Category Archives: tours

Five Classic Holiday Road Trips

One of Hollywood’s endearing holiday tourism themes, in films, is the iconic road trip. Cult classics like the 1969 “Easy Rider”, the “Smokey and the Bandit” series in the 1970’s, The Gumball Rally, Thelma & Louise in 1991 and more recently “Wild Hogs” all epitomise the unexpected thrill and excitement of travelling the open road.

The popular BBC car series “Top Gear” regularly undertakes road trips, touring in old sports cars, towing caravans or with provocative phrases sprayed on their cars in America’s deep South. Film stars Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman also produced two excellent road trip series in the “Long Way Round” between London and New York and the “Long Way Down” from John O’Groats to Cape Town.

Ever since Bertha Benz invented the road trip in 1888 people have been looking for more challenging and imaginative routes to ride. So what are the most interesting and popular road trips you can take?

1) Bertha Benz Memorial Route – Distance 120 miles

While this is not the most daring of rides, it is the world’s first recognised road trip. Karl Benz’s wife, Bertha, undertook it in August 1888 when she fancied a trip to visit her mother. Until then cars had only been run for short distances but Bertha took the car on a 120 mile round trip between Mannheim and Pforzheim.

The journey takes in the beautiful countryside of Baden and passes Heidelberg, stops at the first recognised petrol station, a chemist in Weisloch where she bought some Ligroin solvent to fuel the car. The return trip is a little longer as frau Benz wasn’t too enamoured with the hills and so followed the River Rhine back, passing Maulbronn Abbey and Hockenheim where today’s World of Motorsports Museum can be found.

2) Route 66 – Distance 2,448 miles

This has to be one of the most talked about road trips ever, the epitome of long car journey’s on the open road, wind in your hair and nothing for miles and miles. The original Route 66 starts in Chicago and finishes on the West Coast in Los Angeles. The route was officially declassified in 1985 but enthusiasts have kept the memory alive marking and travelling the route each year.

3) London to Monte Carlo – Distance 900 miles

This vintage car rally was made famous by the silver screen in the hit movie “Monte Carlo or Bust.” This again is another journey fraught with risk, challenge and possibilities, particularly if you make it in a classic car. As this may not be possible for most people why not try picking up a cheap second hand car in London and add to the excitement of getting to the South of France.

4) Mille Miglia – Distance 1000 miles

The Italian road race that was run between 1927 and 1957, starting in Brescia in the North of Italy, down to Rome and back, following a figure 8 course. The race was briefly revived between 1958 and 1961 but since 1977 it has been known as the Mille Miglia Storica, a historical rally featuring pre-1957 cars. The tour is run over several days between May and April each year and is well supported by locals and visitors along the length of the course. While you can follow the route of the course yourself at any time, the best option is taking part in the run or at least cheer on the competitors as they wend their way through the gorgeous Italian countryside.

5) Ho Chi Minh Trail – Distance 9,940 mile network

The Ho Chi Minh Trail was the route of many trails made famous during the Vietnam war, whereby the north Vietnamese Army brought weapons, supplies and food down to the front line. This is definitely a road trip with a difference and stretches from Hanoi all the way down to Hoian, covering a vast range of landscapes and vegetation. Due to the tough and unforgiving terrain you cross, from rugged mountain to thick jungle, the most popular way to make this trip is by motorbike. It is a trip well worth making, full of history, ancient temples and tranquil towns, a challenging road trip through an unforgettably beautiful landscape.

Cardiff Bay’s Outdoor Art Gallery

One of the aims of Cardiff Bay’s development was to create a vast open-air art gallery of public sculpture. The idea was to have modern, accessible images that would inspire and engage with visitors to the area. This they have achieved and so much more as the bay and surrounding area are full of imaginative and thought provoking sculptures for anyone touring the foreshore to admire.

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The artworks come in a variety of materials from ceramic tile, wrought iron, stone, cast bronze and wood and ranges for the largest building to the smallest bench. There are also fabulous exhibition spaces too such as the Crafts in the Bay gallery and the Old Norwegian Church and the futuristic, Millennium Arts Centre, which also provides areas for the occasional show.

People, Places and Work

People Like Us

The works celebrate Cardiff’s people, famous contributors and the stories that made Cardiff great. There are statues to the multicultural heritage of the Docks, memorials to the sailors and Scott of the Antarctic as well as a tribute to Ivor Novello and local hero, Captain Ernest Willows who pioneered balloon flight.

Sculptural Buildings

There are illustrations to poems, strange optical illusions and plenty of ships and sails. Many of the buildings around the bay have a sculptural quality to them as well. Many demonstrate a nautical feel, the waves of the Atlantic Wharf Entertainment Centre, the Atradius building shaped like a ships prow or the sails on top of the St David’s Hotel.

Millennium Arts Centre

One of the most sculptural buildings is the Millennium Arts Centre, with its slate sides echoing the cliffs of South Wales and the quarries in the north. The golden copper façade is inscribed with tall, towering letters over the entrance.

Waterside Statues 

The most popular sculpture can be found at Mermaid Quay, “People like Us” explores the diverse, multicultural nature of old Cardiff Docks and has a couple with their dog standing looking out over the fresh water lagoon as if posing for a family photograph.

Knot

Other groups of people remembered in bronze around the bay are the original Celts with a large Torc necklace by Harvey Hood at Roald Dahl’s Plass, the Miners represented in John Clench’s piece “From Pit to Port” in Britannia Park and the work of the Dockers is celebrated with Andrew Row’s 2000 sculpture “Rope Knot” in car park behind Techniquest and “Ship in a Bottle” by Melissa Gibbs at the end of Windsor Esplanade.

Seamen’s Memorial

Lost at Sea

The more poignant work is the touching memorial created by Brian Fell to the sailors of the Merchant Navy who lost their lives crossing the Atlantic Ocean during the Second World War. This wonderfully tender piece features a face at peace that morphs into the hull of a ship as you walk around it.

Swiss artist Felice Varini has created a mind boggling optical illusion on the Cardiff Bay Barrage. Taken in isolation they just look like meaningless yellow marks, as if the council’s road workers had gone off on one. However, when viewed from a particular point the marks converge into a massive series of concentric circles that engulf the barrage.

Artistic Poems

Drift of Curlews

Poetic interpretations can be found in the more playful and functional works of Gwen Heeney using Dylan Thomas’s poem “Ballard of the long legged bait” they take the form of benches scattered around Britannia Park and beside Roath Basin. “Cargoes” by Brian Fell is a series of 22 plaques on the walls of the Mermaid Quay that take inspiration from John Masefield’s work on Cardiff Docks.

Trawler Weather Vane

The whole bay area is awash with sculptures both great and small, from the large, mirrored pillar in front of the Millennium Arts Centre to the delicate Willow’s clock tower at Mermaid Quay or the decorative weather vane on top of Woods Brasserie. As you take a leisurely stroll around the rejuvenated bay, keep your eyes open and discover the wonderful, outdoor art gallery that covers all corners of Cardiff Bay’s environs and it will take you on an adventure of your very own.

Sculpture Around Mermaid Quay


Follow the link to an interactive map of Cardiff Bay, with details of the sculptures location, artist, date and a description.

If you would like to find out more about exciting day trips and tours around Cardiff or the Welsh countryside or the many other memorable festivals, please contact Travelling Content for more information.

Fighting for Bridges in Venice

Rialto Bridge

Venice is made up of 118 islands and is naturally known for its canals and bridges. They are iconic images of Venice and everyone automatically thinks of the Rialto Bridge whenever the city is mentioned. There are, however, some 400 other bridges that cross the network of canals and while most of these lead inconspicuous lives some have interesting tales to tell, none more so than the “battling bridges” from the late Medieval era.

Bridge Wars

During this period it was commonplace for kings and lords to parade their troops, showing off their combat skills and technical prowess. Tournaments and competitions were regularly held in large open fields where crowds would gather and cheer on the combatants. Venice, however, is not blessed with many large open spaces so they developed an unusual solution. Armed groups of artisans and workers gather together and fight for possession of one of Venice’s many bridges.

Battle of Carmini Bridge

Evidence of the “battagliolia”, mock battles dates back to the 14th century where they were described as “guerre di canne”, wars with sticks. Those taking part were armed with fire hardened bamboo sticks and wearing leather armour and wooden helmets would fight to defend the honour of their district. They became quite a famous spectacle and often were arranged for visiting dignitaries. In 1585 both Japanese and Turkish diplomats were entertained with a display and in 1547, King Henry III of France watched a battagliolia on Ponte Carmini. He commented later that the event was “too small to be a real war and too cruel to be a game.”

Brawling on a bridge

Ponte dei Pungi

The intensity of these battles led to casualties along the way, with bruises, cuts and maiming commonplace, death could even result during some particularly hard fought contests. There are no documented rules and it seems to have been a drunken brawl that could go on for hours. Occasionally after much consumption of wine, the on looking crowds joined in, throwing roof tiles or even entering the battle and causing complete mayhem.

 

Ponte Punch-ups

Woodcut 1550

By 1600 the council’s clamping down on the stick wars meant they were replaced with “guerra di pungi”, the fist wars. These were bare-knuckled fights that allegedly started during one battle in 1585 when one group ran out of sticks but carried on regardless with bare hands. Initially there were demonstrations of single combat before the main battle but gradually these boxing matches took over as the main entertainment as the boxing became the popular spectacle.

While the mock battles were not an uncommon sight in Italian history, the Venice contests are unique for being contested on bridges. As one writer commented the object was not to “tear each other apart, but only in the presence of the city, win and take possession of the bridge.”

In 1705, however, the Venice Council of Ten finally banned the public fights and they disappeared into history. There are still the reminders of this unique time in Venetian history to be found at some of the most popular warring bridges. Set into the pavement of the Ponte Pungi and the Ponte Guerra are marble footprints. These are the points from where the boxers would start each round and where they would return once the round had ended.

The Bridges Today

Ponte Carmini today

The main sites of the bridge wars were:-

  •  Ponte Pungi,
  • Ponte Guerre San Fosca,
  • Ponte Guerra San Zulien,
  • Ponte Camini
  • Ponte Diedo.

If you would like to take a self-guided tour of Venice we have published a helpful 3-Day Walking Guide to aid you on your travels, alternatively contact us  for information about our rich and entertaining guided trips around the wonderful Italian countryside.

Scarzuola – Surreal Umbrian Architectural Folly

Tourists travelling around Italy should investigate Scarzuola, one of Umbrias’ best kept secrets. A wonderful and imaginative architectural folly by Architect, Tomaso Buzzi.

The site at Scarzuola started out as a simple wooden shack in the Umbrian countryside, a tranquil, remote residence for the wandering St Francis, south of Perugia. It was here that in 1218 he planted a bay tree and a rose bush and then a fresh, bubbling spring promptly erupted. Over time St Francis’s humble dwelling grew into a monastery and today in the church’s apse you can still see a 13th century fresco of the saint levitating.

In 1956 the famous Milanese Architect, Tomaso Buzzi acquired the eight hundred year old complex at Scarzuola, by which time it had fallen into decay and was in much need of repair. Buzzi set about creating his own perfect, if not surreal, city around the grounds of Scarzuola, incorporating the original buildings; he added many ingenious designs and touches of his own.

The result is an eccentric and fascinating city of dreams that expresses Buzzi’s many influences, classical and renaissance references as well as surrealistic and fanciful juxtapositions. His wonderfully innovative folly is a combination of the existing ecclesiastical buildings from the convent, which became the sacred city and his own secular works that make up the Buzziana. This is complete with seven theatres, a tower of Babel, an acropolis and a maze of staircases.

Buzzi populated his landscape around Scarzuola with symbols, poetic passages and enigmatic icons, all full of personal meaning and mystery. Everywhere you look there are sculptures, fountains and pools all elaborately decorated. Visitors are taken down tunnels into Cypress filled glades, up winding staircases and onto panoramic terraces; the walker faces constant choices, poems and monsters in their entertaining exploration. The whole experience at Scarzuola is a trip into the creative genius of Buzzi and the references in which he found importance.

 After his death in 1980 Buzzi’s cousin, Marco Solari took over management of the site and today he shows tourists around his uncle’s magical world. In Scarzuola, Buzzi has left us with a marvellous collection of buildings, part childhood puzzle and part intellectual game but either way a fantastic vision in the landscape.

Scarzuola is not open directly to the public but visitors interested in wandering around the interesting grounds of Tomaso Buzzi’s fabulous creation can arrange an appointment. The site of the Sacred City and Buzziana can be found near the village of Montegiove, Montegabbione in the Umbrian hills south of Perugia.

If you would like to find out more about exciting day trips and tours around the Umbrian, Tuscan countryside or the many other memorable festivals, please contact Travelling Content for more information.

Day Trip – Gardens of Florence

Alongside the wealth of art and architecture of Florence there are also some wonderfully manicured and well kept gardens. They range from the formal classical Renaissance layout to the rustic, let nature have its say look. All are lovely peaceful, green spaces where one can escape the chaos of tourist trails, have a quiet picnic and ignore the horns of the Florentine traffic.

Boboli Gardens

Boboli Gardens – Piazza Pitti or Via Romana, open 8:15 – 6:30 in the summer and 4:30 during the winter, admission €4. This 42,000sm park is attached to the Palazzo Pitti Museum and is a classic 16th century Italian garden, planned by Nicolo Pericoli. The grounds were originally outside the city walls and the site of Florence’s town quarry. However when the Medici acquired the grounds they soon had them landscaped and turned into formal gardens behind the palace. By 1766 the family had opened the parkland to the public as an excellent example of a Renaissance garden. The park features many attractions of its own like the Grotto Grande, the KaffeeHaus, a lawn of columns and the Lemonary, all making this quite a unique and revolutionary park for its time.

Cascine Park– always open, admission free. Cascine Park is the largest park in Florence restored in 1786 and opened to the public, previously it was a game reserve and cattle farm, until  in 1869 it was remodelled in the romantic style of the period. It now has a lovely tree lined avenue and a number of sporting facilities including a racetrack, the Indian Prince, Rajaram Chuttraputti’s memorial and the Cascine pyramid and amphitheatre.

Giardino Semplice

Giardino dei Semplici, the Botanical Gardens of Florence – Via Pier Antonio Micheli 3, Open to the public 9 – 1pm Mon – Fri, Admission €4. Built for Cosimo dei Medici in 1545 and is one of Italy’s oldest and most renowned medicinal plant gardens. It is designed around a grid pattern with walkways leading to a central fountain. The gardens have over 9,000 species represented and some of its oldest inhabitants include a Yew tree from 1720 and a Cork Oak planted in 1805.

Giardino della Rose, and the Giardino della Iris are both near the Piazzale Michelangelo, admission free, both parks are open to the public. The rose garden is always open and along with its marvellous collection of rose bushes, there are also a selection of water lilies and the impressive view across Florence’s skyline. Similarly the Iris garden houses a display of over 2,500 varieties of plant that has long been the symbol of Florence. This park is best seen during the month of May, Monday – Friday between the hours of 10 – 12.30 and 3 – 7, and all day at weekends.

Torrigiano Gardens

Torrigiani Gardens, Via de Serragli, these gardens were designed in the 19th century by Luigi Cambrai-Digny and later completed by Bacconi who installed the gothic tower and Merlin’s Grotto in the park, while Pio Fedi placed the neo-classical statues. Although the park is now in private ownership it is occasionally opened to the public.

Giardino della Fortezza is a pleasant open parkland with a lake, fountain, paths and benches on the northern corner of the Fortrezza da Basso. After town wall was demolished this completely open park was formed as part of the gentrification of the area.

Bardini Gardens

Bardini GardenVia de Bardi, opposite the Bardini Museum, open 8:15 – 6:30 in the summer and 4:30 during the winter. This recently restored Italian Renaissance garden has picturesque views of the city and is full of statues and natural wildlife.

Piazza d’Azeglio was once a private walled garden, used by the villa, palazzo and houses around its perimeter but nowadays it is a large open green space with statues and trees where people can sit and enjoy their lunch in the shade.

Piazzale Donatello, this is where you will find the English Cemetery, not a traditional garden but it was always treated as one, by the citizens of Florence. Since the restoration of its tall Cyprus trees and box hedgerows it is once again attracting people for its natural beauty and unique style. Open from 9 – 12 & 3 – 6, admission free.

Giardino della Gherardesca is the largest private, walled garden in Florence and is owned by the Four Seasons Hotel.

 

View Gardens of Florence in a larger map

If you would like to take a self-guided tour of Florence we have published a helpful 3-Day Walking Guide to aid you on your travels, alternatively contact us  for information about our rich and entertaining guided trips around the wonderful Tuscan and Umbrian countryside.

Top Ten Piazzas of Florence

Any tour of Florence needs to be carefully planned; it’s not the city’s size or the difficulty getting around that’s the problem, but the sheer volume of attractions. Every street corner has some significant building, each piazza is full of history and all the churches have memorable pieces of art to enjoy.

Piazza Santa Croce

A visitor is never far from something interesting to look at, marvel over or photograph. Some of the greatest places to visit and take in the Florentine culture are its many piazzas. Invariably, these are home to vast collections of impressive art, historical events and simple surprises. If you find yourself in need of a break on your hectic tour schedule, they are also just great places to sit and relax, take in the atmosphere and have a cappuccino.

Piazza San Giovanni

1) Piazzas Giovanni and Duomo are Florence’s spiritual centre. Here you will find the iconic Florentine images of Brunelleschi’s dome and Giotto’s bell tower, two greats of the Renaissance period. There are also the beautiful bronze doors that adorn the Baptistery credited with starting the whole movement in 1401. It was here that a competition was held to design the doors, Donetello and Brunelleschi entered but it was Ghilberti’s designs that heralded in the new age.

Piazza della Signoria

2) Piazza della Signoria represents Florence’s artistic heart, this is where the ruling class held their public ceremonies, debated and displayed their wealth. This piazza overflows with Renaissance creativity, from the Loggia della Signoria, the Palazza Vecchio and the Uffizi statues, frescoes and paintings are everywhere. The copy of Michelangelo’s David, the huge and ungainly Neptune fountain and Dontello’s mythical renderings of Marzocco, Judith and Holofernes. A student of art could spend a week alone here and still not discover all it has to offer.

3) Piazza Santa Maria Novella; just outside the railway station, much renovated now and a delightful place to sit in the sun, is home to the church of the same name. The piazza is where they used to hold exciting horse races and the obelisks mark the turning points of the course. The church with its distinctive façade contains more of Florence’s treasures, Ghirlandaio, Lippi, Giotto and Uccello all worked here and you can appreciate their talent in the natural surroundings where they meant you to see them.

Piazza Santa Croce

4) Piazza Santa Croce  is where, since 1544, every June a crazy no holds barred football match has been organised and is also the wonderful setting for the glorious Santa Croce church. Again you can’t miss the art but this is also where Michelangelo, Ghilberti, Machiavelli and Galileo are all buried, while Dante and Fermi are celebrated. The cloisters next door are also where you will find the exquisite Pazzi chapel another Brunelleschi dome.

5) Piazza San Lorenzo is the centre of the bustling open air markets and is a great place to pick up a bargain. Take time, as well, to see the wonders of the church of San Lorenzo, despite its unimpressive façade the interior rewards visitors with a marvellous collection of art. There is also the Medici Library and Palazzo Medici-Riccardi in this great piazza.

Piazza Santissima Annunziata

6) Piazza Santissima Annunziata is one of the unspoilt piazzas in Florence, particularly memorable for its strange fountains and impressive statue of the Grand Duke Ferdinand I, the final piece created by the sculptor Giambologna. This square houses the church to the Santissima Annuziata and Europe’s oldest Orphanage, the Hospital to the Innocents, as well as the Museum of Archaeology.

Piazza della Republicca

7) Piazza della Republicca was the site of the old market place, sadly all that remains of this vibrant and lively area of Florence is the column with a replica of the statue of Abundance that once graced the original piazza. Redevelopments in the 19th century saw the creation of this large modern square with its richly decorated palaces and elegant shops that now surround the wide open space.

8 ) Piazza San Marco, in the northern districts of Florence’s old town centre is a charming little square punctuated with its church and museum that once echoed to the sounds of a Dominican monastery.

English Cemetery in Piazza Donatello

9) Piazza Donetello is another unique location, now surrounded by a four-lane bypass, it was once outside the city gates and where the English Cemetery was built. Now a tranquil and calm location amid the chaos of a modern city carefully tended and restored to its former glory.

View from the Piazzale Michelangelo

10) Piazzale Michelangelo stands high above Florence and is where you can take wonderful pictures of the city’s panorama. It’s a brisk climb to reach but the sight you are rewarded with is well worth the effort.

 

 

If you would like to take a self-guided tour of Florence we have published a helpful 3-Day Walking Guide to aid you on your travels, alternatively contact us  for information about our rich and entertaining guided trips around the wonderful Tuscan and Umbrian countryside.

Cooking Up an Italian Holiday

An Umbrian gastronomic vacation that proves to cater to the messes.

Black Truffles

If the Italian regions define their cooking, then Umbrian menus are characterised by its landscape; rich, earthy and rural. This isn’t the land of carbonara or meatballs, here people have the luxury of truffles from the Tiber Valley and Cascia’s saffron. They pick wild asparagus from the riverbanks and enjoy Norcia’s aromatic cinghiale sausages; their food has a wholesome, rural quality, guaranteed to hit the spot at meal times.

Orvieto Wines

Umbrian cuisine is renowned for its pungent, strong flavours, with a taste as distinctive as the verdant hills and mountains that shape the province. The pecorino cheese has a bite of its own, bitter dark Perugia chocolate and the delicious golden Orvieto wines.

Tasting Umbria is one thing but to go one better you have to cook in Umbria. The ultimate cultural experience has to be the sheer delight of making Stregozzi with the wonderful nonnas of Eggi or baking traditional bread in a wood fired oven, the way they have over seven generations at the Forno Vantaggi. These gastronomic days out are ideal cultural experiences, here you’ll learn how to make pasta just like mamma makes.

Salami

There can be no better way to start the day than first thing in the morning, wandering around the busy, vibrant market or taking a gentle stroll in the shaded woods looking for truffles. Once you have your ingredients it’s then time to be shown how to make the perfect pasta or to bake award-winning bread. Then afterwards sitting down to the satisfying treat of eating the meal you have helped to prepare earlier.

Cooking up a Feast

If you are looking for a holiday that includes having such fun as learning about local dishes, visiting vineyards, watching olive oil being pressed, award winning ice cream being made or following the truffle dogs across the wooded landscape then Umbria is the perfect destination. La Mia Umbria con Antonella is doubly rewarding as being a native of the area she knows the region so well, its secret places and friendly, welcoming people.

This isn’t just a holiday; this is the chance to taste the real Italy.

If you would like to find out more about cooking courses and gastronomic tours around the Umbrian, Tuscan countryside or the many other memorable days out, please contact Travelling Content for more information.