Ciao a tutti! Since 2020, I have been posting the series of blogs, “Our Italy.” In this series, I share bloggers’ experiences of Italy, a country whose culture has captivated the world for thousands of years. I think now is the time to share these memories, knowing that one day we will all be able to return, inspired anew by the Italian people and their land.
Karen Haid is a multifaceted person, who was raised by parents who had lived in Italy for 5 years after their marriage and returned to the United States as Itaophiles. They transferred their love of Italian cuisine and culture to their children. Karen’s primary focus was the world of classical music prior to her immersion in Italian language when she visited Italy as an adult. Karen remained in Italy, where, on her way to becoming fluent in Italian, she has earned the Dante Alighieri Society’s certification of mother-tongue equivalency and a diploma in the teaching of Italian language and culture.
Several years ago, Karen’s primary focus became the regions of Basilicata and Calabria. Karen lived in Calabria and so she was able to experience the Italian culture in that region firsthand. Given her advanced level of Italian, when she now returns to Calabria as a tour guide, she is able to have many meaningful and wonderful conversations with locals, in which nothing gets lost in translation. Karen now promotes and has written about Calabria in her blog and book of the same name, Calabria: The Other Italy. The explanation for Karen’s fascination with Calabria, from her blog:
…from the moment she set foot on Calabrian soil, the author was intrigued by the characteristic determination of the Calabrese people, the wealth of its history and art, the beauty and variety of its landscape, and its rich culture, most often celebrated in terms of extraordinary culinary offerings. Calabria: The Other Italy grew out of her four-year immersion, observing, interacting and absorbing the wonders of the people and the place.
Recently, the rest of Italy has recognized Calabria’s beauty as well. From Karen’s blog:
Tropea, Calabria has just been voted the Borgo dei Borghi, the Village of the Villages, in a contest that asked Italians to choose the most beautiful amongst the Borghi più belli d’Italia, or Italy’s most beautiful villages. A difficult choice, to be sure, but Tropea isn’t called la Perla del Mediterraneo for nothing. Let’s have a look at this Pearl of the Mediterranean!
Ciao a tutti! For 2020, I have changed the name of my series, “Your Italian Travel Tips,” to “Our Italy.” In this series, I share bloggers’ experiences of Italy, a country whose culture has captivated the world for thousands of years. I think now is the time to share these memories, knowing that one day we will all be able to return, inspired anew by the Italian people and their land.
Today I am happy to share a guest blog written by Silvia Donati from Bologna Uncovered. Here is what Sylvia says about herself and Bologna on her website:
My name is Silvia Donati, I’m a licensed tour guide with specialization in hiking and the environment. I’m also a freelance journalist, writing for English-language publications about Italian travel, food and culture, including Italy Magazine, where I work as a contributing editor.
Bologna Uncovered started as a blog about my native Bologna and surrounding region of Emilia-Romagna. Despite being often overlooked in favor of more popular Italian destinations, this area offers a lot in terms of sightseeing, art, history, cuisine, natural landscapes, and fun times.
As I added more articles to the blog, readers started asking me if I offered tours in the area. At the same time, I developed a passion for hiking and mountains. Thus, I decided to obtain my license to work professionally as a guide.
I believe that active travel is the best way to travel. Only the slow pace of walking allows you to fully experience a place – to see, hear, smell, touch, and feel; to slow down, talk to the locals, explore hidden corners; and to be light on the earth.
I have always been intrigued by the city of Bologna, said to be home to the oldest university in the world and of course wonderful, rich Italian cooking. Think Prosciutto di Parma, Balsamic vinegar, and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, combined with butter and cream to make delicious sauces.
As one who loves to search the Internet for information about Italy, I have seen countless panoramas of Bologna, with its sea of rose colored buildings and their red rooftops flanking the winding, ancient streets.
But Silvia’s blog Why You Should See San Michele in Bosco in Bologna describes the wonders of Bologna from a different viewpoint. This blog focuses on the hillside outside of this great city that provides the classic panoramic view, but also contains an important architectural site. Below is an excerpt from her blog. Click on the link to read more about this Italian treasure in the hills outside Bologna.
San Michele in Bosco is mainly known for the panoramic view over Bologna, and rightly so because it is one of the best you can get of the city, from the so-called piazzale (plaza), the area in front of the church.
But San Michele in Bosco also refers to the architectural complex comprising both the church and nearby former monastery that stand on the plaza; it is one of the oldest religious settlements built in Bologna… Click here to read more.
If you’d like, leave a comment about Bologna..
Where did you visit? How did the experience make you feel? I’d love to hear from you!
Last month I had the pleasure of speaking with Bob Sorrentino on his podcast for Italiangenealogy.com, and I’ve included the link to our 30 minute conversation, entitled “How to Learn Italian for Travel” at the end of this blog.
If you listen, you’ll hear about my effort to find my Occhipinti relatives in Sicily and also about Bob’s fascinating family tree. Bob was kind enough to ask me the story behind why I wrote my Conversational Italian for Travelers books, and of course I couldn’t resist including some of my tips for learning Italian near the end of the podcast!
As many of you probably know, I have been building the Occhipinti family tree with my cousin, Jennifer Petrino of Sicilianfamilytree.com for over 4 years now. Actually, I should say that Jennifer has been building my Occhipinti family tree, as she has done all the research, with me serving only to outline the information I want her to find! This effort finally culminated in a long-anticipated trip last September to the Occhipinti home town of Ragusa, Sicily, which I wrote about in the blog Your Italian Travel Tips – Visit Ragusa, Sicily and Experience Centuries of Culture.
Jennifer introduced me to Bob Sorrentino’s website, Italiangenealogy.com, and I was immediately impressed. Bob has compiled a treasure trove of information about Italian Genealogy that covers many details of the field and he makes this information free to his readers. On his website one finds information on Italian family lines, Italian history, and Italian law and politics, with articles such as, “How Professional Genealogists Determine Ancestral Nobility in Italy” and “Medieval Genealogical Research.” I was also fascinated by the research he did to find his relatives back to the 900s AD and what he uncovered about his relatives along the way. I even found a video map of the peoples who have inhabited Sicily over the ages, which I was so enthralled with that I’ve copied it to this blob at the end of this section.
Here is what Bob has to say about his work, in his own words:
I was always a history buff and enjoyed going though the family photo albums. One item in the album was my great grandfather’s “calling card” that my maternal grandmother brought from Italy. The story was that he was a Count or at least Italian Nobility.
About 12 years ago I began the research into both my parents Italian families… I thought it would be fun to not only share my findings, but potentially help others find their roots. Not being a professional genealogist, I figured the best way to do this would be to create a website and a blog http://www.italiangenealogy.blog.
The blog is fun, but it is only a one way medium, so in early 2020 I create my podcast to interview not only professionals, that can help people with research and getting Italian citizenship, but just regular people that want to tell their story.
And now, through the magic of the internet, I’m happy to be able to share my experiences searching for my Italian heritage and my tips to learn Italian!
Here is the link to the Podcast on Italiangenealogy.com
Ciao a tutti! For 2020, I have changed the name of my series, “Your Italian Travel Tips,” to “Our Italy.” In this series, I share bloggers’ experiences of Italy, a country whose culture has captivated the world for thousands of years. I think now is the time to share these memories, knowing that one day we will all be able to return, inspired anew by the Italian people and their country.
Today I am happy to share a guest blog written by my friend Jo Mackay from Bookings for You.com. Jo Mackay’s company, Bookings for You, offers a range of holiday villas and apartments in Italy and France for rental, and Jo herself has owned a holiday home on the beautiful Lake Maggiore since 2006.
When I read Jo’s Blog about Lago Maggiore I really felt like I had found a kindred spirit. Lago Maggiore was the very first place I had visited as well when I returned to Italy as an adult in… 2001! Prior to this, I had only spent one week in the cities of Rome and Florence as a college student. I immediately fell in love with the beauty of this large, oval lake carved out from the surrounding pre-Alps just north of Milan. Due to its temperate stunning location, temperate climate, and many lush gardens filled with exotic plants, Lago Maggiore has been a favorite vacation spot for the well-to-do in Italy and Europe for centuries.
I enjoyed my stay on Lago Maggiore so much, in fact, that I made the town of Stresa on Lago Maggiore the focus of my Conversational Italian for Travelers story that is the framework for my books to teach Italian.
The story dialogues about Caterina, from my Conversational Italian for Travelersbooks, are free to listen to on my website, Learntravelitalian.com, either on your computer or phone (no APP required). Click on the Chapter 1 link on my website to start the story in simple, beginning Italian, when Caterina boards a plane from Chicago to Italy. If you’d like to hear more advanced Italian, click on the Chapter 13 link,when Caterina and her Italian family begin their Ferragosto vacation in Stresa on Lago Maggiore,
And, of course, be sure to read Jo Mackay’s wonderful photographic summary of Stresa, the small towns that dot Lago Maggiore, and the exotic islands within it by clicking the link below:
Ciao a tutti! For March 2020 and for the rest of the year, I have decided to change the name of my series, “Your Italian Travel Tips,” to “Our Italy.” In this series, I will share bloggers’ experiences of Italy, a country whose culture has captivated the world for thousands of years. I think now is the time to share these memories, knowing that one day we will all be able to return, inspired anew by the Italian people and their country.
Today I am happy to share a guest blog written by my friends Ilene and Gary from Our Italian Journey.
Ilene and Gary are a retired couple from the United States who, after a “journey” that started in 2015, became dual American-Italian citizens in 2019. They have been traveling to and blogging about their experiences in Italy since 2010. Read on for their post La Traviata by Verdi — A Spectacular Evening, from their visit to Verona in 2019.
Ilene and Gary experienced their first Opera, La Traviata, in Verona’s outdoor amphitheater. Reading the account of the special evening Ilene and Gary shared together brought back fond memories for me, as La Traviata is also the first opera I ever attended. I was only in the 4th grade, and the entire 4th grade of my public school, about 80 children, was bused into New York City to the Metropolitan Opera House and treated to a weekday matinee.
The Metropolitan Opera House was the most stunning building I had ever entered, with red velvet on the floors, gold leaf on the walls, and a large, starburst-shaped crystal chandelier hanging down to greet us as we passed into the grand foyer. There were thousands of children there from neighboring schools. The excitement in the air was palpable. The singing, and the period sets and costumes were unforgettable. Even though we were young, and most of us did not understand Italian, we sat still and our eyes were fixed on what was happening on the stage. I have been an fan of Italian opera ever since and will never forget this first experience.
Reading about Ilene and Gary’s spectacular evening during their first viewing of La Traviata made me realize that I need to put this type of opera experience on my bucket list for when I can return to Italy. And I hope that those of you who are not opera buffs — as Ilene and Gary were not when they experienced La Traviata in Verona — will think of Opera as something you might enjoy as well.
Below is just one of the fantastic images Ilene and Gary share on Our Italian Journey from this evening. Also included in the blog is short recording of the most famous aria of this opera, “Brindisi” (The Drinking Song).
Please leave a comment about your first or your most memorable opera.
Where were you? How did the experience make you feel? I’d love to hear from you!
And… Ilene and Gary have graciously included a copy of my pocket travel book, “Conversational Italian for Travelers “Just the Important Phrases” on their website, under the section “My favorite Travel Tools.” Now you can order my book directly from their site!
Grazie mille, Ilene and Gary for including me on your blog and for your kind words about my book: “Author Kathryn Occhipinti has become a friend through social media. She sent us this book to get our thoughts about it. We love it. It is a great little book – packed with just the right information. A must as a traveling companion in Italy.”
Here is the link to Ilene and Gary’s blog from “Our Italian Journey.”
Ciao a tutti! For my February edition of “Your Italian Travel Tips,” I am happy to share a guest blog written by my friend Martine Bertin-Peterson from Goût et Voyage Taste and Travel.
I recently discovered, and fell in love with Martine’s website and the culinary tours she offers in France and Italy. Read on to learn a bit about Martine and her tour company Goût et Voyage Taste and Travel. Then, read Martine’s guest blog with the beautiful photos she has provided and take a short virtual tour of the towns in Umbria through her eyes. I’m sure after reading her blog you’ll want to visit to Umbria yourself and see all the wonders this unique Italian region has to offer!
And… Martine has graciously included a copy of my pocket travel book, Conversational Italian for Travelers “Just the Important Phrases” as a part of the package for the guests on her next culinary tour of Umbria. I’m so happy to have provided a small contribution to her tour group!
Here is how Martine describes her passion for France and Italy:
Goût et Voyage was founded by Martine Bertin-Peterson to bring together her lifetime passions of travel, cooking and culture.
Creating unforgettable memories, Martine serves as the escort for all Goût et Voyage culinary travel adventures. The signature program, “Taste of Provence” is also offered in Italy, “Taste of Umbria & Tuscany.”
Martine’s background and experience are as wide-ranging as her interests. She has decades of culinary experience gained through formal and informal cooking courses in the United States, France and Italy. Born in France and fluent in 5 languages, Martine has traveled to more than 50 countries across 5 continents. She has escorted travel groups throughout Europe and Latin America over the past 30+ years.
A Taste of Umbria
by Martine Bertin-Peterson
Umbria, the “green heart” of Italy, is Tuscany’s quieter, less touristy neighbor. Avoid the traffic and hustle and bustle of Tuscany and spend time in Umbria’s charming medieval hill towns, visit its cultural sites and its taste its regional specialties.
Assisi, the home of St. Francis and a UNESCO World Heritage site is perhaps Umbria’s most famous- and busy- town. The Upper Church of the magnificent Basilica tells the story of St. Francis’ life through 28 frescoes by the renowned 13th century artist, Giotto. The equally impressive transept was painted by Giotto’s master, Cimabue. I am not usually a fan of recorded “guides” but it is worth a few euros to grab the ear sets at the front of the church and listen to the history and description of these well preserved works of art and devotion.
Not far from Assisi is Perugia, the capital of Umbria. Skip the lower town with its urban sprawl and head to the historic center where you’ll find a variety of museums and architectural sites. Perugia is a bustling university town with lovely shops and cafes, and of course, the Perugina chocolate factory, just outside of town (open for tours daily). I prefer to visit Perugia at the end of the day, when the centuries old ritual of the “passegiata” takes place. Snag a seat at an outdoor cafe, order a Aperol spritz and watch as all of Perugia takes its pre-dinner stroll.
Visit Spoleto, home of the annual music festival, Festival of 2 Worlds in June and July to catch world-class opera, dance and orchestral artists. Gubbio, Umbria’s oldest village is also worth a visit. Its Roman theater, mausoleum and palaces and towers offer glimpses into daily life of the distant past.
Take a break from these better known towns and head to Spello, home of the Infiorata Flower Carpet Festival, (https://www.infiorataspello.it/) If you are lucky to visit Spello during the festival (June 13-14, 2020) you’ll witness stunning floral “carpets” throughout the town in celebration of the feast of Corpus Domini. Even if you can’t make the Infiorata, the homes and shops in Spello are decorated with colorful flowers all Spring and Summer.
Deruta, the ceramic capital of Italy, is definitely worth a visit if you are interested in Italian crafts. Many of the ceramic shops invite visitors to watch as their artisans create dishes, platters and wall hangings in traditional patterns and shapes. These pieces make thoughtful gifts for friends and family. Custom pieces, like my lemon wall hangings, were designed by Ceramiche Artistiche Gialletti Giulio, upon request and were safely shipped to my home.
To take advantage of all this sightseeing, you’ll need to fortify yourself with the region’s specialty foods. Pork and pork products – ham, sausage and all manner of “salume” reign supreme. Pair these with the local sheep’s milk cheese (pecorino) and a hunk of the oven-baked, unsalted bread, typical of Umbria. You’ll want to accompany your meal with an Umbrian wine, Sagrantino di Montefalco or a Grechetto from Assisi.
Many of the local wineries are small and family-owned. For a modest fee, you can have a tour of the vineyards and cellars, followed by a guided tasting of several wines accompanied by nibbles of salami, bruschetta, cheese and olive oil. A listing of these wineries may be found here: http://www.stradadelsagrantino.it/en/wineries/montefalco.php
As an independently published author, I am pleased to announce that I have become a member of “The Independent Author Network of writers” for 2020.
IAN is a partner member of the Alliance of Independent Authors and has been helping to promote independent authors since 2010 by providing support through their website and social media accounts.
This is why, as you may have noticed, there is now a link to my “Independent Author Network” IAN page you can find by scrolling down on the right sidebar of my blog.
Visit my IAN author page for all the links to my websites and social media, nicely set out on one page for easy access!
Also, my IAN author page features a cover photo for each of my books. Just click on the image and “look inside” each of my books to see the table of contents and read the first chapter of each. If you like what you see, there are also links to purchase the books on Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.com.
I should mention that readers of my IAN author page site may be surprised to see that last year I published a second pocket travel book, Conversational French for Travelers “Just the Important Phrases.”The concept and style of this book is identical to my popular lightweight and compact Conversational Italian for Travelers “Just the Important Phrases.” I owe a huge “merci beaucoup” to Nada Sneige Fuleihan for providing the French translation and collaborating with me to adapt my original Italian book into French. After a “trial run” by myself when I visited France in 2018, I am happy with the results and I believe this book will be just as useful to French travelers as my Italian book has been for Italian travelers.
Of course, the restaurant section in my Conversational French for Travelers “Just the Important Phrases”book had to be changed from the original Italia version, and many wonderful French dishes are now listed in place of the Italian. For this, I have to give my utmost thanks to the well-known chef and restaurateur in Chicago, Chef Dominique Tougne, the current owner of the French restaurant Bistro Chez Moi in Chicago, where I have had the pleasure to enjoy many authentic and delicious French meals.
I have also set up a new website for this French book, under my publishing company’s name, Stella Lucente. Check out my Stella Lucente.com website for more information on all things French! I enjoy posting French language tips and information about French culture and current events from a wide variety of sources on my Stella Lucente French Facebook page.
This year I have started “almost a phrase a day” tweets from Monday to Friday from my new book on @travelfrench1, with the same phrase tweeted simultaneously in Italian on my Twitter @travelitalian1. I follow many other interesting bloggers, magazines, and news media outlets that post about France and Italy on Twitter and retweet their articles on my sites. Check out my Twitter feeds when you check in to Twitter for up-to-date news and information about your favorite places to visit!
If you are planning a trip to France this year, I hope you will check out my social media sites and consider my new French pocket travel book as a guide.
Conversational French for Travelers “Just the Important Phrases” pocket travel book is now available! YOUR traveling companion in France! All the Italian phrases you need to know to enjoy your trip to France are right here and fit right into your pocket or purse.
Finally, if anyone is curious about how I came to write my books and what I have planned for the future, you can visit my IAN Author review on the IAN Occhipinti review. Grazie mille! Mille mercis!
Ciao a tutti! For January I would like to share a blog from Popsicle Society written by Ribana, a native of Romania who shares with us her love of travel in Italy through her writing.
About once a month, I have been re-blogging a post about lesser-known sites or places to visit in Italy under the title “Your Italian Travel Tips.”
Ribana recently traveled to a lesser-known, but strikingly scenic region in the northeastern-most tip of Italy, Trentino-Alto-Adige. Tentino-Alto-Adige is made up of many small towns nestled in valleys that are carpeted in lush greenery, at the base of tall hills lined with forests of deep green, perfectly proportioned, stately fir trees, which create a picture-perfect Christmas setting year-round. The Italian Dolomite Alps rise even higher in the background, their jagged peaks tipped with snow. When snowfall blankets both hills and valleys, thousands of tourists visit every winter season to enjoy winter sports.
From reading Ribana’s blog, Discovering Our World: Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy, one can tell that she is truly enchanted by this region. Ribana’s panoramic photographs of each major city in the region are accompanied by a description the city’s historical importance and cultural highlights. At the end of the blog are mouthwatering images of the regions’ cuisine. Ribana’s blog has inspired me to put this charming region on my bucket list of “must see” places in Italy during the winter months. Read on and see what winter-time fun awaits you in this along this northernmost border of the boot of Italy.
“There is a region, in Italy, located precisely on the border with Austria and Switzerland, among the best known for the beauty of its mountains, but not only. Trentino Alto Adige is also nature, summer and winter sports, hiking and trekking, art and culture, the mountain massifs, with their glaciers that seem to sparkle in the sun, dominate this region.
Trentino is a real paradise for those who practice winter sports! Most of the Trentino landscape is dominated by the Dolomites, which constitute a unique environment recognized by UNESCO as a Natural Heritage Site.
There are 800 kilometers of slopes and also numerous snow parks, ski areas more suitable for families with specialized instructors and snow kindergartens.
Winter is great for winter sports lovers, although in some localities, such as the Marmolada, Stelvio and Tonale, it is possible to ski even in the summer months.
Some background: When I traveled to Europe last year, I signed up for several of the WALKS tours. I was so impressed by the organization of the tours and the quality of the tour guides that I decided to become an affiliate advertiser.
This is why, as you may have noticed, there are two new images that mention WALKS of Italy on the sidebar of this blog.
One image provides a link to one of the WALKS tours, and will take you directly to their website, so you can check out the company yourself and, of course, purchase a the “Venice in a Day” tour.
The second, brightly colored image of a tourist map of Italy on my sidebar
is directly above a link to a page I have created that lists the many other tours that WALKS of Italy offers in Venice, Rome, Florence, and Milan.
These links will also take you directly to the WALKS website, so if you find one you like you can make a purchase.
I do receive a small fee as an affiliate partner with WALKS, as mentioned on the page if you click one of the links on this blog. For this, I thank you all very much!
For anyone planning their trip to Italy in 2020, consider a WALKS of Italy tour. If you do choose to take a WALKS tour, please feel free to leave a comment about your experience on my More WALKS of Italy Tours page.
Ciao a tutti! For October, I would like to share details of my recent visit to the ancestral hometown of my Occhipinti family, which is called Ragusa, and is located high in the mountains of the southeastern tip of Sicily.
About once a month, I have been re-blogging a post about lesser-known sites or places to visit in Italy under the title “Your Italian Travel Tips.” I’ve been featuring travel bloggers in this series, but this month I will use this feature to show a bit of what I’ve just experienced in Ragusa in “travel blogger style,” with my own emphasis on language and history.
Before starting our virtual blogging tour of Ragusa, it should be mentioned that, due to the popularity of the BBC series Detective Montalbano (Commissario Montalbano), based on the detective novels of the brilliant Andrea Camilleri, who the world lost this past July 17, 2019,
the ancient Baroque towns of Ragusa and nearby Scicli and Modica, along with many places along the coast of Southern Sicily, have come into the forefront once again.
Yes, it is true. I am a HUGE fan of the Detective Montalbano series! Over the years, this BBC series has helped me to gain an understanding of how people really use common Italian expressions (most of which, of course are not found in textbooks, and which I try to focus on in my own books and blogs).
Anyone who has attended even one of my Italian lessons has heard my recommendation for using the Detective Montalbano series as an aid to learning Italian. Listen to the characters as they interact, pick out the phrases you understand and focus on how these phrases are used. Some characters will be easier to understand than others, just like people in real life. One caveat—don’t try to understand the character Catarella, who speaks his own version of Sicilian/Italian that even the other characters often mention they do not understand!
Actually, it is amazing that I waited until this late in the blog to mention that I visited many of the locations where the Detective Montalbano series is filmed!
If anyone else is a fan of the Detective Montalbano series, you should know that the entire set of the Montelusa police station is now on permanent exhibition in the city of Scicli and that the Montalbano character’s villa at Punta Secca is now a tourist attraction, along with the restaurant Enzo da Mare a little further down on the beach. There are even “Detective Montalbano” tours on the internet. If you’d like to create your own tour, simply download the sites of interest from the Ragusa Turismo Site on the internet.
You will need a car to visit the sites outside of Ragusa, though, as the train is not very efficient in Sicily (or so I am told).
Particulars of Visiting Ragusa
Transportation (or lack of it) to your hotel:
Ragusa Ibla, or the historic, older section of Ragusa, is an ancient city, carved into the side of a mountain, with narrow, winding cobblestone streets that are interconnected by many steep and just as winding stairways. As such, most of the city is protected by a limited traffic zone. Tour buses and city buses, along with a train station, are located in lots at the base of this mountain city. So, practically speaking, the first thing to do once you have booked your hotel is to contact the hotel before you arrive (either over the phone or through the Internet), the best way to get from those lots to the hotel front door! Many hotels will send a porter to help with luggage, and many drivers know also that it will be necessary for them to get out of the car and to walk with luggage to get their guests to their hotel door. It is always better to arrange this beforehand to eliminate confusion and any hidden fees.
Where I’ve stayed:
Given the size and age of Ragusa Ibla, it should be noted that accommodations are provided mainly through bed and breakfast style hotels.
The exception is the San Giorgio Hotel, which is literally built into the side of the southern part of the mountainside of Ragusa Ibla. I did stay at this hotel in 2016, and found the staff so pleasant and accommodating (the concierge actually took it upon himself to help me find the location of my great grandfather’s home) that I would recommend this hotel for those who want a more formal stay. Some of the rooms do not have windows, though, given the location, so I would ask about this if it is a concern. Otherwise, the hotel furnishing were modern, the hotel itself was clean, breakfast was lovely, and as I’ve mentioned the staff were wonderful, and even overly concerned that I enjoy my stay, some even mentioning their cousins with the Occhipinti name.
I have to admit that I chose the bed and breakfast I stayed at just recently for my 7 day trip based mostly on photos of the breakfast selection I found on the internet! After several evenings of searching, I came upon the breakfast room of the lovely Hotel Sabbinirica, and chose to stay in the guesthouse around the back of the main hotel. The guest house was spacious and clean, with a small courtyard, although it did not offer a view of the city. And the breakfast did not disappoint! Every day the owners were on sight to make fresh espresso drinks to order and the breakfast table was laden with fruit, many varieties of Sicilian pastries (with new ones to try each day), Sicilian cheeses, yogurt, hard boiled eggs, toast and cold cuts. Juices, as usual throughout Italy, were freshly squeezed. And the breakfast room was charming, a mixture of the old and new, built into the side of the mountain.
The owners came to pick us up from the parking at the foot of the mountain in a motorized golf cart and drove us to the entrance of the bed and breakfast, showed us our room, and very kindly gave us directions on how to reach the main piazza (which was not far away) with the restaurants for dinner. At the reception were pamphlets that held suggestions for tours, both group and private and notice of a bus schedule to the surrounding town. To the side of the reception area was a small boutique filled with handcrafted Sicilian pottery and embroidery.
After our check-in, it was a long walk up the stairs each evening to reach the Hotel Sabbinirica from the taxi station at the Piazza Repubblica, or an even longer climb from the parking lot below. But, once reached, the hotel is on the same level as the lively main piazza that is lined with most of the shops and restaurants in town and hosts the largest church, San Giorgio at its far end. In the morning and evening, the hotel entrance boasted spectacular views of Ragusa Superior, and I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed my stay at this hotel.
There are many charming bed and breakfasts in Ragusa Ibla. If you have a favorite, please share your experience!
Where to eat for a special night:
There are many restaurants in Ragusa that offer local specialties, from pizza to formal dining with all courses (antipasto, primo of pasta, secondo of fish or meat, and dolce). When traveling, I usually choose the restaurant where I have dinner on the spur of the moment, based on the location I end up at after I finish exploring for the day (side street not main piazza), the menu (no pictures, local specialties) and the clientele (locals).
While I was not in Ragusa every evening, so I cannot give an exhaustive list of restaurant recommendations, I did dine at MareDentro twice for dinner, and loved their fresh seafood and preparation of traditional Sicilian dishes.
I also had one special dinner with my traveling companion at the Duomo restaurant of Chef Ciccio Sultano. The webiste Great Italian Chefs says: “One of Sicily’s best-loved chefs, Ciccio Sultano has traveled as far as New York to hone his craft. Now back home, Ciccio’s two-Michelin-starred restaurant Duomo is the standard bearer for Sicilian haute cuisine, attracting diners from far and wide to the city of Ragusa.”
My experience truly lived up to the hype. Despite the fact that we had only ordered a primo and secondo course, we were offered so many “special” treats that the chef “would be so pleased for us to try” that I was truly dazzled. Not only by the number of offerings abut also by the style of the chef. I don’t usually take photos of the food while I am out dining, so I guess we will just have to go with this description of my meal from the Great Italian Chefs website:” It only takes a cursory glance at Ciccio’s food to see that these dishes are unmistakably his. His playful, artistic flair is always on display, and his plates are a unique combination of his avant garde character and his love and respect for the food of his home.”
“The restaurant “Duomo”, in Via Capitano Bocchierei, 31, is double Michelin-starred and considered one of the very best restaurants in Italy, while La Locanda di Don Serafino and La Fenice both have 1 Michelin Star… Is Ragusa the gourmet capital of Sicily?”
Oh, and by the way… gelato:
This is an easy one. Both gelato shops on the main piazza in Ragusa were fantastic, with unusual flavors I have not seen in other parts of Italy.
Short Historical Tour of Ragusa
Before the city of Ragusa was called Ragusa, it was founded by the indigenous people of Sicily and known in the world of ancient Greece as Hybla Heraea. The Greeks colonized much of southeastern Sicily and flourished, especially in Agrigento along the southern coast and Siracusa along the eastern coast. Southern Sicily in antiquity was considered a center of learning, with Archimedes (the philosopher and mathematician who discovered that 3.14… is pie), one of its most brilliant minds. Ragusa, however, remained independent from the Greeks, only to be overtaken by the Romans in the middle of the third century B.C. After this conquest, the city fell under the rule of many different peoples, but was finally given the name “Ragus” when under Arab rule. After the Norman conquest in 1060, the name was changed to Ragusa, which the city has carried to this day. In 1860, Garibaldi added Ragusa to the newly united Kindgom of Italy.
“Essentially Baroque, the Ragusa you will see today dates almost entirely from 1693. Indeed, it was in this year that Ragusa, along with its neighbours, Noto, Modica, Scicli and Catania, was razed to the ground by a terrible earthquake that hit most of the eastern side of Sicily.”
“Public opinion on where to rebuild the town was divided, and so a compromise was made. The wealthier, more aristocratic citizens built a new town in a different site, now Ragusa “Superiore”, while the other half of the population decided to rebuild on the original site, on a ridge at the bottom of a gorge, now Ragusa Ibla. The two towns remained separated until 1926 when they were merged to become the chief town of the province, taking the place of Modica.”
The town Ragusa Ibla is part of the Val di Noto UNESCO Heritage site and 18 of its buildings are protected by UNESCO patronage.
Short Walking Tour of Ragusa
A visit to the Commune Ragusa website yields a list of churches and buildings for a UNESCO walking tour of Ragusa, and in particular a tour of Baroque architecture, or the Barocco tour. There is a trolley that will take you on a tour as well, circling around the outer perimeter of the mountain to reach many of these sites.
Baroque architecture is said to have originated in Italy in Rome in the early 17th Century, and then to have spread into other parts of the Italian peninsula and Europe. By the mid-17th century, this highly decorative style was used to create churches with frescoes covering every inch of their walls and ceilings, which were held up by colorful, spiraled columns. The exteriors of government buildings and private homes were decorated with ornate, heavy balconies supported by heavy, statuesque corbels and framed by undulating ironwork to show wealth and power.
Ragusa is just one town in a group of nine towns of medieval origin located in the Val di Noto, or southeastern Sicily that were rebuilt in splendor in the new Baroque style after the earthquake of 1693 devastated this region. The other towns are: Caltagirone, Militello, Catania, Modica, Noto, Palazzolo, Ispica and Scicli.
On the first day of our stay in Ragusa, we visited the cathedral of San Giorgio and the Later, we decided to follow the large, brown street signs from our hotel on the border of Ragusa Ibla to Ragusa Superiore. Below are some images from our tours of Ragusa to enjoy.
Sites of Interest
in and around
Church of Santa Maria delle Scale: location offers spectacular views of Ragusa Ibla. and is the oldest church in Ragusa. Occasional site of filming to use Ragusa Ibla as the backdrop for scenes in the Detective Montalbano series.
Palazzo Casentini—late 1700’s Baroque style
Palazzo Bertini—late 1700’s Baroque style
Church of San Giuseppe—Baroque church that houses many Baroque works of art; San Giuseppe is the patron saint of Ragusa, while San Giorgio is the patron saint of Ragusa Iba
Hyblean Archeological Museum—along the outskirts of Ragusa. Can’t believe I missed it this time around!
Shopping in Ragusa Superiore—My favorite shop for women’s fashion, Louisa Spagnoli is in Ragusa Superiore along the main shopping boulevard. More casual styles than the Louisa Spagnoli shop by Piazza del Popolo in Rome.
Castello di Donnafugata (means “source of health” in Arabic; when translated into Sicililan sounds similar to the Italian “donnafugata”, but does not mean “the woman who fled”)—large estate with villa with origins in the 14th century, but current style in each room preserved as a museum is from the 19th century. Occasional site of filming for Detective Montalbano series.
Marina di Ragusa—Loved walking on the boardwalk along the beach at Marina di Ragusa one evening. This is where the Italians vacation with their families and after dinner is the time to “fare una passegiatta” (take a leisurely stroll). If you like people watching, this is the place, as everyone is dressed in the latest summer styles to “fare una buona figura” (make a good appearance). There is a large boulevard along the boardwalk and across the street are many apartments for rent for a week or more, a few hotels, and many restaurants large and small catering to Italian tourists. Maybe for my next trip?