Italy: World’s Largest Labyrinth Opens Today

Swide picture of labyrinth

The world’s largest labyrinth opens today in Fontanellato, a small town in the province of  Parma, Italy. This labyrinth is also  one of the widest bamboo plantations in Europe. Guests will walk through a fairy-tale maze and also admire fabulous works of arts.


See the complete article:   The biggest labyrinth in the world to open in Italy

Tuscany’s Hidden Treasures: Isola Santa Atop the Appuan Alps

Isola Santa, Garfagnana, Tuscany

Village of Isola Santa

High in the Appuan Alps National Park region in the area called Garfagnana (in the province of Lucca in northern Tuscany) lies the fairy tale village of Isola Santa.  It is a village of stone houses amidst the lush greenery surrounding a small lake.  A lovely church with a bell tower is silhouetted against the mountains and cliffs that form the Turrite Secca river valley.

Historical records from the 1200s show that this village was a small hospice throughout Medieval times where pilgrims and the sick could find shelter on the road between Garfagnana and Versilia coast. In the 1500s, the hospice was torn apart and later rebuilt as the Church of San Iacopo (in 1608).  The bell tower was added in 1899. The church still stands today.

In 1949, the power company constructed a dam for electricity on the Turrite Secco River that forever changed the makeup of the village: The dam submerged a part of the village buildings, damaged others and created the lake that is now a part of the scenery. More buildings were constructed higher up the mountain and there are still a few inhabitants, a B&B, a Bar/Restaurant and some tourist activity as people come to picnic by the lake in the summer. On many days you can still see the part of the village that lies submerged in the lake like a ghost town. There are walking trails in Isola Santa that will allow you to explore the town and the lake area and also hiking trails throughout the national park area..

How to reach Isola Santa:

  • From Lucca: through Castelnuovo di Garfagnana (58 km
  • From Forte Dei Marmi (about 30 km from the ”Versilia” Toll Road excit
  • From Massa through the “Del Versilio” Pass (about 28 km)

Standing in line – an unfamiliar concept in Italy

I was just thinking about my last trip to Italy. It is in remembering the little episodes and nuances that make each trip a study in all aspects of my culture.
One warning I always give travelers to Italy: the term “fare la coda” (standing in line) is an Italian term in words only.
On my last trip, as I walked away from a very popular cheese shop, I heard shouting emanating from the store as three women and a man argued with each other and with the clerk over who should be served first. Standing in line patiently awaiting one’s turn is a concept foreign to most Italians who would prefer to show how furbi (cunning) they are by triumphantly stealing a spot in the queue.
Many are the times I have seen confused and confounded tourists trying to figure out how to get to the head of a line (or cluster)  of competing Italians.
Admittedly, I have noticed that more and more locations in Tuscany are using the “take a number and wait in line” method. This is intended to wean Italians from their old ingrained habits. 
But as the antique Italian proverb says, trovata la legge, trovato l’inganno” (establish a rule and someone will find a way to cheat their way around it). At locations where numbers were requested, I observed people avoid taking numbers by walking up to the person in charge to drop names of influential people they knew so they would not have to stand in line. ‘Influential people’ could be anyone from the prime minister of Italy to the grandmother of the clerk. It worked. Another part of Italian culture is getting things done through connections.
Oh well…

Life as an art form – Italians have 3 times more holidays than Americans do

Those of you who are regular readers probably realize by now that Tuscans (and all Italians) live life as an art form; using all the senses, paying attention to each moment or detail, celebrating traditions and family, being endlessly inquisitive, highlighting one’s individuality and finding many outlets for creativity. Life is like a blank canvas and you must execute the painting that is most meaningful for you. What you may not know is that Italians also have more time at their leisure to enjoy life than anyone else.

holidays.jpgApparently, the Italian government is on board with the concept of living life to the fullest. I read with interest a report from the World Tourism Organization (WTO) on the number of official holidays per country per year. Italians have more holidays (42) than citizens of any other major country. You will probably not be surprised to know that US citizens have the lowest number of national holidays of any major industrialized country (13). Even the super industrious Japanese have 25 official holidays. The ever efficient Germans have 35 holidays, and the French have 37.

I have to wonder what this all means. Why is there so much difference between the number of holidays in the US as compared to other countries? What do other countries know that we don’t know? The high number of U.S. working days does not seem to help in a bad economy and it probably impacts our overall attitude towards life. Americans just don’t have as much time to enjoy life and have fun.

As we move towards a new year, and ponder more than ever on what is really important in life, we might learn something from the Italian attitude. Although our new administration will probably not be moving towards 42 official holidays anytime soon, let’s concentrate on making the most of any free time we have and live a more Dolce Vita (sweet life).

Buon Anno (Happy New Year)!

Watch your head on New Year’s Eve – celebrating in Italy

fireworks_12_.jpgNew Year’s Eve is known as la Festa di San Silvestro (Feast of St. Sylvester) in Italy. New Year’s Day is called Capodanno. On either day, you will find people celebrating by eating lentils (symbolizing wealth) or pork specialties such as cotechino or zampone (stuffed pork sausage or stuffed pig’s trotter) symbolizing richness for the coming year.
If you possessed x-ray vision, you would find yourself in a sea of red as many Italians don new red underwear to bring good luck in the New Year.

At midnight, there are fireworks displays throughout Italy with the largest and longest taking place in Piazza del Popolo in Rome. The fireworks last for an hour and this is a true celebration for all (no reservations). As a result, people camp out for as much as a week in advance to secure a good spot. They are also treated to a concert that goes on for hours both before and after the fireworks.

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The best Italian restaurants of 2009 – Tuscany and Lombardy top the list

For those of you who love Tuscan food or are lucky enough to be going to Tuscany soon, here is the latest restaurant news: One of the most important Italian Restaurant Guides, ‘Guida ai ristoranti d’Italia’ published by l’Espresso has just been released. This guide includes 2800 restaurants and eating places throughout Italy (from the most simple to the most elaborate) plus all different types of cuisine (from minimalist or baroque to traditional or experimental).  The common thread for this overview of outstanding cuisine in Italy is the best utilization of fresh, local ingredients.The restaurants are judged on both cuisine and service.
There are many great chefs working in all the different regions of Italy, including those in Campania and Lazio where there is currently much culinary buzz.  The two regions that now have the most “Three chef’s toque hats” (top score) are Lombardy and Tuscany.
Tuscans are famous for using the freshest of ingredients cooked in simple ways to bring out the natural flavors of the food.  You may be surprised to know that each city, town or village in Tuscany has their own unique food specialties. You will find some of the best representations of these local dishes in the top restaurants.  Read more