Christmas in July: What to Expect during a Winter Trip to Italy

The lion's share of visitors to Italy plan their trips during the high season summer months, but Italy in the winter has a singular charm as the cities empty of tourists and locals return to their daily routine, the biggest museums and attractions are delightfully quiet, and the cooler temperatures make it more pleasant to tour, despite the shorter days.

january-travel-italy-ciutravel-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

What can you expect during a winter holiday trip to Italy? Here are some of the seasonal specialties and activities that can be the highlight of a vacation during the most wonderful time of the year:

december-pienza-tuscany-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)
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Christmas in July: Why Winter is the Time to Visit Rome, Florence, and Venice

The torrid heat wave in Italy has been all over the international news. Rome's ubiquitous public drinking fountains have been shut off for the first time in history, wildfires on Mount Vesuvius are darkening the skies over Naples, and Florence and most of surrounding Tuscany have been on red alert for high temperatures for weeks.

Maria in Portofino(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Though Italy is beautiful on any day and in any season, when the mercury shoots sky-high, it can be a challenge to fully appreciate the charm of the Bel Paese. During these languid July afternoons spent digesting our pasta lunch in comfort of a powerful fan, we are reminded of why a winter visit to Italy can be so rewarding, and why now is the time to start planning.

christmas-gubbio-italy-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

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Il Mercato Centrale: The Pros and Cons of Gourmet Food Courts in Florence and Rome

Florence and Rome have both made news over the past couple of years with high-profile inaugurations of an updated (Florence) or new (Rome) Mercato Centrale. Florence expanded its historic central market in 2014, adding an enormous 3,000 square meter upper level with a gourmet food court including over a dozen stands, food and wine shops, a bookstore, and a cooking school and exhibition space. Rome expanded the Mercato Centrale brand in 2016, opening up its own gourmet food court in Termini's historic railway workers' social club space, featuring stands by some the most recognized names in the city's restaurant and food scene.

mercato-cr-winke(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Unlike Eataly, which showcases products from across the country, the Mercato Centrale philosophy highlights products, eateries, and shops from the city and surrounding region. Though there are exceptions - there is a small vendor offering Sicilian pastries at both locations - the food stands generally feature either prepared dishes or products like cheeses, charcuterie, and baked goods that are strictly local.

Both the Florence and Rome locations have ardent fans and passionate detractors, and only after a visit and tasting can you decide what side of the fence you are on. Here are a few pros and and cons of Italy's unique take on the food court:

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The New Old: Roman Sites to See in Rome This Year

The long-awaited restoration of Rome's Mausoleum of Augustus, the largest ever built by the ancient Romans in 28 BC to hold Augustus and his successors, Nero and Tiberius, was announced at the beginning of this year. This monumental circular tomb near the Tiber River has been neglected since World War II, and the $6 million restoration project funded by the telecommunications company Telecom Italia would include cleaning the site and opening it to visitors, who will be able to watch a multimedia show about Augustus and ancient Rome projected onto the towering mausoleum walls.

2006-12-17 12-22 Rom 456 Mausoleo di Augusto(Photo by Allie Caulfield via Flickr)

Before you add this to your Rome bucket list, however, you may want to wait awhile. Experience has taught us that an announced restoration and a completed restoration in Rome are two different things, often separated by years - if not decades - of delays and false starts. Indeed, the mausoleum was slated for a massive restoration to be completed by 2014 to mark the 2000th anniversary of Augustus' death, but work was never started.

While you wait to see when and if the mausoleum will ever get the dusting off it deserves, there are a number of other Roman ruins and sites that have been recently restored or are offering new interactive tours that are worth a visit. So put aside Augustus' final resting place for the time being, and consider visiting these gems instead:

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The Best Things in Rome are Free

Italy's Minister for Culture, Dario Franceschini, made news this past week by proposing a “moderate” ticket fee to enter one of Rome’s most beloved and visited sights: the Pantheon. Though this stunning Roman monument dates from 120 A.D. it has been a Catholic church for the past 1,000 years and, as such, has been famously free of charge.

pantheon-rome-italy-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Franceschini claimed that the funds from ticket sales would go towards the cost of maintenance and management, but this did nothing to quell the backlash from locals and travelers alike who were less than enthusiastic about the idea of having to purchase a ticket if the minister's proposal is approved over the next twelve months.

In light of the possibility that the Pantheon may soon no longer top lists of free things to do in Rome, here are a couple of other great ideas for things to do in the Eternal City that won't break the bank:

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Three Perfect Itineraries for a First Trip to Italy

Nothing is as magical, or as memorable, as your first trip to Italy. Though subsequent trips may be those in which you pick up a few sentences of Italian, get off the beaten path a bit, and start to choose your favorite cities and regions, that maiden voyage is one of pure discovery. Your first glimpse of iconic monuments like the Colosseum in Rome or Venice's Grand Canal, your first sips of Brunello or Barolo, your first sunset from the Ponte Vecchio or the Amalfi Coast...these are all an epiphany of the senses, and will color your affection for this stunning country for years to come.

Florence twilight.(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Though it's a fun challenge to plan unique trips for travelers who have already explored Italy in the past, organizing a client's first trip is always a particular delight. We still remember our first trip years ago, and know how easy it is to get bitten by the “Italy bug” if your first trip dazzles. Here are three of our favorite itineraries for first timers, and some tips to help you plan a trip that will begin a long-lasting love affair with the Bel Paese!

Venezia - canal(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)
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Rome's Sampietrini Cobblestones

There are many iconic sights in Rome that immediately come to mind when thinking about Italy's most visited city: the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon and the Vatican are all unmistakable monuments. But most Italians could recognize the Eternal City by simply looking down at the road under their feet.

sampietrini-roma-piazza-del-popolo-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Most of Rome's historic center is paved with a unique type of cobblestone called “sampietrini”. These are 12 centimeter cubes of black basalt, trimmed and set in straight rows or intersecting arches on a sand or earth foundation, with the same sand or earth filling the space between each block.
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The Fountains of Rome

When the temperatures soar in Rome each summer, the city's historic fountains are tempting with their cool waters sprinkling and bubbling over intricate stonework and into shimmering pools in the center of torrid, sun-baked piazzas. Don't give in to the urge to take a dip, however, as it is illegal to bathe in the Eternal City's monumental fountains, many of which have been damaged recently by reckless visitors climbing and frolicking on their delicate marble. But do stop to admire these stunning works of art and utility, and even quench your thirst... many have drinking fountains worked into their design!

trevi-fountian-rome-italy-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Here are some of the most famous and beautiful fountains in Rome, from the ornate to the fanciful, which merit a visit (but not a swim):

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Early Flight Out of Rome? Overnight in Fiumicino

One of the biggest logistical conundrums when planning a trip to Italy is how to best handle the arrival and departure days. Arrivals are often an easy case of being picked up by a driver and whisked to your first destination for a relaxing meal and refreshing night of sleep, but departure days can be a bit trickier. Travelers are caught between wanting to take advantage of every minute of their trip, while taking into account morning flights that often require check in hours before the departure time.

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

For those departing from Rome's Fiumicino airport, the options have long been either staying in the center of Rome and having to endure a dawn wake up call, or spending the night at one of the anonymous airport hotels the night before your flight and finishing off a fabulous trip with a whimper not a bang.

Instead, consider staying right in the seaside town of Fiumicino on your last night, which is just minutes from the airport but has enough authentic vibe to make you feel as if you haven't wasted a second in Italy.

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The Palazzi Museums of Rome

Italy is home to so much of the world's great art and architecture. Some are found outdoors in public spaces, visual delights to happen upon while wandering the streets of Florence or Rome, and some are located in the churches and cathedrals for which they were first commissioned centuries ago. But most of Italy's artistic treasures are kept in the country's hundreds of museums.

doria-pamphilij-rome-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Though there are certainly great museums which were built specifically to house the vast collections accrued by princes and popes over the past 500 years, like the Vatican for example, Italy's public museums are often located in repurposed public or private palaces, villas, and palazzi. These are especially interesting to visit, as the artwork is displayed against a backdrop of ornate historical halls and salons, featuring original decor and furnishings, and surrounded by elegant gardens and grounds.

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

Nowhere is this more true than Rome, which is home to a number of exceptional museum collections housed in sumptuous buildings which were once private aristocratic, diplomatic, or papal residences and are now owned by the city of Rome, the Italian state, or, in rare cases, the original family. Here are a few of the most interesting, both for the art on display and for the halls in which it's shown:
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Rome's “The Power of Ruins” Exhibit

We recently visited the excellent “La Forza delle Rovine” exhibition at Rome's Museo Nazionale Romano in Palazzo Altemps (running through the end of January, 2016), which includes photographs taken by our lead guide in Rome, Alessandro Celani.

power of ruins-rome-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

This group of over 100 works - including sculptures, paintings, engravings, watercolors, antique books, photographs, music, and films - from private and public collections in Italy and across the globe are united around the topic of “ruins”. Visitors are invited to reflect on the meaning relics of the past have had over time, from ancient civilizations to contemporary tourists, including intellectuals, writers, musicians, and film makers through the centuries. Read More...

Italy's 2015-2016 Opera Season

Each winter in Italy, the new opera season kicks off in some of the world's most sumptuous historic theaters in cities from north to south. As professional singers and opera fans, we are always curious to see what trends and news come with each year's season. This year Brian has noticed a few that stand out:

  • Verismo - the style of opera produced in Italy at the end of the 19th century through the 1920’s and one of our favorite genres - is back!
  • Rarities are showing up on a number of theater programs this year
  • La Fenice remains a good venue to see the classics; La Traviata seems to be getting the most play this year

Opera Glasses(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

If you are interesting in seeing an opera while traveling in Italy this winter, here are some notes regarding the most important theaters:
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Gelato: Secrets and Discoveries

Any repeat traveler to Italy knows to make two stops as soon as their plane touches down on Italian soil. One is to the nearest bar for a decent caffè. And the second is to the gelateria for a decent gelato.

Gelato(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)
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Contemporary Rome: MAXXI and MACRO

Rome is where the world goes to see history. From the magnificent ruins of Roman architectural wonders to the transcendental beauty of sculptures and paintings by Michelangelo and Caravaggio, the Eternal City's cultural treasures are, indeed, timeless.

Why then spend time in Rome looking at the future? Because this major European capital isn't a relic, frozen in time centuries ago, but a vibrant, modern city with an active contemporary art scene encompassing both local artists and downtown museums.

Maxxi- Zaha Hadid(Photo by Antonella Profeta via Flickr)

You can get a feel for Rome's quiet contemporary pulse by simply walking the city streets, where you will encounter murals by a number of street artists working in Italy's capital. But you should also make time to check out one of the city's two excellent contemporary art museums, where pieces by modern and contemporary Italian and international artists are exhibited in spaces which are themselves noteworthy.
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So, You Want to See the Pope (or just the Vatican)...

Most sights in Rome don't require a lot of advance planning (unless, of course, you'd like to skip the lines at the Colosseum): the sweeping piazzas, imposing churches, characteristic neighborhoods, and even the Trevi Fountain just involve showing up.

Italy-0039 - The Obelisk(Photo by Dennis Jarvis via Flickr)

An exception to that rule is the Vatican, including the museums, Sistine Chapel, Saint Peter's Basilica, and, for the devout or simply curious, Pope (in the form of a public audience). Here, because of the sheer numbers of visitors, massive size of the place, and ticket logistics, a bit of advance planning and insider information can make the difference between an unforgettable visit and a day spent standing in lines or staring at the backs of thousands of heads.

Here are our tips for a simple Vatican visit and participation in a Papal audience.
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What's New in Rome

Rome is known as the Eternal City for its long history and, one hopes, equally long future. One of the most visited European capitals, and one of the most beloved cities in the world, Rome's iconic monuments and neighborhoods have become so familiar from generations of vacation photos and Hollywood films that it can seem that there is nothing new left to discover in this modern teeming metropolis resting on the remains of millennia of ancient teeming metropolises.

pantheon-rome-italy-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

But, like the city itself, the archaeological and cultural sites that are unearthed and reopened each year in Rome seem to have no end. There is always something new to visit and explore in the historic center and environs, so if you are planning a return trip in the upcoming months, consider adding one of these stops to your itinerary:
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Rome with Kids: A Family Friendly Tour

At first glance, Rome will not strike any parent as particularly kid-friendly. One of Europe’s largest and most visited cities, this sprawling metropolis is home to some of the world’s greatest treasures of art and archaeology, but can be overwhelming and difficult to navigate for families traveling with children.

rome with kids 001
(Photo by Rebecca Winke for Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Which is why the Eternal City is the perfect place to explore with a tour guide specialized in bringing the city’s iconic cultural sites to life (while coordinating bathroom and water breaks) for kids of various ages, attention spans, and interests. My sons (who are nine and twelve) and I recently spent a day with Valerio, one of Concierge in Umbria’s go-to family-friendly tour guides for Rome, who is also an art historian and expert on Rome and Roman history. Here’s our review of the sights we visited, with high points and caveats!
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Rome's Monteverde Nuovo Food Market

Of all of life’s great questions, perhaps the most confounding is this: How does one choose a good artichoke? (hint: they feel heavy and compact)

Carciofi(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Luckily, there is a place in Rome to find an answer to that and many other cooking (and living) conundrums: the Monteverde Nuovo food market.
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48 Hours: Roma (Rome)

Rome is often called the Eternal City, and it would indeed take an eternity to truly get to know Italy’s vibrant capital. Here is an amuse bouche of an introductory visit, including tastes of Rome’s iconic monuments, captivating neighborhoods, and memorable meals. Read More...

The Best Beaches for Daytrips from Rome, Florence, and Venice

Here are suggestions for the best beaches for “daycations” from Rome, Florence, or Venice. These, like most Italian beaches, are well organized for daytrippers as the stabilimenti balneari, or beach establishments, almost always include a café (many serving food), bathrooms, shower and changing rooms, and beach chairs and umbrellas to rent by the day. Just bring a bathing suit and towel and enjoy your vacation...from your vacation! Read More...

Rome by Night

Rome by Night from Guest Contributor: Nelson Landers Barrette Read More...

Rome Hosts Titian’s Renaissance Masterpieces This Spring

pouring italian wines
Image by Flickr user Cea

Titian, or Tiziano, as he is known in Italy, is equaled in elegance, technique, and artistic breadth only by his Renaissance contemporaries Raphael and Michelangelo.

During his lifetime, he was the darling of the Venetian Doge, and did much of his work in Venice and around the Veneto. Today, his masterpieces are scattered throughout Europe’s most prominent galleries from the Uffizi in Florence to the Prado in Madrid.

But thankfully for those visiting Rome this spring and summer, Titian’s greatest masterpieces are coming to you.

Titian at the Quirinale


summer art exhibit in Rome Quirinale
Image by Flickr user Averain

For the first time, the Uffizi Gallery’s seductiveFlora will meet the frenetic, brutal torture scene The Flaying of Marsyas from the Kromeriz Gallery in the Czech Republic.

The span of Titian’s work, both geographically and chronologically, will be united in one place as never before in the “Tiziano” exhibition at Rome’s Scuderie del Quirinale from March 5th through June 16th.

summer art exhibit in Rome Titian comparisom
Image by Flickr user Cea

Assembled by the greatest scholars of Titian’s work, the exhibit painstakingly documents the growth of the master, decade by decade. Both different versions of the same subject that Titian painted for different patrons and paintings on the same subject by the master and his apprentices will be juxtaposed to show the depth of his interpretation and technique.

Other Headlining Exhibitions


summer art exhibit in Rome Uffizi
Image by Flickr user Kevin Poh

In Florence, the Uffizi been busy expanding the breadth of its display with a brand new wing. But the real gem is the new Michelangelo room, centered on the master’s sculpture “Sleeping Ariadne,” on display in the museum for the first time in two hundred years.

And if you find yourself in Verona for the 100th anniversary of the city’s iconic opera festival at the Roman Arena di Verona, stop into the Palazzo della Gran Guardia for their Rubens and Picasso exhibit. Nearby in Padova, the Palazzo Zabarella has assembled more than 120 works from Apulian impressionist De Nettis’s time in Rome.

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Brian Dore and Maria Gabriella Landers | Contact Us
Condé Nast Traveler Top Travel Specialist: Italy

Traveling Between Rome, Florence and Venice: Stopovers to Round Out Your Trip

Whether it’s your first trip to Italy or you’ve traveled the Bel Paese so often that you can almost call it your second home, some cities just never get old. As many times as you might visit the cultural capitals of Rome, Florence, and Venice – with all their history, art, and unmistakable Italian vibe – you are bound to discover something new on each trip. That said, though these three cities are among Italy’s most popular destinations, we’ve got a secret.

There’s a lot of Italy left to explore in between. Read More...