Postcards from Italy
THE BLOG OF CIU TRAVEL

A New Look at the Uffizi Galleries in Florence

For a decades, if not centuries, Italy was home to the both world's best art and its worst museums. Dusty, stodgy, impenetrable, uninviting...the art was magnificent, but often the setting was underwhelming, at best.

Over the past decade, however, the Bel Paese has been working hard to up its museum game, shifting from a somewhat apathetic institutional mentality to a more pro-active, almost entrepreneurial one. Many state-run museums and galleries have been renovated and reorganized to make the collections more approachable, offer incentives like kids' programs to extended hours to attract a larger audience, hold the type of blockbuster temporary exhibitions that have been the bread-and-butter of US museums for half a century, and have brought on younger (often foreign) directors to shake things up a bit.

These welcome changes have meant that despite the crowds and overwhelming scope of many collections, a museum visit in Italy is a much more engaging experience than just a few decades ago, often going beyond the traditional chronological curation to use multimedia, group works by theme, or simply take long-stored works out of the basement. Even if you've already visited Italy's A-list museums, now is a good time to circle back and take another look.

To begin, here is what's new at the Grand Dame of old-school museums, Florence's Uffizi Galleries:

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Wine Tasting in Montalcino

When you picture a Tuscan hilltown, what comes to mind is probably more or less Montalcino. With its fairytale castle above, vineyard-covered hills below, and warren of winding lanes and pretty squares, this village in the scenic Val d'Orcia is sent directly from central casting.

When you picture a Tuscan wine, what probably comes to mind is more or less Montalcino's flagship red, Brunello. With centuries of history, Italy's first DOCG recognition, and a unique microclimate and terroir that gives this 100% Sangiovese wine a more fleshy texture, smoother tannins, and more complex dark-fruit-driven flavors than Chianti (http://www.ciuitaly.com/blog/files/wine-tasting-chianti.php), this iconic red has become so popular and prestigious over the past half century that it has almost single-handedly transformed Montalcino and the surrounding area from one of the poorest in the region to one of the wealthiest.

wine-tasting-montalcino-cr-ciutravel(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

For a quintessentially Tuscan experience, there is nothing like a day touring the wineries surrounding Montalcino and tasting what many consider Italy's greatest wines. We have spent time nosing around the local wineries many times over the years, and always discover something new and memorable. Here are some of our tips:

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Poetry and Sunday Lunch: Naples' Most Iconic Ragù

'O rraù ca me piace a me
m' 'o ffaceva sulo mammà.
--Eduardo de Filippo


Food is not taken lightly anywhere in Italy, but in Naples it is the subject of passionate arias and earnest odes. And of all Neapolitan classics, the two that are most exalted and celebrated are also two of the most humble home dishes: ragù.

manfredi-orrau-napoli-cr-ciutravel(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

Naples has two types of traditional ragù, both of which call for long, slow cooking; are generally more flavorful the next day; and serve as an all-in-one dish of both pasta sauce for the primo and tender, braised meat for the secondo. The tomato-based 'o rraù and the onion-based la genovese are both such traditional staples of festive lunches in famiglia, that many Neapolitans believe that Sunday isn't Sunday without a plate of ragù.

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Our Favorite Hotels: Hotel Savoy Florence

As we mentioned recently in our Accommodations in Italy post, it isn't always easy to judge the quality of a hotel in Italy without vetting it in person. The Italian star rating system can often be misleading, and hotels that look landmark and luxury on paper can turn out to be dingy disappointments on the ground. In short, even the Grandest of Dames sometimes need to “have a little work done”, as they say, which is why we were very excited to get a sneak peek at the Hotel Savoy Florence after a its glorious new facelift.

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Day Hikes in the Swiss Alps

Switzerland is one of the world's most popular hiking destinations, and after just a glimpse of its stunning Alpine scenery, you'll understand why. But it isn't just the gorgeous mountain vistas that draws hiking and walking enthusiasts from across the globe: it's also the ease of its user-friendly trails: well-marked, lined with a system of mountain lodges with excellent food, and impeccably maintained. You could walk for days without needing much more than a light day pack to keep you going.

Hiking sign at Höhbalmen(Photo by Björn S... via Flickr)

That said, not everyone wants to spend their entire holiday on the trails. Luckily, there are a fantastic day hikes in the Swiss Alps, as well, letting you set out for a few hours to enjoy the mountain views with their rushing waterfalls, dramatic glaciers, local wildlife, and flower-filled meadows during the day but be back in town (http://www.ciuitaly.com/blog/files/48-hours-ticino.php) with glass of wine in hand by sunset.

IMG_4684-4686 - Gimmelwald - View from Wylern-Gehren(Photo by thisisboss via Flickr)

Here are a few magnificent day hikes along easy-to-follow trails that can be hiked in either direction; many also have a fun funicular, gondola, or cogwheel railway to whisk hikers up to a scenic elevation to set off. You can bring a bag lunch if you like, but these routes are lined with Alpine lodges serving filling meals and snacks to keep you going for hours.

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