Tag Archives: tour

Early Women Travel Writers

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu

Nowadays we are totally familiar with the image of lone female travellers, each night there are overseas reporters from the BBC and CNN, travel correspondents in exotic locations and game show hosts traipsing through thick jungles. However, even 100 years ago the sight of a lone female traveller in foreign climes raised eyebrows. Despite this, there were still adventurous women prepared to take on a challenge and discover the world for themselves.

Previously many of the early female travel writers were often nuns, aristocrats or diplomats wives that kept their husbands company on foreign missions. By the nineteenth century it became more common to find women with their own fortunes, these pioneers were intent on seeking strange lands and exotic countries without accompaniment and writing about their discoveries or publishing journals along the way.

One of the earliest recorded female travellers was the pilgrim Margery Kempe (1373 – 1438) whose works were only uncovered in the 1930’s and tell of her travels to Rome, Spain and Jerusalem. Another early author who changed the travel writer genre was Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689 – 1762). Her “Turkish Embassy Letters” whilst accompanying her husband, the Ambassador in Constantinople, gave an enlightening first hand account of the private lives of women in Islamic society.

French adventurer, Mary Catherine le Jumel de Barneville, Countess d’Aulnoy (1650 – 1705), she spent 20 years travelling through Spain and England writing fairy tales which were based around her travels. While Celia Finnes (1662 – 1741) in her notes “Through England on a side-saddle” describes her many journeys on horseback through England and Scotland accompanied by two servants.

Mariana Starke (1761 – 1838) redefined travel writing and is credited with being the creator of the first true European travel guide in 1820 covering France and Italy. Previous books had dwelt principally on art and architecture, whereas Starke’s book offered advice on passports, hotels, and food prices, it also included an exclamation mark rating system too.

Marianne North

Colour was added to the journals of Marianne North (1830 – 1890), who after her father died in 1869 decided that as a woman of independent means she would travel the continents. Between 1871 and 1885 she went all over the world producing beautifully rich paintings and articles of native plants flowers and fruits. North’s painting trips took her to, amongst other places, Canada, Brazil, Japan, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and the Seychelles. Her vast collection of paintings was donated to Kew Botanical Gardens, where they can still be seen today, exhibited in a specially constructed gallery.

Lady Blessington

Letter and article travel writing were also a popular pursuit during the eighteenth century and travellers such as Lady Marguerite Blessington (1789 – 1849), Mary Wollstonecraft (1759 – 1797) and Lady Anna Riggs Miller (1741 – 1781) all had accounts of their European journeys published in book form. Elizabeth Craven – Turkey 1750 – 1828 noted for her exotic lifestyle and direct, no nonsense, editorials added to the travel writer’s armoury with her 1789 travelogue “A Journey Through the Crimea to Constantinople.”

The nineteenth century saw a number of independent, intrepid women take off and record their adventures, such as Isabella Bird’s (1831 – 1904) worldwide exploits and May Crommelin’s (1850 – 1930) travel stories in Idler Magazine about her trips in the Andes, the Caribbean and North Africa. Swiss adventurer, Isabelle Eberhardt (1877 – 1904), converted to Islam and travelled, posing as a man around Tunisia and Algeria. Her exploits were published posthumously after her untimely death at the age of 27 in a flash flood in Algeria.

Nellie Bly

Elizabeth Cochrane aka Nellie Bly (1864 – 1922) was an investigative journalist with the New York World Newspaper. She became the first person to travel around the world in less than 80 days, while re-enacting Jules Verne’s famous novel, meeting the author on route. Armed with one set of clothes, a small travel bag, £200 and a quantity of gold she set off from New York in November 1888 arriving back some 72 days later.

These and many other such ladies who took risks, chances and with their articles, letters and publications helped bring a new, personal perspective to the whole genre of travel writing and in doing so opened up opportunities for others to follow in their footsteps.

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.

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.

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.

Raphael – Making the Impossible, Possible

Detail "Madonna in the Meadow"

Renaissance Art in Umbria
In Umbria we are truly blessed with magnificent works of art from Renaissance artists. It’s not just that there are so many important pieces from the period scattered around the province or that many of the geniuses were born or trained in the area, but also the fact that many frescoes and paintings are still in the original settings the artist intended for them to be seen.

Detail in the Meadow

In Umbria you don’t just get to appreciate the paintings but the whole environment. Its ultramarine skies, the billowing clouds and the green rolling landscape that shaped the way the masters thought about their compositions. Burnt umber, raw Siena and Naples yellow; these are not just colours on a pallet in this part of the world but an essential piece of the countryside.

Now add to all this wonder the wonderful exhibition that the medieval hill town of Todi has arranged for this summer. The organisers have achieved the impossible by arranging a display of 38 high quality, full size, digital reproductions of Raphael paintings, which are shown together in the marvellous setting of Todi’s Palazzo

Detail "Terranuova"

del Vignola.

The viewer will get to see the paintings in the countryside where as a boy; just up the road in Perugia, Raphael trained under the expert tutorage of the Master Perugino. Here too Raphael left his mark in the city, with examples where he is seen ably assisting his master, along with important pieces of his own.

Detail "Gonzaga"

The Raphael display includes early works under taken in Urbino and Perugia, to his Sienese and Florentine period and culminating in his later years working on Rome.  There are also film documentaries detailing the life and work of Raphaello Sanzio giving visitors a truly informative and imaginative interpretation of the artist.

The exhibition will run until the 28th of August in the sumptuous surroundings of the 16th century Palazzo del Vignola, Todi.

Where to see Raphael’s work in Umbria:-

-Citta di Castello, Pinocoteca Comunale Gallery – Religious banner believed to be one of his earliest works, in poor condition now.

-Gubbio, S. Maria Servi Church – Religious banner

-Perugia, S. Servio Church – Fresco, Raphael started the top section before moving on

and an elderly Perugino, in one of his last works completed the side panels.

-Perugia, Collegio del Cambio – Perugino fresco, it is believed Raphael assisted him.

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If you would like to find out more about art trips and painting tours around the Umbrian, Tuscan countryside or the many other memorable days out, please contact Travelling Contentfor more information.

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Painting on the Borderlands

A Tuscan, Umbrian art tour that will take you to the centre of Renaissance painting. 


One of the greatest painting destinations is Italy’s, Upper Tiber Valley and the heartland of the Renaissance painters. It is here on the borders of Tuscany and Umbria that the likes of Michelangelo, Perugino and Raphael once wandered. Giotto passed through on his way to paint Assisi and Signorelli stopped off to decorate the little church in Morra.

La Verna

The colours are somehow more vibrant, burnt umber and raw sienna seem to have more meaning here and you’ll find sap green is everywhere. The steely grey of the Apennine Mountains, cloaked in emerald green woodlands, set against the heavens, reminiscent of a Renaissance sky, a celesta blue.

Caprese Michelangelo

Take a trip to Arezzo and see       Da Vinci’s  Ponte Buriano featured in the background of the Mona Lisa or visit La Verna and see the beauty that St Francis found and Ghirlandaio painted. There are a myriad of tiny churches and chapels with rare frescoes, all painted by the grand masters. You can follow the route of Piero della Francesca whose unique fresco of a pregnant Madonna graces Monterchi and his painting responsible for saving Sansepolcro from destruction during the Second World War.

Trip Itinerary

Citta di Castello

The ideal day out around the borderlands takes in places of interest for artists, with plenty of dramatic landscapes to paint. As you wind your way around the Tuscan, Umbrian border your route should include:-

Citta di Castello – the excellent Pinacoteca Comunale has a marvellous Renaissance collection, which includes works by Luca Signorelli and Raphael.

Monte Santa Maria Tiberina

Sante Maria Tiberina – follow the narrow country lanes through to this wooded valley and stop off to admire the gorgeous views across the Umbrian countryside.


Monterchi – continue through the twisting trail and the Piero della Francesca painting of Madonna del Parto safely kept in Monterchi.

Anghiari – drive onwards across the border to the beautiful Tuscan hill town, famous for a battle and last fresco in Florence by Leonardo da Vinci.

Caprese Michelangelo – ancient village perched high on its Tuscan hill and birthplace of Michelangelo.

Torre Sansepolcro

La Verna – journey to the serene mountain with its St Franciscan monastery that was painted by Ghirlandaio. La Verna situated in one of the most peaceful locations around, with breathtaking panoramas of the Tuscan landscape.

Sansepolcro – gradually working your way back to see Piero della Francesca’s painting of the Resurrection in the Museo Civico

This wonderful landscape with its rolling hills clad in beech, birch and oak, delightful, historic little hill towns and earthy rich food that taste of the very countryside will all leave you with a feeling you have somehow connect directly with the painters than by merely looking at the artworks.


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Italy Day Trips – St Francis’s Hermitage, La Verna

One of the best forms of relaxation is a sample of nature’s own medicine. Many cures, treatments and therapies for the world’s ills are based on natural remedies, but simply spending time enjoying natures beauty can have a great restorative effect. When in 1213 St Francis established his hermitage at La Verna in Tuscany it was for exactly this reason he chose the inhospitable but beautiful location as somewhere to relax and contemplate.

History of La Verna

In 1213 St Francis and St Leo were walking through the Montefeltro region when they met the Count of Chiusi, Orlando Catani. In exchange for praying for his salvation the count gave Mount La Verna to St Francis and his companions, to use as a place of peace and solitude. When St Francis first visited the mountain he was greeted by a great flock of birds that seemed to demonstrate the pleasure of his arrival. St Francis took this as a sign from God that here was where the order should establish one of their hermitages.

It was here on the 14th September 1224, his last visit to La Verna, that he received the stigmata of Christ.  He died two years later on 4th October 1226. Not long after this, continued interest in the hermitage lead to the establishment of the monastery.  It was such an admired destination that within 300 years the sprawling collection of buildings that are present today had taken shape.  

The monastery centres on a massive crevice in Monte Verna, said to have opened up at the exact moment Jesus died on the cross. And it is here you can see the cave where St Francis often slept, the over hanging rock, beneath which he meditated and the precipice where he fought with the devil. There is also a shrine on the site indicating where he received the stigmata. All of this not only makes La Verna one of the most holy locations in the Christian world but also a place of great serenity and calm (except of course during a Bank Holiday when the tourists flock in by the hundreds).

Tour of the Monastery

One of the most breathtaking views is from the Quadrante, the clock face on the basilica’s bell tower and standing in the wide courtyard you can overlook the splendour of the Casentino Valley. The courtyard also features a huge but simple wooden cross that over looks the verdant panorama, the distant mountains and towns of Poppi and Bibbiena.

The entire site is such a peaceful and tranquil location, where you can wander freely around a labyrinth of passageways and corridors looking into tiny chapels, oratories and shrines. There are surprises at every turn as you explore the monastery and everywhere you look you can see the luscious green canopy.

The Chapel of Relics in the basilica contains an interesting collection of items that belonged to St Francis, including his weather worn, coarse woollen habit, a wooden bowl and a blood soaked bandage used to cover his wounds. There are some sixteen tiny chapels and places of worship throughout the site, each with paintings, sculptures and frescoes depicting the lives of the saints.

A walk in the countryside

Once you have discovered every nook and cranny in La Verna you can work up an appetite with a vigorous walk around the trails and paths that cover the mountainside, they are excellently marked and once again lead to a hundred wondrous views.

The Rock of Brother Lupo, The Chapel of La Penna and the Chapel of Blessed John are an integral part of the National Park of Monte Falterona, of which La Verna is its magnificent centrepiece. 

La Verna is a fabulous attraction and one that is testament to St Francis’s love of nature. From its lofty heights you can look down on the surrounding Tuscan woodlands and valleys and appreciate the wonderful simplicity and spectacular beauty of it all.


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