Postcards from Italy
THE BLOG OF CIU TRAVEL

Italy's Islands: The Isole Borromee in Lake Maggiore

When considering Italy's Mediterranean islands, most people conjure up mental images of the southern yachterati hot spots of Capri, Sardinia, and Ischia...famed for their coasts lined with chic beach clubs, bustling towns full of artisan shops and designer boutiques, and luxury hotels and resorts with Michelin-starred restaurants and world-class spas. Though those generalizations are largely true for islands off the country's southern coast, as you move north the character of Italy's islands subtly shifts away from beaches and boats, and begins to favor pristine nature and historic architecture.

Dawn on Lake Maggiore(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

Italy's lake islands, however, are in a category of their own. These tiny outposts lording over the waters of lakes from Bolsena to Como are often privately owned, home to defensive fortresses or sumptuous villas that either stand mysterious and closed to the curious or, more rarely, welcome visitors to stroll through and admire their lavish excess from an almost forgotten age.

Isola Bella(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

Perhaps the most remarkable in the latter category are Isola Bella and Isola Madre, two of the three tiny islands that make up the Isole Borromee (Boromean Islands) archipelago in Lake Maggiore. The second largest of Italy's northern lakes, Maggiore straddles the border between Italy and Switzerland and offers stunning scenery and an elegant La Dolce Vita vibe. Strung like pearls along the lake's shores are a number of delightful resort towns, including Stresa, the perfect jumping-off spot to visit the gem-like Borromean Islands by ferry or private boat.

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Top Rooftops in Rome

With its sublime alchemy of ancient ruins, exquisite art, and vibrant neighborhoods, Rome's charismatic capital is one of the most captivating cities in Italy. Unfortunately, the secret is out...which means that the Eternal City can be relentlessly crowded around the cluster of its most iconic sights in the historic center. After a day of touring, get a respite from the urban chaos and discover the city from what may arguably be its best angle by heading a few floors above the streets to one of the many rooftop restaurants, bars, and clubs.

5e92w5PMSS2hQdd2y1rPqA_thumb_82a5(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

Rome has long had a semi-hidden rooftop scene, but the number and quality of panoramic venues overlooking the heart of the city has exploded in recent years and most hotels worth their salt have revitalized their top floors to house everything from pools to cocktail lounges. Here are a few of the best for relaxing and soaking in the view, dining, or simply basking in the heady La Dolce Vita atmosphere above Rome's cupolas and domes.

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Leonardo, Wine Maker

Most know Leonardo da Vinci as the consummate Renaissance man, both an engineering and artistic genius. It may surprise you to learn, however, that Italy’s famous luminary came from a long line of winemakers and was a passionate vintner, himself. So much so, in fact, that while finishing up his iconic Last Supper in Milan's Santa Maria delle Grazie convent in 1498, his patron Ludovico Sforza buoyed his spirits by bestowing on him a small 200-by-575-foot plot of vineyard set behind the private Casa degli Atellani just opposite the convent church. Here Leonardo would retire in the evenings to putter about the vines, building pergolas and tweaking the grapes in preparation for harvest.

Casa degli Atellani (Milan) 04.jpg
Di Carlo Dell'Orto - Opera propria, CC BY-SA 4.0, Collegamento


Today, after centuries of being lost to the annals of history and then decades of research to bring it back to light, you can visit Leonardo's Vineyard (La Vigna di Leonardo), the original rectangle of land replanted with vines located behind the Atellani's Renaissance villa, one of the few still standing in this area of Milan.

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The Seven Hills of Rome: History and Highlights

Today, the sprawling metropolis of Rome is most commonly subdivided into neighborhoods, from the upscale Prati to the bohemian Trastevere. Before this major capital expanded to its current 500 square miles, however, it was a modest clutch of fledgling settlements concentrated around an area of marshy valleys and steep hills that provided natural protection from attack and invasion. Eventually, these individual communities united and their seven populated hills became the geographical and historic heart of what would become the city of Rome.

Rome(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

In the fourth century BC, the Servian Walls were built to encircle the Seven Hills, but the city soon expanded beyond this barrier and today the hills can be hard to make out under the historic center's urban jumble. That said, these hills are home from everything to the site of the city's foundation to the residence of its modern head of state, and play a significant role in the city's history and culture.

Here is an overview of each hill and its highlights, so everyone from art and architecture enthusiasts to Roman history buffs can find something that delights:

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Five Classic Swiss Dishes

One of the most fascinating aspects of adding Switzerland to our roster of destinations has been comparing and contrasting its culture, landscape, and food to that of its neighboring country to the south that we know so well.

Switzerland is a country in which order and reserve are prized, making for meticulously cared for cities and towns and picturesquely pristine countryside. Italy is where a kind of benign anarchy often reigns, and its beauty is often a result of this exuberant chaos. Switzerland is almost entirely covered in Alpine peaks and plateaus, a wonderland in both summer and winter. In Italy, you can find everything from desert to coastline, islands to mountain ranges; destinations on your itinerary are often chosen to fit the season in which you are traveling. Switzerland is where the best restaurants are usually fine-dining establishments in high-end hotels and are not cheap; in Italy, the best meals you will have are often in unsung corner trattorias where two can dine on multiple courses with wine and still have a bill that is in the low double digits.

steak-tartare-view-le-crans-switzerland-cr-brian-dore(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

Despite these differences, the two countries do share one common thread in their cuisines: both have regionally based dishes that draw on the local climates and cultures and are best sampled in their place of birth, as well as a few classics that can be found across the country. In Italy, the best pizza is in the south, the best Fiorentina steak in Chianti, and the best risotto in the north...but you can find delicious lasagna virtually anywhere. In Switzerland, each Canton has a local dish that reflects its French, Italian, or Germanic roots, and a number of classics based on rustic Alpine staples of cheese and potatoes.

Here are some culinary highlights to seek out across Switzerland:

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