Postcards from Italy
THE BLOG OF CIU TRAVEL

Venice's Unforgettable Artisans

Venice has been dominating the news this month, and not only for lighthearted reasons like the Venice Film Festival and the Biennale. La Serenissima is under siege from an increasing number of tourists each year, reaching numbers of daily visitors in the summer months that are unsustainable both ecologically and socially. As mega cruise ships and vacation rentals have moved in, historic shops and long-time residents have moved out, diluting the uniquely Venetian charm that has attracted travelers for centuries.

DSC03268 _Snapseed(Photo by Ciutravel via Flickr)

That said, don't despair! Venice will always be Venice, and the city is trying to preserve its social fabric by making a number of changes, including limiting the size of cruise ships allowed to dock and the percentage of city residences that can be used for short-term rentals. Slowly the pendulum will swing back toward a vibrant and thriving Floating City, where future generations of visitors and residents alike can bask in its magnificence.

Venezia - Rialto(Photo by Ciutravel via Flickr)

In the meantime, there are ways to visit Venice that support rather than harm its local economy and traditions, giving the pendulum a little nudge in the right direction. Be sure to stay at least a few days when visiting, rather than just stopping by for a day trip. Take in the famous sights, of course, but take time to wander the quieter back streets and explore the smaller churches and museums. Sample cicchetti, take a gondola ride, and head to the outlying islands. And, of course, avoid purchasing cheap tchotchkes, and choose beautiful, one-of-a-kind mementos from Venice's many artisan workshops and ateliers.
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Fashionable Florence: Designer Museums

Milan may be considered Italy's fashion capital, but a number of the most famous and historic designers to come out of Italy in the 20th century actually hail from Florence. Indeed, many trace the birth of Italy's haute couture industry to a fashion show held at Florence's Villa Torrigiani in 1951 by entrepeneur Giovanni Battista Giorgini; the collections made such an impression on international buyers that in just a few short years Italian fashion was considered equal to or better than the iconic French houses.

Gucci-Garden-cr-CIU-Travel(Photo by CIUTravel via Flickr)

Florence has begun to highlight its design history with a number of fashion museums that have either opened or expanded recently, most notably Gucci Garden. If you are a fashion addict, or simply appreciate the rich history and exacting eye Florentine designers are known for, you can explore a number of museums dedicated to a specific designer or to the history of fashion and design during your visit to the city...in addition to browsing the elegant branded boutiques that dot the city center.
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Authentic Amalfi Coast: Traditional Ceramics from Vietri sul Mare

The Amalfi Coast is one of the most popular destinations in Italy, and it’s easy to see why. With its dramatic coastline, colorful fishing villages, crystalline turquoise waters, and hidden sea coves and grottoes, this stretch of coast south of Naples is simply stunning. That said, after more than half a century of intensive tourism—the masses began rolling in after the post-war Jackie O/Brigitte Bardot jet set put this area on the map—it can sometimes feel as if the local culture of this historic coastline is buried under layers of grand hotels, luxury yachts, and chic cocktail bars from Positano to the island of Capri.

Travel slightly further afield, however, and it’s easy to discover the more authentic side of the Amalfi Coast, including its stellar cuisine, scenic donkey paths-cum-hiking trails, and, of course, traditional artisan crafts. Among the most storied of these artisan crafts is ceramica di Vietri, or hand-painted ceramics from Vietri sul Mare.

Vietri sul Mare(Photo by Elicus via Flickr)

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Buying Leather in Italy: A Guide

Long before savvy travelers discovered the joys of collecting hand-painted ceramics from Deruta or Caltagirone, gathering pungent truffles in Alba and Umbria, or choosing fine linens from Anghiari or Perugia, leather was one of the most popular and sought-after specialty items from Italy. Italian leather has been famous for its quality and durability since the Middle Ages, when Florence became the capital of Europe's artisan leather workshops and the Oltrarno neighborhood was thick with craftsmen making everything from shoes and accessories to decorated saddles, leather armor, and even ornate book bindings.


From these roots, a thriving leather production spread that continues across Italy in everywhere from tiny hill town artisan workshops to urban designer boutiques, and Italian leather is considered the best in the world still today. There are important rules of thumb to keep in mind when considering purchasing a leather jacket, bag, or pair of shoes during your next trip, however, to ensure you are choosing a top-quality piece that will last for years. Here are a few tips and guidelines: Read More…

Florence to Explore: A Neighborhood Guide

One of the pleasant surprises upon first exploring Florence is the convenient compactness of the city's historic center. Almost all its most famous museums and monuments are within an easy 10 minute stroll from each other, centered around the stunning Duomo and the stately Piazza della Signoria.

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

But if you walk just a bit further in almost any direction, you can discover Florence's historic neighborhoods where the crowds are thinner, the shops and restaurants are funkier, and the feel is that of an authentic Old World city where locals have lived and worked for centuries. After taking in the David and Ponte Vecchio, dedicate a few hours to striking out beyond these iconic yet overrun sights to discover the Florence of the Florentines.

Here are a few of the most charming neighborhoods to wander:

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