Postcards from Italy

A Day in Mantua

Mantua (or Mantova, in Italian) has been the chosen safe haven for a number of playwrights and composers over the centuries. When Shakespeare's Romeo is banned for killing Tybalt from Verona, he finds refuge in this Lombard city just 40 kilometers away; when Verdi is threatened by Austrian censors for setting his artfully anti-monarchist “Rigoletto” in France, the famously republican composer saves the work by moving it to Mantua, where the Duchy and reigning noble Gonzaga family had long disappeared and could no longer be threatened by Verdi's subversive plot.

View of Mantova, from the bridge(Photo by Mykaul via Flickr)

There's a reason that Mantua has come to represent asylum, both for fictional characters and their creators. This small but vibrant city has been protected by a ring of artificial lakes for almost 1,000 years, built during the 12th century as part of the fortification system. Three of the lakes, Lago Superiore, Lago di Mezzo, and Lago Inferiore, still encircle the remarkably intact Medieval historic center. Because of this defensive moat, Mantua was both isolated from the outside world and immune to modern development for centuries, earning it the affectionate nickname in Italy of La Bella Addormentata (Sleeping Beauty).

Mantova(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Today, the only escape you'll find in Mantua is from the tourists. Largely overlooked by the masses who instead opt to stop at Lake Garda or Verona when traveling between Milan and Venice, Mantua is a quietly elegant Renaissance city and UNESCO World Heritage Site. The wealthy and influential ruling Gonzaga family left behind grand palaces and churches which frame the thriving contemporary cultural and gourmet scene. Relatively close to a number of northern cities, including Verona, Bologna, Parma, Modena, Venice, and Milan, Mantua is a perfect day trip or stopover between any of these destinations.
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Concierge in Umbria's Favorite Travel Professionals

We love showing our travelers the authentic, unique sides of Italy and have, over the years, developed relationships with a select group of travel professionals who share our passion and philosophy in creating custom travel itineraries in other destinations.

As one of Wendy Perrin's Top Travel Specialists for Conde Nast Traveler, we have attended the magazine's annual conference where we had the opportunity to meet some of the world's best travel advisors and destination specialists. Wendy has since moved on to create, an excellent resource for travelers looking for help in finding the best a destination has to offer, and we continue to connect with her Trusted Travel Experts from across the globe.

These five travel specialists are among our favorite colleagues, and exemplify our philosophy of experiencing the essence of a destination through contact with the locals, culture, and cuisine. We will share other favorite colleagues and destinations regularly going forward.

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Venice's Historic Jewish Ghetto

Venice's storied Jewish ghetto, a tiny island no larger than a city block in the lagoon city's Cannaregio district, made news at the end of 2014 with the announcement of a $12 million renovation project, spearheaded by German-Jewish designer Diane von Furstenberg and the Venetian Heritage Council. The complete redesign of the neighborhood's Jewish Museum and renovation of three of its five 16th century synagogues, some of the oldest in Italy, is slated to be completed in 2016, which marks the 500th anniversary of the founding of the ghetto and the date in which the island, still an important Jewish cultural center, will be inducted into UNESCO's World Heritage sites.

Ghetto ebraico di Venezia 10(Photo by Giovy via Flickr)

Venice's ghetto is one of the most interesting and unique corners of this captivating city, testament to both its rich history and its complicated relationship with its Jewish community over the centuries. Just a few minutes from the bustling calle and canals around Venice's most famous sights, “il ghetto ebraico” is a quiet, residential quarter which offers visitors a different perspective on La Serenissima, both past and present. Read More…

So, You Want to Take a Cooking Class....

There is no better lens through which to view and understand Italy's landscape, history, and culture than its cuisine.

cooking-class-roma-cr-maria-landers(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

We encourage travelers to Italy to participate in a cooking class while visiting, and often find that it is one of the most memorable experiences of their entire trip. If you are curious as to how to recreate some of the amazing dishes you've sampled in Italy, there is no better way than hands-on experience.
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Our Favorite Hotels: Londra Palace (Venice)

Our First Friday Favorite is a week late this month due to last weekend's holidays. This month we're in Venice for an overachieving four star with an awesome Bellini - The Londra Palace.

londra-palace-venice-italy-cr-londra-palace(Photo by Londra Palace)

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Il Salento: Italy's Southern Surprise

When travelers picture Puglia, they really only conjure up two relatively small areas in this vast region at the southeastern corner of Italy: la Valle d'Itria, dotted with the conical-roofed, whitewashed houses which would look more at home in Middle-earth than they do in the Mediterranean, and, directly to its south, il Salento, the narrow peninsula that makes up the “heel” of Italy's “boot”.

salento-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Though il Salento - and Puglia in general - can certainly not be considered “undiscovered", this narrow tongue of land lapped by the Adriatic Sea to the east and the Ionian Sea to the west is nowhere near as invaded by international tourists as more famous areas like Chianti and the Amalfi Coast, so a visit here still retains a bit of an adventurous feel. You will not find many menus printed in English, and the small towns and provincial cities have an authentic, lived-in atmosphere that many hilltowns in central Italy have lost.
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Italy Makes Change

In a surprise move today, Finance Minister Pier Carlo Padoan announced Italy's decision to withdraw from the European Union's common currency, the euro, and instead adopt the US dollar as its new official currency.

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