Italy Off The Beaten Path Tips by madamx
Italy Off The Beaten Path: 430 reviews and 601 photos
A different twist on riding in a gondola in Venice; see how they're built. We had the good fortune to accompany friends to the workshop of Roberto Tramontin -- the major gondola builder in Venice. His family actually revolutionized the design of gondolas to it's modern day design.
Gondolas have been painted black since the 1500's when Venice was going through an economic recession. It was considered ostentatious to have a brightly painted boat, and it was decreed that all gondolas be painted black. It was a bit disappointing when he told me the metal decoration on the prow -- contrary to colorful stories of it representing the Doge's hat and islands of Venice -- actually means nothing, it's just a decoration.
There are 8 different woods used in building a gondola; each wood having it's special use in each section of the boat. Sadly, gondola building and repair is a dying art. When I asked him who would take over his business, he shrugged -- he has three daughters who have no interest in the business, or he would not allow them to take over the business -- it wasn't clear. It was interesting that he has built gondolas all his adult life, but has never actually ridden in one or rowed one!
Trompe d'oliel fresco in the front entrance
This hidden gem is located not too far from the village of Castelfranco in the Veneto region. It is quite amazing that the Emo family has lived in this villa since around the mid 1500's, only selling it to the bank last year as they were financially drained from trying to maintain this huge property.
The impressive Zelotti frescoes on the inside and outside are in superb condition, only being cleaned for restoration. Many of the frescoes use the trompe d'oliel technique, creating soaring pillars and embelishes, which indeed "trick the eye". The Count Emo in the 1500's was well-known in the area for introducing corn from the New World, which is evident today; we drove by many fields on the way to Villa Emo filled with young corn plants. An unusual feature of Villa Emo is the front entrance; instead of steps, a ramp was built in front that was used to dry corn after harvesting
Known as the Versailles of Italy, the Plazzo Reale was built around 1752 for King Charles III and is Italy's largest royal palace. The palace and grounds are extremely impressive, and the palace boasts about 1000 rooms, most of them not open to the public.
What is available for viewing consists of richly ornate staircases and apartments filled with Venetian chandeliers -- some of the rooms have a dusty, unkept and disorganized feel to them which adds a haunted mansion dimension to your visit. Speaking of haunted mansion, I was alone in one room; at the end of the room was a set of doors; one of them abruptly swung open halfway and then stopped *shiver*.
You will most likely need a car to get here from Naples, but well worth the effort. Make it a day, and have a picnic on the beautiful manicured grounds.
Location: About 1/2 an hour north of Naples
Dramatic landscape near San Pantaleo
San Pantaleo, fortunate to be set in the dramatic Sardinian countryside, is an artist's haven and is quite quaint, full of crumbling cottages. When it's not the busy summer season, the town is virtually dead but is worth a look anyway if you are touring the countryside or on your way to the Costa Smeralda.
The artwork available for sale is not cheap as many of the artists are well-known in Italy and abroad. If you walk to the end of the main road in the old town, there will be a stone fence with a well-worn path going into the woods. A very friendly little dog lives nearby and if she's around, she'll walk with you, as she loves company. Walk about 5 or 10 minutes, and you will come across some ancient Nuraghe ruins. Nuraghe ruins -- small circular stone dwellings that may have been used for defensive purposes or homes of chiefs-- dot the countryside and were built by a mysterious people long ago.
Part of the chain of the Cinque Terre located on the Ligurian coast, Corniglia (pronounced as "Cornelia") gets the fewest visitors and is by far is the most charming for this very reason. When we visited, the other villages were crammed with tourists, and in Corniglia we hardly saw anyone.
It is not right on the water, but is easily accessible by train or car. This would be a perfect place to base yourself if wanting to spend some quiet time in the Cinque Terre. There are beautiful vistas of the coast from several areas of the village. We thought this place was a little gem. Cornigilia has been known for it's wine since ancient Roman times.
A bedroom in the palazzo
It's other name is the Museo dell'Antica Casa Fiorentina -- a restored palazzo that gives you a glimpse into the life of a wealthy 14th Century Florentine family. The Florentines we spoke to were very impressed that we had made time to visit here.
Tucked into a side street in Central Florence, the museum was closed until last year; reopened after renovation and more restoration. There appears to be one more floor they are working on. The descriptions of displays are mostly in Italian, with the curators making an effort now to have newer displays in English as well. Despite that, it's well worth a visit anyway. Make sure to find the holes in the ceiling that surround the inner courtyard made so the family could shoot missiles at unsavory visitors. The frescoed walls bordered by friezes are really something to see as well.
Location: Via Porta Rosa, Florence. There are large banners on the outside walls identifying the museum.
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