Posts Tagged ‘Italy’

Who knew? Fun Facts about the Sistine Chapel

As I wrote the headline for this blog post, I chuckled. Fun facts about this famous religious structure, the Sistine Chapel? Shouldn’t I be more respectful, a bit more reverent? Actually, adding some joy and mirth helps me take something overtly intimidating and venerated and bring it down to a human, touchable, enjoyable experience.

I first visited the Sistine Chapel when I was 13. I remember my parents “dragged me” to see some church that had “famous” paintings on the ceiling. Growing up, I had red geraniums on my bedroom’s ceiling, so I thought maybe this would be amusing. I allowed the crowd of tourists to move me through the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel as I daydreamed about having great pasta for lunch.

Fast forward past a couple more attempts of awe at the splendor of the Sistine Chapel, eventually understanding the enormity and genius of the creation, and we arrive at April, 2012, where I had that OMG moment of awe.

Andrea Grisdale, Managing Director of IC Bellagio, our partner for exceptional Italian experiences, led a group of Virtuoso-affiliated Travel Advisors ( read that as extremely well-travel, hard-to-impress travel professionals) through the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel AFTER HOURS! Say good-bye to long lines and crowds and say hello to an up-close-and-personal experience.

When we entered the Sistine Chapel we were allowed to wander and take photos, with no flash (apparently a no-no according to the list below), then find a seat along the edge of the chapel. A man slowly walked to the center of the chapel, looked around the room at all of us, cleared his throat, and began to sing the Ave Maria, a Capella.

Sorry for the blurry photo! A tenor singing the Ave Maria a Capella

I was transported to some mystical world, a world where I was a fortunate noble who could enjoy listening to a talented tenor sing one of my favorite songs – just because. As I recall that moment now, I am immediately overcome with gratitude, even non-prosaic goosebumps.

The Sistine Chapel came alive! It became personal and relevant. So, in the spirit of bringing something so special to my soul, I invite you to delve into these facts!

15 Lofty Facts About the Sistine Chapel

Ciao!

The Sistine Chapel

 

Ceiling at the Sistine Chapel

 

Italy’s Lake District – AMORE!

By Damien Martin, Italy Specialist

 

Lake District Amore!

You know I love Lake Como but it’s hardly the only beautiful lake in Northern Italy. Move east along the bottom edge of the Alps between Milan and Venice, and you’ll find two other gems of Italy’s Lake District,  Lake Iseo and Lake Garda.

Lake Iseo

Lake Iseo is a Renaissance painting that has come to life

You know those Italian Renaissance paintings that feature lush, mountainous landscapes? That’s Lake Iseo. Enjoy the view from the patio of the VistaLago Bistro or Michelin Guide-recommended LeoneFelice at L’Albereta (the Virtuoso-preferred boutique hotel in Erbusco). The vineyards stretch to a shimmering lake. Be awed by a ring of snowcapped mountains, crowned by a tall green island rising out of the water. It’s no wonder the founders of the winery next door chose the name Bellavista, “beautiful view.”

 Christo creates art in the Lake District

This summer thousands even got to walk on water, thanks to artist Christo’s “Floating Piers.” Christo put 220,000 high-density polyethylene cubes into the lake, covered by 100,000 square meters of yellow fabric. Several people swarmed the area to see the Floating Piers and overwhelmed public transportation. Typically, though, Lake Iseo is quite tranquil.

L'Albereta

The Spa at L’Albereta, a reason to visit the Lake District

L’Albereta itself means “the plantation,” a perfect name that highlights the rows of trees lining the property.  The Espace Chenot spa program offers comprehensive wellness programs complete with aromatherapies and bio-light menus. The spa offers 3-, 4-, 7- and 14-day programs. Of course, if you need a cheat day, just head over to Bellavista for some of the sparkling wine the Franciacorta region is famous for.

lemons

Lake Garda

Continue east toward the border between the Lombardy and Veneto regions, and you’ll hit Lake Garda. Lemon houses dot the shores, adding a vibrant yellow glint to the verdant hills. On the western bank is the Vittoriale degli Italiani, the victory monument of the Italians. It doubled as the home of writer and war hero Gabriele d’Annunzio. In reality, Mussolini gifted the home to d’Annunzio in exchange for retiring from public life. The hillside holds a mausoleum, amphitheater and an intact navy cruiser.

Navy cruiser at Vittoriale degli Italiani

I found d’Annunzio’s home more surreal than the warship.  There are two waiting rooms, one for welcome guests and another for unwelcome ones (guess where Mussolini had to wait?). While the  windows offer stunning lake views, d’Annunzio kept the shades drawn because his eyesight was failing. Countless books and religious iconography litter the walls. D’Annunzio died at his desk  and it remains untouched. Though the poet didn’t dine with his guests, he kept a statue of a favored pet turtle, which had died from overeating, on the table as a reminder to guests to not wear out their welcome.

Lefay

Lefay Resort and its incredible spa

Be sure to visit Lefay Resort and Spa,high up on a hilltop with a panoramic view of the lake.  Select a treatment from the nearly 70-page spa menu. You may want some “calm” after visit D’Annunzio’s home!

The real star of the spa at Lefay is the infinity pool, which seems to hang out over the cliff and blend with the lake. On a clear day, you can see Sirmione, home of the Roman poet Catullus, who called it the “gem of the islands and peninsulas.” I, for one, would be hard-pressed to argue.

Unforgettable Milan

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Milan – the fashion and financial center of Italy

Damien Martin, our Italy specialist, recently returned from a wining, dining, hotel inspecting tour in Italy. Enjoy his blog post about Milan and contact Damien for expert advice on traveling to Italy.

Milan – A blend of nationalities

Walk around Milan and you’re liable to encounter people from all over the world. About 20 percent of the residents of Italy’s most cosmopolitan city are foreign-born. What you won’t see — at least relative to Italy’s other destinations — is a lot of Americans.
Sure, many Americans fly into Milan on their way to Lake Como — and who could blame them? — but the fashion and financial capital is worth taking a couple of days to explore.
Hosting the 2015 Universal Exposition and this year’s Champions League final — the Super Bowl of European soccer — have helped raise the city’s international profile and revitalize certain areas. This being Italy, there’s plenty of history, too.

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La Scala, Duomo, and Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II – Ahhh, Milan!

Clustered within a few hundred feet of each are the city’s main sights: the famed La Scala opera house, the many-spired Duomo and connecting the two, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, one of the world’s oldest shopping malls.
While the Galleria offers enough haute couture to overhaul your wardrobe, it just scratches the surface of Milan’s high-end shopping. The whole city is more or less an open-air mall, from the Via Montenapoleone area — where you’ll find Armani, Ferragamo and Versace storefronts — to the arts district of Brera.

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Leonardo da Vinci called Milan home

The most famous artist to have called Milan home is none other than Leonardo da Vinci and no trip would be complete without a viewing of “The Last Supper.” But make sure to get tickets well in advance — entry is restricted to 25 people per 15-minute viewing. The limited numbers and a series of air locks are to preserve the fragile masterpiece as well as possible.
Because Leonardo painted on the dry wall instead of into wet plaster, the paint began fading almost as soon as it dried. Unlike fresco, the technique allowed Leonardo to make alterations as he worked. This technique resulted in the brilliant capturing of one of the Bible’s most crucial scenes. Centuries of amateur retouching and a few years spent exposed to open air after a World War II bombing didn’t help matters much.
For a much more relaxing supper, head to the Navigli district for a spritz and some risotto alla Milanese (the key ingredient is saffron) next to the scenic canals that were once the lifeblood of Milan’s commerce and are now a nightlife hotspot. You have Leonardo’s design to thank for that, too.

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Crazy for Lake Como

I’ve been to all 7 continents, many countries, and countless cities, so it takes a lot for me to be impressed when I experience somewhere I’ve not been before. Como, the city, the lake, the towns and hamlets blew me away!

We stayed in Lezzeno at Palazzo Del Vice Re, a beautifully maintained villa on a cobblestone street. Our home away from home was the Vista suite which offered beautiful views across the lake. We loved Nicolette and her friendly staff and already are planning to return, hopefully next year.

From Lezzeno we toured by car and by boat, previewing properties and eating incredible food. We can now comfortably recommend places to stay from the fabled Villa D’este to a few off-the-beaten path boutique hotels.

If I had to pick one thing that made Lake Como a WOW experience, I’d say it was the beautiful landscape – no, wait – the food, definitely the food – or maybe the “It” factor was the option to stroll through a myriad of spectacular gardens – or was it the cappuccino at the lakeside cafe or was it the chance to see George Clooney ( we saw the outside of his villa, does that count?)? Let’s face it, I can’t pick just one outstanding feature – Como is that spectacular.

A planning tip: Como’s season is from mid-March through Early November and the summer months are packed with all sorts of visitors. Plan your experience for spring or fall and you will avoid the crowds.

 

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