ITALIAN EXPERIENCE (6)

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Montecatini

I have foregone the rugged beauty of Sicily, to return to the more manicured and well groomed region of Tuscany. It has been over 3 years since I last visited this rather   picturesque province of Italy and once again the Contessa Di La Proctero is taking me out of my comfort zone by planning a week’s break at the Tuscan spa town of Montecatini Terme.

Most Brits would probably head straight to Florence, Lucca, or maybe Siena for their Tuscan sojourn, so it was no surprise to find that there were very few English in this well presented town. Montecatini Terme is strewn with tree lined avenues, stroll down the pavements of the Vaile Guiseppe Verdi, where you can stop off at Libertine Bisrot for a cold beer or a refreshing Campari Sprite before heading to the funicular railway which will take you up to Montecatini Alto. Offering you breathe taking views of the town down below and the surrounding countryside this hillside treasure has a delightful village, where you can visit the renaissance churches if like a bit of culture, or just eat or drink in the charming square in the centre of this pleasant hamlet.

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Montecatini Alto

Sightseeing may not be your bag so, you may just want to sit in one the numerous parks and watch the world go by, or better still grab a coffee and biscotti at somewhere like the Caffe Giovanni or Caffe Granduca and just people watch, which for me is the only way to spend  time while on an Italian holiday.

Pelligrini’s served great local Tuscan cuisine, where I would strongly advise you try the rabbit, if just want a snack then go to Il Maialetto which served up incredible sandwiches. To drink the choice is endless. The beautiful people tended to gather along Viale 1V Novembre at bars like Syrah. If this is too vain and shallow for your taste, then visit the Piccolo Bar (busy every night) or the strangely English titled Beer Shop and Tap Room, for some top notch craft beers.

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Pelligrini’s

Obviously no trip to Italy can be completed without a little bit of retail therapy and Montecatini Terme just about managed to keep me happy, lot of shops but easily the best were Benedetti and Lisa Ann, with latter stocking a very nice range of Santoni shoes.

On the last day I sat in Piazza Del Popolo with Basilica Santa Maria Assunta in the background and reviewed my stay this Tuscan spa town. Overall this was completely different holiday from what I normally would have, but was a huge success. Please visit this wonderful place because you will really enjoy it

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ITALIAN EXPERIENCE (5)

 

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Taormina Central Square at Sunset

Easter signals the first holiday of the year for The Frozen Northerner and after the miserable winter we have endured it would nice to have a little bit of sun on my back. The last couple of Easter journeys have been fine but, at the moment I genuinely crave a place that I am madly in love which means I must return to Sicily and to my favourite place on the planet, Taormina.

I have now been to Taormina on numerous occasions and my affection for this town is showing no sign of abating. Why I am so in love with this spot is completely baffling, all I know is that when I am there, I am totally relaxed and at ease. Popular with such literary giants such as Oscar Wilde and DH Lawrence, Taormina has and still does attract a rather diverse and interesting range of characters, for example the notorious gangster Charlie “Lucky” Luciano often stayed there during the summer months after being deported back to Sicily from the United States.

My wife the Contessa Di La Proctero had laid out an itinerary for the week that was going to take us various locations such as Syracuse, Savoca and the like, but finding that the temperature was a rather pleasant 22 degrees there was no chance of me dragging the Contessa away from the pool.  Was I bothered, not in the slightest; it just left me with plenty of time just to wander around Taormina on my own. Nothing is better than just sitting outside some bar or café with a bottle of Messina wiling away the hours rather predictably people watching. Although, alternatively you could enjoy a nice glass of white wine while munching your way through a bowl of mussels at Bistro Du Monde on the Via Naumachia (which may be the best mussels I have ever had).

Having already blogged about Taormina in more depth in blog notes 49 I am not going to cover ground that has already been discussed all I am going to say is that you must at some point in your life go there because it really is very special.

BOOKS

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The Italian Gentleman

One of the gifts I received over the Christmas was a book entitled The Italian Gentleman by Hugo Jacomet. Wei Koh, founder and editorial director of the noted men’s style magazine The Rake describes Monsieur Jacomet as an arbiter of style which in layman’s terms means that he is a bit of an authority on the subject he talks about, which in this case is clothes.

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Hugo Jacomet

Publisher of the very brilliant style blog The Parisian Gentleman, Monsieur Jacomet works tirelessly in the pursuit of improving the sartorial elegance of the male gender. Why  I like him so much, is that he is very good providing sound advice on how to build a smart wardrobe without displaying a know it all attitude, unlike a lot of style gurus to tend  be a bit pompous and full of their own self-important.

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The Italian Gentleman took Monsieur Jacomet over took three years to complete and is his second book, following on from his first offering, the rather aptly titled the Parisian Gentleman. If you are buying The Italian Gentleman in the hope that you are going to find a page upon page of global brands such as Armani, Dolce  and Gabbana, Gucci, etc, then you going to be sorely disappointed.

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A Careceni

It’s not that Monsieur Jacomet disapproves of these companies that are recognised the world over; it is just that he is just more interested in exposing the reader to the smaller, often family run businesses. He is well aware that these artisan craftsmen and women are disappearing and he is doing his damnedest to make sure that these establishments are kept alive by becoming better known

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The book covers everything from the mills of Vitale Barberis Canonico and Ermenegildo Zenga, all the way down to ties by E Marinella and umbrella makers such Francesco Maglia and Mario Talarico. In between he champions a raft of tailoring establishments such A Caraceni in Milan before heading further south to Naples to reveal such enterprises as Ambrosi, Napoli, Sartoria Formosa and Sartoria Sabino to name but three. All of the sections are brilliantly researched and highly informative, but I have to honest, the section on shoes blows the rest of the book away, reading this chapter I was positively salivating at shoemakers such as Enzo Bonafe, Paolo Scafora and Bontoni.

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Enzo Bonafe

Monsieur Jacomet leaves no stone unturned in quest in his pursuit of excellence and even if you are only slightly interested in clothes you should read this book. You will not believe how many ideas you will get,  on how to find ways and means on becoming better dressed . It doesn’t matter how old you are, there is something in here for everyone, so please buy the book.

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Francesco Maglia

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THE ITALIAN EXPERIENCE (4)

 

Castello Aragonese Isichia
Castello Aragonese Isichia

The frozen northerner has just returned from his third holiday of the year, which took me and my wife the Contessa di la Proctero to the island of Ischia. Situated in the Bay of Naples, Ischia is the largest island in the bay alongside the more famous isle of Capri and the enchanting island of Procida. It is well documented that I have a long standing love affair with all things Italian so it was going to interesting to see what I made of my first trip to this volcanic isle. We stayed at the Hotel Durrelli which was located about 10 minutes from Ischia Town in one direction and about 10 minutes from Ischia Ponte in the other. The view from our balcony offered us a panoramic view of the islands as well as the north of Naples and Sorrento as well the island’s own Castello Aragonese which was quite spectacular. Although the hotel had a more than adequate pool area, the frozen northerner and his wife tended to wile away their hours at Maronti beach which, was about 20 minutes away from the hotel by bus. Prior to my holiday I had been informed that transport on the island was poor but I found this not to be the case with local bus service both regular and frequent. If like me sunbathing and reading is your bag then Maroni Beach is a must, with its beautiful unspoilt beach and that gentle breeze wafting in off the sea I could have stayed there forever. In the evening I tended to alternate between going to the Town and Porte. If you head to the town wander up and down via Colonna and savour some of best Italian fashion on offer or just sit in some café with a nice glass of red wine and people watch like I tend to do. Both areas as you would expect are bustling with a huge amount of restaurants and bars, personally my two favourites were the Caffe Morelli where I tended to enjoy a Campari Spritz and the bar/delicatessen Ischia Sulumi, as well as serving up some of the best hams and cheeses I have ever tasted this little gem offered great alternatives to beers like Peroni and Moretti by offering a great range of beers made by the Neapolitan micro-brewery Birra Maneba which were absolutely outstanding. Sundays in the shadow of the Castello Aragonese were spent watching the locals play water polo surrounding by yachts of all shapes and sizes, with sun beating down on that flawless blue sea, your mind is entitled to stray to thoughts of retiring and give up the rat race, god I am so tempted when I am in places like this. I could probably talk endlessly about Ischia because it a place I really loved, but no good talking about it, you must go and discover it for yourself, you won’t be disappointed.

 

Maronti Beach
Maronti Beach

 

Caffe Morelli
Caffe Morelli

 

 

 

The Italian Experience #3

 

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La Piazzeta Capri

I have just returned from my fourth and final continental holiday of the year, as normal it took me to Italy, to the small town of Maori on the Amalfi coast (my third holiday of the year saw me return to Taormina in Sicily for a second time this year, which I reviewed in Blog Notes 49, so fairly pointless covering it again). Lying to the south of Naples, the Amalfi coast is one of the most beautiful pieces of coastal landscape that you will find anywhere in the world, it has some fairly fabulous places to stay, such as Sorrento, Positano, Amalfi, Ravello, Minori and Maori as well the picturesque islands of Capri and Ischia. Nowadays I tend to stay in Maori mainly because it is little bit quieter and less expensive than the other resorts, which is great because the frozen northerner is always on a tight budget. Among the many charms on offer along this coastline are places with great history such as Pompeii and Vesuvius, there is also great scenery, which can viewed with awe from both the sea and the shore, there is great food and wine and if your wife likes a bit of retail therapy there is some great shopping for the ladies (especially on Capri), add to this a normally very pleasant climate and you have in my opinion, a place as close to heaven as it is going to get. In truth I am becoming more and captivated by Capri, this island for me now ranks alongside Sicily as one of my favourite destinations, although whether or not I can afford to stop there is another matter. Capri, once the home to the roman emperor Tiberius, is absolutely stunning with a breath-taking allure, that has in the past proved to be a very popular place for writers’ and artists to live and work, nowadays it is very popular with celebrities from all walks of life, with some like Sophia Loren owing villas on the isle. Among the many attractions on the island are the gardens of Augustus (which was the brainchild of the very wealthy German industrialist Friedrich Krupp, who spent a considerable amount of time on the island) the grounds are laid out in terraces with all sorts of decorative plants on display and look down to the sea and the Faraglioni (rock stacks).

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The Gardens of Augustus

But if sightseeing is not for you and you prefer the coffee culture to these botanical delights then you can always sit in the Piazza Umberto near to Capri’s famous clock tower, wiling away the days and nights in one the many bars and restaurants hoping to catch a glimpse of someone rich and famous. Then again you might want to sail around the island exploring the enchanting Blue Grotto and its dazzling blue waters or the Green Grotto with its glittering green water.

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The Grotto Azzurri

The list of places and things to do on Capri are too many for me to do them adequate justice in this blog and that is before I have talked about the rest of the beautiful area in southern Italy The Amalfi coast is an example of the stunning beauty that can be found in bucketful’s whenever I visit Italy, but it is no good just sitting there listening to me prattle on about its splendour you really have to visit this area for to really appreciate what I am talking about. Please go you won’t be disappointed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Italian Experience (2)

Corso
Corso Umberto Taormina

 

Having left my office (the chateau d’if) in the capable hands of Abbe Faria (the mad priest), I find myself lying on the beach at Giardini Naxos which, is just outside Taormina on the beautiful of island of Sicily, alongside me is my wife the Contessa Di La Proctero, the temperature is a very pleasant 79c and the sound of George Michael is swaying around the both of us. Am I in paradise, your damn right I am, lately Sicily has become the chosen destination for the frozen northerner and his beautiful wife to holiday. For our second holiday of the year we have returned to the island and are showing signs of tiring of the place, built into the rock face, Taormina overlooks the gulf of Naxos towards the Ionian sea and beyond, this stunning town and the surrounding coastline around it is now very much at the top of the frozen northerner’s list of places to go on holiday. Much as I love mainland Italy, Sicily and in particular Taormina has captivated me like no other place I have ever been, with breath-taking views of Mount Etna and the delightful Isolo Bella it has everything for me. Taormina itself is now becoming more and more popular and it is easy to see why with its amazing Teatro Greco (Greek Theatre} and its humbling churches. Wandering its cobbled streets the town is full of quaint little shops selling all sorts of merchandise, some of which no doubt will be purchased by the Contessa. Eventually you will reach Piazza IX Aprile, this exquisite main square has an endless amount of café’s bars and restaurants and for me personally there is nothing better than sitting at a bar sipping a Campari spritz (Prosecco for the lady) watching the Sicilians take their evening stroll. The Sicilians will ramble endlessly up and down Corso Umberto (the main thoroughfare) Sicilians like most Italians love to strut their stuff and this very classy street is perfect for them, this stylish area is filled with a wide range of high end well-known Italian shops and boutiques selling brands such as Gucci, Pal Zileri, Zegna and Canali. I could talk endlessly about the food and wine, but that’s for you to find out when you visit the place, I am sure there a better places in the world to visit but not for the frozen northerner.

 

Special – The Italian Experience

Quattro Canti
Quattro Canti

Easter is normally the first holiday of the year for the frozen northerner, January, February and March are probably the months that I like the least so, Easter brings an opportunity for me to relax away from the drudgery of everyday life and that normally means a trip abroad to replenish the batteries. The frozen northerner is self-confessed Italophile which requires him to attempt a minimum of three pilgrimages a year to her shores. Italy has everything for me, great cities, wonderful architecture, breath-taking scenery, fantastic beaches, the list is pretty much endless, and since I first visited it about ten years ago, I have never went anywhere else on holiday. Fairly often you will see that most tourist guides will tell you blend in and act like a local, so when in Italy this should be a fairly simple task for the frozen northerner who is rather dark skinned and tans very easily, are you kidding me, despite tanning to an extremely dark shade of brown the frozen northerner has never once been mistakenly identified as an Italian and here is the reason why. Last week I had the good fortune to spend the week in Palermo, Sicily, for a little bit of sightseeing, the weather was good with the temperature ranging from around 70 to 75 so, that meant that the frozen northerner was going to wander the city in nothing more than a polo shirt (be very careful here) a pair of chinos (even more care required) and inevitably sunglasses (no mistakes here please) in attempt to look and stay cool at all times. The Sicilians tended to take a different approach to yours truly and were frequently observed wearing scarfs, full length raincoats (notably Burberry) quilted jackets (also Burberry) and all sorts of attire that I tend to regard as winter clothing. By the end of each day the game was very much up, me looking dishevelled with the heat, and the Sicilians still looking cool and stylish in spite of the humidity, admitting defeat the frozen northerner retired each afternoon to Spinnato’s Caffe to relax with an aperitif and gaze up the fast talking, gesticulating Sicilians, as they wandered up and down their crumbling streets. Palermo is certainly not as flashy as say Milan or Florence, but that’s not the point, Palermo like most places in the south is poor and is in need of restoration but that does mean you should not visit, it has some breath-taking building such as the fantastic Quattro Canti, the stunning Theatro Massimo and the splendid fountain in Piazza Pretoria. If sightseeing is not for you there is enough shops to keep any woman happy, or you could do what I tend to do and just sit in small café and people watch. The frozen northerner and his wife, the Contessa di Proctoro will, I suspect never tire of Italy, the Italian economy may be in a perilous state, which could see them ending up in the same situation as Greece, knowing the Italian mentality this is not something that they will take too lightly, but rest assured if they are going go down they are going to do with a style that you and I can only dream of.