Italy Tours Archives

Agritourism Provides a Fresh Taste of Traditional Italy

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When planning a trip to Italy, it is easy to come up with a long list of must-see tourist attractions: The Leaning Tower of Pisa, Michelangelo’s sculpture of David in Florence, and the Forum in Rome … just to name a few.

The popular tourist attractions are often breathtaking and give insight into the culture, however, to truly connect with the living heart of a country it is sometimes worthwhile to take a step away from these sites and try a more “agritourism” experience.

 

Agritourism has been growing in popularity in Italy since the 1980s. The movement began as a way for small farmers to make ends meet by renting out rooms. But true agritourism is more than just a bed and breakfast. According to Italian law, to qualify as “agritourism,” the farm must generate the majority of its income from actual farming, not tourism. They must also offer meals, tastings of the products produced on the farm, as well as recreational activities on the farm or in the surrounding area.

 

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Some Italy tour operators are now including agritourism experiences with their trips. Rachel Najar, Operations Manager of Image Tours Inc. explains, “As part of the more structured itinerary of an escorted tour, farm-to-table dinners enhance and personalize the experience of Italian dining.” Najar adds “In true Italian cuisine the starches and proteins are kept completely separate and generally served in different courses. Flavors are distinct and natural so that each meat, vegetable or pasta can be fully appreciated on its own. All the ingredients are fresh and produced on the farm or on neighboring farms.”

 

One of the agritourism experiences provided by Image Tours caps a day of art and architecture sightseeing in Florence. The motor coach turns down a country road to Fattoria il Poggio, a family run winery nestled amidst the rolling hills of Tuscany. The Rossi family has worked this land since 1963. A tour of the vineyards and winery includes a wine tasting. If you discover a new favorite wine, you are in luck as all the wines from the tasting are available at your table as you enjoy an authentic Tuscan dinner. The dinner meal consists of Risotto (a creamy rice dish cooked in meat broth), grilled meats, mixed salad and almond biscuits. In the warmer months, the meal is served on long tables out on the terrace where you can look out over the olive groves and vineyards that produced the wine and olive oil on your table.

 

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A second farm dinner takes place at Borghetto d’Arci, a hill-top retreat 35 kilometers from Rome. Surrounded by a sea of deep green olive groves, the setting provides a chance to take a deep breath before heading into the bustle and excitement of the Italian capital. The farm was purchased by the Silvestri family at the beginning of the 19th century. Here they produce olive oil and walnuts in addition to a seasonal vegetable garden and an active chicken coop. This area has been inhabited for thousands of years. In fact, within the borders of the farm lie the ruins of Cures Sabini, birth place of the second king of Rome. Dinner here is an event. Flavio Silvestri and his team ensures that everything is “homemade following a centennial tradition handed down from one generation to the next with patience, care and a lot of passion.” The menu includes Fettuccini with homemade Ragu, Saltimbocca (a dish of marinated veal) and Italian puff pastries.

 

For more information about our Treasures of Italy Tour, follow the link to our detailed itinerary.

Venice – Queen of the Adriatic

The cultural and historical influence of Venice from the Middle Ages to present day is one of astonishing strength and beauty.

Until 1797 Venice was its own autonomous republic in the Adriatic with a rich antiquity, its own language, and dominance over commerce and trade. In addition, it was a leader in art, music, and culture of the times.

For much of its time as an independent republic, Venice affirmed its dominance over the Adriatic.

There was a strong, political assertion due to the power of its fleet. Its economic strength allowed this nation to suppress the many attempts to siege the city, to force neighboring weak states into subservience, and allowed Venice to gain special favor with the powerful Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire.

During the Middle Ages Venice began to take on its present form with the building of canals, bridges, and stone houses to connect over 100 small islands that make up the area. This unique city built on water is now a World Heritage Site.

Through this period, the flow of trade between Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean was firmly under the control of the Republic of Venezia.

Venice’s Rich History – Architecture, Art and Music

The allure of Venice is felt throughout the Eastern Mediterranean and examples of Venetian architecture can be seen as far away as the Greek Islands. The Venetians created their gothic style with influence from the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. The famous Doge’s Palace exemplifies this the most.

Well into the 15th century, Venice continued to assert its supremacy over all things nautical. The strong and powerful Venetian fleet played a major role throughout the crusades, culminating in the sacking of Constantinople (now Istanbul) in the 12th century as restitution for the use of its vessels. The four bronze horses sitting on St. Mark’s Basilica were taken as payment for its role in the Fourth Crusade.

The Venetian glass industry also gained esteem in part due to the fall of Constantinople. Byzantine craftsmen fled to Venice, and nearby Murano, and thus further inspired and refined the Venetian traditions. Today, colorful and elaborate Venetian art draws thousands of tourists from around the world to the glass-making center in Murano.

The contribution of Venice to the Baroque period of classical music is exemplified by Venice-born composer Antonio Vivaldi. The Chiesa di San Maurizio (Church of San Maurizo) houses an excellent museum, the Museo della Musica, which displays stringed instruments from as far back as 700AD. Vivaldi enthusiasts should also make the trek to the Vivaldi Museum in the Pieta Church.

More Than a City in Italy

Though its military and economic valor slowly declined, Venice has remained one of the most important European centers for art, architecture, and culture. Gliding through its canals and sipping coffee in its market squares, you can feel how its rich heritage continues to transform the world today.

Roman Ruins, 12th Century Castles and Healthful Waters of Lago di Garda

Healthful Waters of Lago di Garda

Visitors to Lago di Garda (Lake Garda) immediately know they have arrived someplace very special.

Rising out of the beautiful Dolomite Mountains in the north, Italy’s largest lake begins as a narrow strip of water and opens up wide to the south, into the lowlands of Verona. In some areas, the rocky shores seem to rise straight up, giving the feel of the Norwegian fjords.

With 100 miles of shoreline to explore, Lago di Garda offers breathtaking scenery and uniquely Italian culture at every turn. Edged by fruit orchards and olive groves on its banks and dotted with fisheries, a tour of the lake reveals a primordial past and a dynamic present.

A Long and Rich History with Italian Style

The town of Sirmione lies at the southern end of the lake and sits on its own peninsula which divides the lower portion of Lago di Garda. A leisurely stroll along the lakefront takes you through many vibrant markets and eateries. This picturesque peninsula is a lovely place to spend a shady afternoon with a cup of coffee lakeside, or browsing the shops and boutiques in this quaint town.

History buffs may be astonished by the ancient Grotto of Catullus which dates around 150AD, when it is believed that people settled on the shores of Lago di Garda. It is amazing to learn of the long and archaic account of this region. It is thought that the Grotto site was the holiday villa of a wealthy Roman family.

The Scaliger Castle is an impressive medieval port fortification surrounded by water. The castle was built late in the 12th century and, due to its strategic location, was part of the defensive network of Verona. The castle has played a role in Italian history ever since.

In addition, there are many small islands and five larger islands on Lago di Garda. The largest is Isola del Garda. Today, Isola del Garda is a park dominated by the Venetian neo-gothic Villa Borghese Cavazza. The island is privately owned by the Cavazza family, who offer an enchanting tour of the lush gardens and several of the villa rooms. In true Italian style, a light aperitif is served after the tour and visitors can sample local products such as wine and olive oil.

Mineral Waters to Help You Relax and Rejuvenate

There are several spas located on the shores of Lago di Garda. In Sirmione, the Terme di Catullo takes advantage of the mineral-rich water which leaves the rock at a temperature of 70°C. Guests can relax and rejuvenate in the thermal swimming pools or by taking inhalation treatments, underwater massage, and a variety of other healing remedies.

Lago di Garda is a perfect stop on any European tour, offering visitors style and relaxation while immersed in rich, cultural antiquity.

New Escorted Europe Special: Treasures of Italy Tour

Our current special that we are promoting is is our May 6 & Sept. 9 departures of the 12-day Treasures of Italy tour, if your clients book by December 11th, 2013. The Treasures of Italy tour is a 12-day tour featuring Milan, Verona, Venice, the Tuscany Region, Pisa, Florence & Rome. If you have navigated here after the deadline date, please follow this link to view the current availability and rates of our Treasures of Italy Tour.

Montecatini Terme – Rolling Hills, Rejuvenation & Relaxation

The idyllic rolling hills of Tuscany set the backstage for the eclectic spa town of Montecatini Terme.

Located in the very heart of Tuscany, the town has been making the most of their natural thermal springs for centuries.

As with all of Italy, so much art, history and culture is contained in such a small area and exploring produces great rewards.

Montecatini sits in the Valdinievole Valley and has been offering relaxation and inspiration to countless visitors, including artists and musicians for a very long time. Among the most notable composers to spend time at Montecatini Terme is Giuseppe Verdi.

It is said that he was invigorated and inspired by his stays at the spa town and composed the third act of ‘Othello’ during his visits.

Italian Spa Towns Have a Rich History

The spa towns of Tuscany have seen their ups and downs. Toward the end of the 19th century, there was a revival as artists, musicians, and the middle class were drawn to new spa treatments and the health fads of the time.

Montecatini rapidly developed its diverse style with illustrious hotels and casinos along with Bohemian bars and cafes favored by artists, writers, scientists, and actors. The grand avenues of Montecatini Terme are lined with historic mansions. Many ornate and splendid Terme buildings flavored with Art Nouveau architecture and formal gardens.

Montecatini’s Focus on Health, Well-Being, and Fun!

After enjoying a treatment at one of the nine Termes (hot springs), which includes drinking of the famous waters, there is still plenty to do! The town focuses on health and well-being and this presents many opportunities for sport and exercise during your stay. There are several facilities in town and they are open to the general public.

There are numerous opportunities to hike, horseback ride, play golf or tennis, as well as swim in luxurious pools which provide a wonderful atmosphere to relax in for the better part of the day!

At night, especially in summer, there are always occasions to hear live music. This town provides only the best, highly-talented artists. Of course, food is also a focus of any self-respecting Italian town, so stroll through Montecatini Terme to find magnificent cafes, romantic hideaways, modern bistros, and colorful gelato shops.

Don’t miss the view from above the town. Montecatini Alto, the oldest part, sits high up on the hill with a commanding view of the Valdinievole Valley. It is a short walk up the hill but it is worth the time to take the tiny cable car railway with its breathtaking 10 minute ascent. Since 1898, the two little red wagons, affectionately named Gigio and Gigia, have climbed the steep grade to the old heart of town.

Montecatini Terme is a popular Italian tourist destination and is now being discovered by the rest of the world. Traveling can be taxing and a stop at this famous Terme can leave you feeling refreshed and rejuvenated as you experience the eloquent art and yore of the Tuscany region.

Enjoy this glorious city on the 12-day Treasures of Italy Tour!

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