Tag Archives: holiday

Olive Picking on Holiday

Have you ever thought what it might be like to go on holiday and pick olives? Since coming to Italy several years ago I have always wanted to see what it was like to pick grapes and olives. Well last week I was able to achieve one of those goals.

I was invited by a friend to stay at her house and help her Italian friends pick olives from their 100 trees. You might think that 100 doesn’t sound that many but believe me it’s hard work and you can get a lot of olives from those trees.

As we were picking in November I wrapped up warm expecting it to be a little chilly. My goodness, was I wrong. The temperatures soared to 21 degrees and luckily enough I had worn a tee-shirt under my jumper. The Italian pickers thought I was a bit mad as they kept their jumpers in place and even had fleeces on. The camaraderie amongst all the pickers is fantastic and a lot of laughing and joking can be heard through the trees.

 
First of all they put the nets under the trees to catch the olives as they fall. For the upper branches they use a special brush like machine to reach the olives, which is quite a lot of fun even when you get hit on the head by flying olives. For the lower half of the tree it’s all hands to the branches to strip them of their wonderful quarry. The feel of olives coming from the tree by your own hands is amazing. You can get a little messy when picking so wearing old clothes is a must. When all the olives have been taken from the tree they shake them to one corner of the netting and then pour them into a basket ready to go onto the waiting tractor.

When all the trees have been stripped they are taken to the local olive press so that all the gorgeous oil can be extracted. In Italy the season of Nouvo Olio is a big one with everyone talking about it and comparing the spicy oil, which is ideal for dipping your fresh bread or for making bruscetta.

I was lucky enough to go to the local olive press to see the next process for the olives. The smell as you walk in is amazing, who would have thought that fresh pressed olives would smell so good? First of all they fall through the hatch and are caught onto the conveyer belt which then takes them to the huge pressing cogs. At this point it is very noisy so I beat a hasty retreat to watch the oil coming out of the pipes and into the awaiting vats.

If you’re lucky the press will offer you a tasting of the fresh pressed oil. This is one of the best parts of the olive picking process, you get to sample the fresh, almost, peppery oil on crusty bread. It’s amazing! Just make sure that you’ve got a drink of water close to hand in case it’s a little too peppery for you.

The press where I went, you could also purchase the oil in a range of different sized containers and bottles, all professionally sealed for you. You can purchase oil in little bottles up to huge 2 litre tins, the little bottles do make ideal gifts.

So if you’ve ever wanted to have a go at picking olives I would highly recommend it to you. Although it’s hard work it’s also great fun and very rewarding.

If you would like to find out more about the wonderful opportunities to pick olives, gather porcini or hunt truffles around the Umbrian, Tuscan countryside or the many other memorable days out you can have, please contact Travelling Content for more information.

 

Author Suzanne Winfield

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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.

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.

Italy’s Modern, Medieval Sporting Festivals

Palio di Siena

Italy is a country of festivals, many of which can trace their origins back through the centuries. There are national, regional and local festivals, villages organise their own food sagra festivals, there are music festivals and time honoured religious celebrations. You can dress up in medieval costumes or cover the streets in coloured seeds, there are festivals for mushrooms, chocolate and onions but some of the more uniquely bizarre events are some of the sporting festivals.

Florence Football 1688

The history of many of the “Sporting” festivals developed out of medieval competitions and still has a place in Italy’s modern calendar of events. Along with the central competition there is always glamorous costumed parades to heralding in the contestants, lively music and streets bedecked with colourful banners and flags. Food plays an important part in the festivals and contestants and visitors alike don’t go hungry.

The top five most exciting Medieval Sporting Festivals are:-

Palio di Siena – Held twice a year in July and August

Siena Horse Race

This horse racing festival is a competition between the 17 districts of Siena where the ten competitors (the seven who didn’t compete in the previous year and three randomly chosen ones) ride around the massive Piazza del Campo in the centre of the town. The race course is around the piazza three, heart stopping times with as many as 40,000 people crammed into the square all desperate to see the action. The event can trace its history back to the 16th century, prior to this the town held races on buffalo and donkeys before horses were settled on as the beast of choice.

The festivals winning horse is the first to cross the finishing line, even if it is riderless, while the loser is considered to be the second placed horse and not the last to finish. The race is a fierce and anything goes, including interfering with fellow riders and their horses. The winning rider receives an elaborately hand painted palio, silk banner created each year by a different artist.

Calcio Storico Fiorentino (Florentine Football) – Florence – 3rd week of June

Foot Brawl

This is the crazy 50 minute, 27-a-side football/ rugby, free for all that has taken place in Florence’s Piazza di Santa Croce since 1530. Dressed in traditional medieval costume the object of the game is to score a goal, by any means possible. The only things that are banned are sucker punches and kicks to the head.

The strange football tournament is played out between the four ancient quarters of Florence and each has its own colours, traditions and costumes. The teams are Santa Croce (Azzurri, light blue), Santo Spirito (Bianchi, white), San Giovanni (Verdi, Green) and Santa Maria Novella (Rossi, Red). The rules allow players to use their hands and feet and you are allowed to kick, head butt, punch, choke and elbow opponents in order to score.

Corsa dei Ceri – Gubbio, 15th May

Corsa dei Ceri, Gubbio

Since 1160, on the eve of St Ubaldo’s Day, the “Corsa dei Ceri ”, the great candle race, has taken place in Gubbio, Umbria. Three teams carry 25’ wooden candles weighing 900 pounds through the narrow, cobbled streets of Gubbio, up Mount Ingino to the Basilica of St Ubaldo.

There is great competition between the three teams each representing one of three different saints. The carriers all wear the same uniform consisting of a fez, white shirt and white trousers with a different coloured sash to represent the team. St Ubaldo’s crew always wear yellow, St Giorgio’s team, blue and St Anthony’s followers come sporting black.

Despite the Corsa dei Ceri’s pageantry, parades and feasting the result is always a forgone conclusion as St Ubaldo always wins and is the first to enter the basilica. However great exertions still go into the race either way and there is much entertainment for the 30,000 visitors who attend annually to see the spectacle.

Human Chess – Marostica, Nr Venice, Held every alternate years each September

Living Chess Festival

This intellectual sporting festival reputedly dates back to 1454 when two noblemen settled their love for a local girl by playing chess for her hand, with the loser getting to marry her younger sister. It was decided by the Lord that the match should be played out in the town square, below the castle as a game of living chess. He ordered that the parts of the chess pieces were to be played by real people and animals so creating a gigantic human chess game.

Every other year this epic human chess game is re-enacted with all the pageantry and glamour of the supposed original event. The performance includes over 550 people, lasts for 2 hours and is concluded with a great fireworks display. The modern version was introduced in 1923 and claims to faithfully recreate the events of some 600 years before. The next time the display is due to be organised is in 2012.

Palio della Balestra – May and September each year in Gubbio and Sansepolcro

Crossbow Festival

Twice a year there are the great Medieval Crossbow competitions between the two rival towns of Sansepolcro, Tuscany and Gubbio in Umbria that dates back to at least the 15th century. It is mentioned in the biography of Renaissance painter, Pietro della Francesco, who talks about his involvement in the contest in 1453, while the famous Florence banker, Cosimo II de Medici took part in the event in 1612.

The day itself is a colourful display of celebration and friendship with parading, flag throwing demonstrations and plenty of food. The competition itself is in the main piazzas of each town and features up to eighty crossbowmen, all taking turns in trying to get their bolt nearest the centre.

If you would like to find out more about Italy’s Renaissance Festivals and marvellous Medieval Tournaments around the Umbrian, Tuscan countryside or the many other memorable days out, please contact Travelling Content for more information.

 

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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.

Travelling Content Tips – 10 Italian Coffee’s

Helping to dismiss the confusion that holidaymakers in Italy may face when ordering a coffee in the local village bar.

 

"Caffe latte and a wine please"

 

 

Coffee is the staple drink for any Italian and every tourist travelling in Italy will be tempted to go into the local bar and try a café. The bars form the hub of any Italian community and workers gather here in the morning on their way to the office, the old men will sit outside most lunchtimes and everyone pops in for a quick café and free snack on the way home.

Ordering coffee on holiday in Italy

It is essential however, to travel contentedly, that the tourist understands the difference between the Italian menu and the local Starbuck’s if you are to guarantee yourself the invigorating cup you desire. Without much difficulty, language confusions can easily leave you with a small strong coffee or a glass of hot milk instead of the drink you were so desperately looking forward too.

So when the waitress asks “Mi dica”, “tell me”, here is your guide to ordering your favourite drink while on holiday in Italy.

Top Ten Italian Caffés:

1) Espresso or just caffe’ – This is the small, strong, black coffee in a little cup.

2) Caffe’ lungo – Is an ordinary shot of espresso but with added hot water.

 

"Caffe Lungo"

 

3) Cappuccino – A shot of espresso in a cup of hot milk with a foamy top which serves to keep the heat in. They can also be covered in a sprinkling cocoa or cinnamon and served in a large cup.  This is normally considered a breakfast drink and not drunk after midday. The name comes from the Franciscan order called the Capuchin, who wore a beige pointed hooded cloak, a “cappuccio”.

4) Caffelatte – Large milky coffee, normally severed in a tall glass, occasionally with the espresso delivered in a separate little jug for you to add. Although it is common within the UK and America to call this drink a Latte, in Italy all this will get you is a glass of hot milk.

5) Caffe Doppio – A double or long espresso shot. Especially for those in need of caffeine hit.

6) Americano – A traditional American or UK coffee, espresso, hot water and milk, that was produced to emulate peculated coffee for the American soldiers in the Second World War.

7) Caffe macchiato – Is a small café shot with a splash of milk in, the macchiato meaning a “stained” coffee.

8) Ristretto – An extremely strong, small black coffee, a half-sized, double strength espresso that really hits the spot.

9) Caffe’ Freddo – A shot of espresso poured over ice to chill, an ideal drink for a hot summer’s day.

10) Caffe’ Corretto – Coffee with a shot of liqueur, normally drink in the bars of an evening.

Further info:-

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10 Unusual Festivals in Italy

Relaxing in the Upper Tiber Valley

 

Gubbio Amphitheatre

 

The quite, peaceful and rural slopes of the Upper Tiber Valley, in the shadows of the Apennine Mountains are home to a number of unusual festas throughout the year. The area stretches from Umbertide in the south, over the Tuscan border to Pieve San Stefano the most populous village in the north. The region also includes the towns of Citta di Castello, Gubbio, Sansepolcro, Anghiari and Piertralunga.

Some of the celebrations are religious; others stretch back to the medieval period and a couple are artistic show pieces, all however prove to be pure gastronomic delights.

Corso dei Ceri – Gubbio Candle Race, May
Every May 15th the streets of this ancient town are crammed with people, colour and excitement as three 20’ wooden candles race through the narrow alleyways up to the Basilica of St Ubaldo. The whole weekend is a celebration with costumed parades, flag waving and lots of eating.
Palio della Balestra – Sansepolcro/ Gubbio Crossbow Competition, May & September
Since 1594 the towns of Sansepolcro and Gubbio in May and September compete against each with crossbows. This demonstration of skill, nerve and concentration is a two leg contest featuring bowmen in period costume, ceremonial flag throwing displays, parading and copious eating.
Lo Spino, Uphill motor race – Pieve San Stefano, May
Three days of hill racing, where the competitors blast their way a thousand metres along a twisting, winding 7Km course, against the clock. Since 1965 drivers and the crowds in ever increasing numbers have assembled for this exciting spectacle amid some of the most beautiful scenery in Italy.
Umbria Film Festival – Montone, July
Now in its 15th year the Umbrian Film festival grows more popular every year. Previous guest speakers and dignitaries have included Colin Firth, Terry Gilliam and Ken Loach who have lent their support to this picturesque hilltop town and its open-air exploration of European cinema.

Spettacoli Classico – Classical Plays in Gubbio July-August
Gubbio’s first century, Roman Amphitheatre provides an idyllic, romantic setting for a month long series of classical plays, concerts and music. A great way to enjoy the warm summers evenings in the beautiful parklands below the town.

Rione Prato – Citta di Castello Medieval Re-enactment 28-30th August
The residents of the Prato quarter in Citta di Castello’s centre turn back the clocks and take you to Renaissance Italy. Everyone wears period costumes and cantinas are converted into bars or trattoria serving gorgeous home cooked food and drink. You can witness many displays of medieval life, men at arms in mock battles, falconry and handcrafts or just wander around the torch lit streets.

Medieval Festival – Umbertide, September
September gives you another chance to get the old wimple out of the hat box and dust off your chain mail as Umbertide’s citizens stage an exciting Medieval Festival. Complete with jugglers, flag throwing, displays of age-old crafts and battle re-enactments.

Palio dell ‘Oca – Citta di Castello Goose Fair, October
This modern jousting tournament has its roots in medieval times. Today the participants, riding a cart, run a lance through the hole of a barrel of water, suspended two metres above the ground. The winning knight gets the prize of a large, fat, goose. There are also other events, such as climbing the greasy pole, and the game of cooking pots and jugs.

Altrocioccolata Chocolate Festa – Gubbio – October
Four days of debate, lectures, demonstrations but most of all four days of chocolate. In whatever form, taste or use, you may have for this much loved treat, witness the Chocolatiers art at its sweetest.

Fiere di San Florida – Citta di Castello Saint Florida Fair, November
Held in the historic centre of Citta di Castello this three-day celebration of the life of Saint Florido, turns the whole centre into one vast outdoor market. Here you will find many strange and curious buys, from food and drink to handicrafts and tools. There are literally hundreds of stalls throughout the town during this popular fair.

While this list is not exhaustive, it does give you a glimpse of the wonderfully diverse entertainment that is available when you step off the well-beaten tourist track. However with Assisi, Perugia and Florence just down the road you are never far away from the urban hustle and bustle should you miss it.

 

Further Into

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