, and one can envision  the landscape 2700 years ago when the  Greek ships arrived and brought with them settlers to inhabit Magna Grecia.

Selunite temple

Also near to Selunite is Planeta La Forestiera- a small contemporary inn owned by the Planeta winery.  Good food, good drink and good views!  http://www.planetaestate.it/lang/en/

But most speed travlers head directly over to Agrigento, Agrigento.   The Provincial Archaeological  museum in Agrigento is worth the visit and contains items that were found around the temples.  The temples are a must but I  suggest that you have a guide for 2 hours who will walk with you down hill past all three of them.  The best place to stay in my opinionis the  Hotel Villa Athena which is a pricey five star recently renovated and is  the closest hotel with view of the temples.   http://www.hotelvillaathena.it/ Baglio della Luna – 4 star is a  good second best, but frankly I would not stay in Agrigento when Mandranova is near enough.

Mandranova is an  olive producing farm that is award winning for their single varietal production of four types of olive oils. You will want to purchase a case or two.  Giuseppe and Silvia are the owners and personally oversee all areas of their property. The hotel is an agriturismo with few rooms and lots of style.  Meals can be taken on the property.  Mandranova is a great base to explore this central part of Italy.  Located only 30 minutes fromteh valley of the temples on one of Sicily’s better kept highways, it is easy to get to and worth the drive.  http://www.mandranova.it/

Ragusa Cathedral

Traveling east once again we arrive to the Province of Ragusa.  This eastern part of Sicily was brutally damaged duringthe earthquake of 1693 and many building collapsed allowing for new construction to reflect the architectural style of the time namely Sicilian baroque. Noto, Scicli, Modica and Ragusa were all effected and each town proudly showcases their ornate duomo.  Dining in these parts deserves your attention as numerous ristorante can be found with temptations to delight.  Modica in particular is know for cioccolato modicana, made from  carub  and without fat.  Tempting chocolates found in baroque candy shops can have additions such as agrumi ( citrus), and red pepper.    http://www.bonajuto.it/

Not far from Modica is  Vendicari, a beautiful park, unscathed which is an estuary for migrating birds flying from North Africa to Europe. Take a picnic lunch and wander the trails.  http://www.oasivendicari.net/

But Siracusa feels like home.  You cannot imagine the sense of history one feels when standing in the piazza across from Il Duomo di Siracusa which was once a Greek temple dedicated to Athena, constructed in the 8thc BC and whose colums are still visible inside the existing structure.  Today the duomo is still in use of course as a catholic church. Wandering Ortygia one has a sense you have returned to a distant past.  There are other fascinating sites on Ortygia and near Siracusa to visit,  The castello of Euralio- Greek fortification, The Catacombs of San Giovanni, Pantallica necropolis which is wonderful for hiking, and the Archaeological park and Paolo Orsi museum.

As far as accomodations, Ortygia is the place to be if you ask me so that you can wander in the evenings.  Accomodations can range from five star to simple and confortable hip three stars such as Gutowski located on the waters edge.  And did I mention dining? Don Camillo would be my suggestion for classic sicilian fair or to celebrate a special occasion or classic seas food trattorie found near the harbour where the fish could not be fresher if it walked off the boat to your plate.  http://www.ristorantedoncamillosiracusa.it/

Siracusa has a lively outdoor market everyday, bring your camera and don’t forget to record the sounds are as good as the colorful sites. I am able to report that for the second year in a row I was able to see the Classical  Greek theatre in Siracusa held where else in the Greek Theatre.   This year we were there  for opening night for Filottete.   Can you picture sitting on seats that were used 2600 years ago for the same purpose?  Upholding tradition, theatre was held at dusk or dawn.  Luckily the performance is at dusk in the 21st century.   The performance begain with the Italian National Anthem sung by school children and brought tears to my eyes.  Followed by the premier.

Heading north from Siracusa you will find Mt Etna and Taormina.  Both are frequented by tourists on the  Grand Tour.  If you have time, it isa  most memorable  experience to take the funicular to the top of Etna and then go on the lunar mobile tour with the vulcanologist. You can rent a jacket before you go, yes it is cold up there.  http://www.etnaexcursions.com/

Taormina is always crowded.  Cruise ships leave loads of floral shirted, tourists to shop the chic store along Corso Umberto. The town is beautiful no doubt about it with imposing view of Mongibello ( Mt Etna) in the distance and tthe blue Mediterrean below.  Their Greek/Roman Theatre is a venue for contemporary music held in teh summer months, in fact Andra Boccelli will be there July 2 this year.   There are many many five star hotels and hotels in all categories.  My favorites are San Domenico a converted convent and Villa Ducale which is above town and away from it all.

From here “volendo” willingly as they say, one could drive to Milazzo and take an aliscafo to the Aeolian Islands, ahhh but that is another story. http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/908

And if you like what you’ve been reading, like us on Conde Nast Traveler’s Travel Specialists List, where I’ve appeared for the last four years straight.

Sicilian Notes

Friday, August 20th, 2010

Dearest Friends and Travelers, and Admirers of Italy,

While most of you have been saving for your future retirement, in contrast, I have decided to live my life now, today; day by day.  And with this philosophy of, carpe diem, I have dedicated many of the past fifteen years of my life researching the subject of my hearts delight, in reckless pursuit of La Dolce Vita.  I have devoted myself to the exploration of every nook and cranny of Italy.  I have had the good fortune to make this my career choice.

Contained in this series of articles, are full of my secretly guarded hints and travel tips on Italy.  These tidbits collected at the expense (literally) of my retirement funds, represent years of travel research.    Cherish them dearly, as I do.  I believe I have spent more on the collection of this research, than any attorney has for the acquisition of their degree.   Attorneys once they have passed the bar can write Esq.   My accolade from all the years of study is; DSI- Destination Specialist Italy.

While in this pursuit of any and all information relative to Italy, I have amassed a large library devoted to all things Italian.  Within my library there are piles of books and magazines, in both English and Italian, which contain advice on food, vino, history, and hotel accommodations.  Printed in England, Italy, USA, I also have an assortment of Italian maps; regional, local, city, train routes, hiking paths and even waterways.   I have ever pamphlet ever produced on areas often traveled and not frequently traveled.  Included on my shelves  are new and vintage issues of Classic Italian  novels; Dante- Inferno, Boccaccio-Decameron, I Promissi Sposi-Manzoni not so well known classics such as -The Italians, Mussolini,  and not even close to being classics novels; La Bella Figura, The Birth of Venus, City of Fallen Angels, and Brunelleschi’s Dome.

Once you have decided that Italy is the destination for your vacation, perhaps you have noticed how difficult it is to select one guide book which fulfills all of your needs for your perfect Italian trip.    The majorities of shelves in any bookstore or library travel section are dedicated to Italian travel and can be found on a variety of subject matter relative to Italy.   They can vary from general to quite specific.  Well know names in travel such as Michelin, Touring Club, Rick Steves-(ugh), Fodor’s, Blue Guide, Slow Food Guide, Rough Guides, and Italy on $5.00 a day (today it would be more like Italy on EU150 a day). A guide to Rome, A Pilgrims Guide to Rome, A Romans guide to Rome, An Americans Guide to Rome, A Jewish travelers Guide to Rome, just to name a few.   I wanted to offer you something more, a comprehensive travel guide based on my notes for each region, collected over the years.

My objective in writing these essay’s was to compile concise data, on areas I have enjoyed the best, and to put the information all in one place, so you can enjoy the fruits of my research easily. The criteria were based on the following standards;

  • CULINARY- I follow the snail wherever I can.  Slow Food’s recommendation usually do not steer you to the wrong place. I look for examples of regional plates and wines that are produced locally.  Gamber Rosso Magazine is also a wonderful resource for those Italophiles in us.
  • HISTORICAL- The Blue guides are the best travel bibles for the complete story. I could not, nor would not profess or attempt to include the depth of information that they have in their guides in my Libretto Nero.
  • HOTELS  Gamberrossos’  Viaggiare Bene one of the best guides for hotels. Relais and Chateaux and Leading Hotels are of course worthy if you can live with that price point.   I search for inns in all price points, which are historic, smaller, not involved with a chain.
  • TRANSPORTATION- you need to be there to see the logistics of how it all works together. Transportation recommendations are based on experience.
  • TRAILS- The sentieri are paths, I have personally walked.

The collection of information over thirteen years was obtained through a multi media, mish mash of sources, with personal experiences providing the authentication.   Advice came from numerous methods and in many forms but was mostly accrued from the local people, and by asking questions.   A Park Ranger in the Parco Nazionale di Etna- a retired farmacista turned inn-keeper in Castiglione Falletto, a waitress in San Gimignano, or retired business magnate sitting on a bench in Chiavari , Liguria all were contributors to this information as well as so many others met during my travels.

Vai Diretto-sempre diretto.” “Go straight -always straight” Was terminology heard often enough from locals. “Non Si Puo` sbagliare”   The literal translation meaning “You can’t go wrong” which really meant “good luck”.

The culmination of this entire gathering of information, are these notes, which is a true college of what I consider is the essence of each region.  I am delighted to finally put this information down so all of you can enjoy Italy with less effort and expense.

To all of you I say Buon Viaggio- And keep discovering Italy, there is a life time of places to go without retracing your steps.

Joyce Falcone

Falcone’s Libretto Nero

Traveler’s Advice for Touring Italy

Aeolian Islands

If there was one place to live in all of Italy, as long as you had internet and did not need to leave (ever) then the Aeolians would be the place.  Mediterrean blue sea set against the white wash of aeolian architecture.  I adore it here.  Panarea would be my pick, no cars, only ape , the island is small.  I admit that one could develop “isalnd fever” but I think it would take a while.   When I first went there was no ATM, police or any medical assistance at all.  You would have to go to Lipari for those things.  Apparently they did not have electricity until 1992  ( sounds a like like our house, we obtained electricity in November 2009.)

ALBERGHI

Lipari- Villa Melingunis-4 star 0909812426 www.villameligunis.it Great location, nice hotel staff, rooms simply decorated- needs an uplift but it is the best on Lipari at the moment. Otherwise head to the out islands.

Panarea-Hotel Raya-4 star www.hotelraya.it090 98 3013                                                                                                                         For the snobs among us, not for those with knee problems,  don’t stay here many stairs!

Panarea-Liscia Bianca- 3 star 090983004 www.lisciabianca.it 090      981 2422 Wonderful family run hotel in the center of it all.   Could be loud in high season

Salina-Malvasia Capo faro  resort -http://www.capofaro.it/ top of the line on this island with a killer ristorante.  Ultra modern decor-expensive set amidst the malvaisa grapevines.

Hotel Signum- 4 star  charming bohemian hotel with pool and newly opened spa with salt bath.  Old world feel.                                                                http://www.hotelsignum.it/

Stromboli-La Locanda Del Barbablu 090 986 118 www.barbablu.it Hotel and trattoria

RISTORANTE

Panarea-Da Pina www.dapina.com 090 98 3032 One of my favorite islands dining experiences.   Order anything with Aeolian grown cherry tomatoes.  Pina will give cooking lessons on request and also has apartments for rent

Lipari-Ristorante Filippino090 9811 002 Once had a Michelin star, now it is still a great dining experience, and to add to that, it is a piatti ristorante! E Pulera www.bernardigroup.it 0909811158

Stromboli-Ingrid’s- to be seen, for ice cream, for a light lunch

BEST CANOLO-Lipari- near Marina Corta Pasticceria

BOAT RENTALS Panarea Service 090 983 300

TOUR OF LIPARI- TAXI Gasparino 090 9811 436 Note: Unfortunately he passed away last year but his son has taken over the business./ You can find thsi handsome young man at the port on Lipari.

BEST DRINK Malvasia- sweet dessert wine

BEST BREAKFAST:Lipari- inMarina Corta-  when the sun comes up. Order a Granita di caffe, con panna e brioche

TRANSPORTATION to the ISLANDS: this can be tricky until high season begins June 1-September 1                                                                                                                                          Boats are irratic and infrequent. There is helicopter but that is really costly.

BOATS   SNAV- www.snav.it 090 362 114  SIRAMAR-www.siramar.it 091 582688

Air www.flyairone.it

Meridiana Airlines www.meridiana.com Alitala Airlines www.alitalia.com

REGION OF SICILY   www.regione.sicilia.it/turismo

  • Figli di Papa-the spoiled brats show up around the last week of July and stay for a month.  Many arrive on their parents yachts.  For those who haven’t experienced a Mediterranean summer the routine goes something like this; Up at Noon, café then al mare- to the beach until 17:00.  Then it is time to rest, regroup and time for  the passeggiata- evening promenade, Rest, 21:00 out for dinner, midnight to the discoteca until 4:00ish. Café` and brioche and then bed.

Copyright @ 2010 Joyce Falcone

And if you like what you’ve been reading, like us on Conde Nast Traveler’s Travel Specialists List, where I’ve appeared for the last three years straight.


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