Row Like a Venetian

Voga, voga, il vento tace,
pura è l'onda, il ciel sereno,
solo un alito di pace
par che allegri e cielo e mar:
voga, voga, o marinar.

Row, row, the wind has died,
the water is pure, the sky bright,
only a breath of peace
seems to cheer both sky and sea.
Row, row, sailor.

- Leopoldo Tarantini

voga-voga-row-venice-cr-ciutravel(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Though its reputation has been somewhat sullied by its popularity with tourists, there is nothing more authentic and historic - not to mention picturesque - in Venice than voga rowing. This traditional style of sculling with a single, long oar to both propel and steer has been used by *gondolieri *for centuries and is uniquely suited to guide gondolas through the narrow, twisting canals of La Serenissima. Though we always urge travelers to Venice to support this local tradition by taking a gondola ride during their stay, on our most recent visit we went a step further and took a private lesson to try our hand at voga ourselves!

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Venice's Peggy Guggenheim Collection

One of the most important and prestigious art collections in Venice has surprisingly little to do with La Serenissima's illustrious history and artistic heritage.

guggenheim-venice-entrance(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Instead, it was bold American heiress and patron of the arts Peggy Guggenheim who amassed a stunning collection of 20th century art and found a home for it in her adopted city of Venice, where it remains among the city's most popular museums today.
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Carnevale Sweets in Italy

Italy is not a country where keeping your New Year's resolutions is going to be easy. Though the Mediterranean diet is said to be one of the healthiest in the world, it is also laden with carbohydrates, complimented by wine, and so delicious that it's often a challenge to stick to reasonable portion sizes.

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

In addition, it doesn't help that shortly after taking down the holiday decorations and hunkering down to lose your Christmas 5 (or, ahem, 10), Carnevale begins. This historic, month-long festival counting down the weeks before Easter is celebrated with elaborate costumes, boisterous parades and parties, and overindulgence in all things fried and sugared. If you are visiting Italy during Carnevale, be sure to sample some of the delectable and excessive treats that are only found at this time of year!

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Venice's Palazzo Museums

It happens to almost everyone who visits Italy: as you stroll past a stately palazzo facade, your eyes drift upwards and you catch a glimpse of the “piano nobile” with its sweeping halls, frescoed ceilings, sumptuous artwork, and intricate Murano glass chandeliers. You wonder who may have lived there - or perhaps still does, and wistfully daydream about a chance to view the ornate interiors from close up.

Italy's historic cities are crowded with these noble palazzi, built as ostentatious private residences by everyone from popes to wealthy sea merchants, all of whom needed to demonstrate their economic and political power through prestigious real estate. Though some of these aristocratic palaces are still privately owned and inhabited, many have been sold over the centuries and are now home to banks, government ministries, schools, or divided into smaller private apartments.

DSC03268 _Snapseed(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Luckily for the daydreamers, there are also a number of important palazzi that have been converted into small museums or galleries open to the public, often with the original decor and furnishings partially or fully intact. Rome has a wonderful collection of palazzi museums, as does Venice.

Here are a few of the most interesting museums in Venice housed in La Serenissima's most magnificent historic palazzi:

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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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Acqua Alta in Venice: A Survival Guide

There are a number of advantages to visiting Venice during the winter, most importantly the significantly smaller number of of tourists swarming the streets. In addition, low season prices make the cost of accommodation a bit less steep, the winding canals and tiny back alleys are often shrouded in a romantic mist, and, of course, La Serenissima's opulent Carnevale celebrations bring the city out of its winter slumber for a few weeks each January and February.

San Marco(Photo by Kyle Van Horn via Flickr)

There is one downside to a stay in Venice in late autumn and winter, however: acqua alta. Acqua alta, or “high water” is caused by a combination of tides and winds which force sea water into the Venetian Lagoon, which in turn rises above the level of the city streets, flooding the low-lying areas of this island city. Though locals are used to acqua alta, and the city is quick to set up walkways and alternative routes, this sudden flood of icy, sludgy sea water can cause consternation and inconvenience to visitors. Here's a quick survival guide for a low season/high water visit:
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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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Everything You Need to Know about Venice's Gondolas

It's not often that we recommend indulging in a “touristy” activity; we love the more hidden and authentic side of Italy, and personalized, local experiences that often aren't accessible to mass tourism. There is one important exception to this bias, however: a ride in one of Venice's iconic gondolas.

Gondolas - Venice(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

As we said in our 48 Hours in Venice guide, “You wouldn’t visit Paris and skip the Eiffel Tower. You wouldn’t visit India and neglect the Taj Mahal. So how could you possibly not indulge in the most iconic of activities in Venice?” Part of this recommendation is based on the pure joy of floating down Venice's picturesque canals in your private luxury sedan of the sea, but part of it is also because the gondola may have become primarily a tourist attraction over the past century, but for most of the last millennium, it was a fundamental part of Venice's culture and daily life.
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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...

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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Italy's Islands: The Venetian Islands

The word “island” tends to conjure up mental images of sugar sand beaches, palm trees, and flower-laden maidens, but Venice’s islands are much less Gauguin and much more de Chirico.

Leaning tower on Burano(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Gaily painted houses lined up shoulder-to-shoulder in blocks of contrasting color along canals placid enough to reflect their mirror image, perfectly symmetrical miniature footbridges spanning the water, neat artisan workshops turning out the same intricate crafts they have been for centuries—these tiny mini-Venices off the coast of La Serenissima are a microcosm of the same beauty, history, and artistry that has drawn wanderers to this corner of Italy since it was rivaled only by the Ottoman Empire in wealth and power.
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Carnival in Venice

Everything about Venice is sumptuous and extravagant: its history as a wealthy and powerful maritime republic; its architecture, which spans from the Byzantine Saint Mark’s Basilica to the Gothic palazzi lining the Grand Canal; its art, dominated by the eye-popping colors of Renaissance masters Giorgione and Titian.

Is it so surprising, then, that even Venice’s Carnival celebrations are the most elaborate in all of Italy? Read More...

48 Hours: Venezia (Venice)

There is good news and bad news about visiting Venice.

The good news is that the breathtaking historic center—more an open air museum than a city—is quite compact and so easily navigable by foot (or boat) that two days of exploring are enough to sample much of La Serenissima’s elegance and romance. The bad news is that this same compact center means that the crowds of visitors drawn to this unique city are concentrated in a relatively small area and hard to avoid. Follow Maria’s advice and “just put blinders on and enjoy the sights”; you will soon be so absorbed in the stunning architecture, iconic gondolas, and fascinating everyday logistics of life in a city of canals that the tourists will fade into the background. 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...

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...