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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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...

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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Italy's Most Beautiful Gardens

Though it may seem that summer is the season to visit Italy’s many splendid gardens, in this country’s hot and arid Mediterranean climate, the best times of year to enjoy most of these magnificent grounds are actually the spring and fall. It is during the cooler, damper months that these public and private parks, many of which could be considered works of art rivaling those in Italy’s museums, reach the height of their lushness and color.

villa-lante-italy-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)
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L’Amatriciana and La Gricia: Pasta’s First Cousins

Two of Rome’s classic (and ubiquitous) pasta dishes hail from Amatrice, the tiny mountain town perched in the Apennine peaks between Lazio and neighboring Abruzzo, and home to centuries of semi-nomadic shepherds.

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Behind Closed Doors: Visiting Private Museums and Artwork in Italy

Italy is saturated with art, and not only in the big ticket cities like Rome, Florence, or Venice. Virtually every hamlet and hilltown in Italy boasts at least one masterpiece tucked away in the local parish church or dusty municipal gallery which, if it were housed in any city in the New World, would be the crown jewel of a lavish dedicated museum and marketed to its last dab of tempera.

But if your head swims at the thought of the incredible volume of art displayed publicly in Italy, consider the treasures that hide behind closed doors. Centuries of noble families amassing sumptuous private collections mean that there are untold Stendhal moments tucked away in the elegant apartments of Italy’s private palazzi and castles. Many of these are off-limits to visitors outside the family’s close circle, but many others can be quietly and privately seen...if you just know how. Read More...

I Santi e I Morti: Italy’s All Saints and All Souls Days

Twenty years ago, very few Italians had heard of Halloween; today this holiday is widely known and celebrated (more commonly with costume parties than with trick-or-treating) across Italy, as shop windows are festooned with spooky decorations and restaurants and clubs offer themed dinners and events in the weeks leading up to the 31st. Read More...

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...

Top Italian Music Festivals: Opera in Rome, The Arena di Verona, Umbria Jazz Festival and More

italian music festivals arena di verona
Image by Flickr user *Debs*

Music has been at the heart of Italian culture since the Romans refined Greek musical drama. Italian composer still dominate opera’s “best of” lists and one of the country’s favorite sons, Giuseppe Verdi, is being feted this year on the occasion of his 200th Birthday (October 10).

As singers and music lovers, we love to share our passion for music with travelers to Italy. Like the country’s great art museums, Italy’s music festivals bring the country’s heritage to life.

Arena di Verona, Veneto


italian music festivals arena di verona
Image by Flickr user Kevin Poh

Opera at the Arena di Verona in Verona brings Italian history from different periods – Roman, baroque, neoclassical, and modern – together in a way you won’t find anywhere else. Set in one of the best-preserved Roman amphitheaters, performances begin once dark sets in, typically around 9pm in the summer. Candles are passed through the thousands of attendees to light the seating area and paths and imbue the space with an ancient timelessness that provides a lively contrast against the often high-art, hyper-modern set pieces. The Arena season runs from June 14 to September 8 and features 5 Verdi classics including perennial favorite Aida.

Umbria Jazz Festival in Perugia, Umbria


italian music festivals umbria jazz festival
Image © Concierge in Umbria

Since its inception in 1973, the Umbria Jazz Festival has grown into one of the most significant jazz festivals in the world, drawing in the top names in music – Miles Davis, B.B. King, Tony Bennett, Natalie Cole, Elton John, Carlos Santana and Van Morrison to name a few. The original July version of the festival now reaches beyond jazz, hosting some of the world’s top pop artists as well. It has become so popular it now has a winter spin-off, the Umbria Jazz Winter Festival held in December and January in Orvieto. From large stadium concerts to street musicians and small club performances by up and coming jazzistas it is a wonderfully chaotic and vibrant scene in the Umbrian capital during the festival. The 40th Anniversary Season runs from July 5-14 and features performances by John Legend, Diana Krall, Keith Jarrett, Sony Rollins, among others.

Baths of Caracalla, Rome


italian music festivals opera in Rome
Image by Flickr user Teldridge+Keldridge

Each summer, Rome’s Teatro dell’Opera decamps from its location in the city to the ancient Baths of Caracalla for summer performances. Active from the 2nd to the 6th century AD, the baths were Rome’s second largest public baths. They remain remarkably intact and provide a suggestive backdrop for music productions. 2013 ScheduleTBA.

Puccini Festival in Torre del Lago, Tuscany


Started by a friend of Puccini’s in 1930 with a production of La Boheme on a stage built right in the lake, the Puccini Festival has grown into one of the world’s top opera festivals. Now in the lakeside town where Puccini spent much of his life and composed many of his operas, a small outdoor amphitheater offers summer visitors the chance to enjoy the composer’s works in the natural setting that inspired them. Last year’s festival also hosted the international opera awards. The 59th Festival Puccini features 4 operas including a new production of Tosca and runs from July 12 to August 24.

Ravello Festival in Ravello, Amalfi Coast


italian music festivals ravello
Image by Flickr user Ell Brown

Another festival overlooking the water, the Ravello Festival is known colloquially as the “Wagner Festival,” due to its origin honoring Richard Wagner’s stay in the town in the 1880s. Over the last six decades, the festival has grown from its Wagnerian origins into a mélange of classical and modern music, as well as other performing and fine arts, with opportunities to meet the artists during the festival’s discussion groups. This year, the festival celebrates its own 60th anniversary along with the 200th anniversary of Wagner’s birth.

Stresa Festival in Stresa, Lake District


italian music festivals stresa
Image by Flickr user Pascal

When it comes to waterside music festivals, the Stresa Festival is the top event for views. All around Stresa, a resort town on Lake Maggiore in the temperate northern Lake District, musicians play in medieval castles and monasteries, Renaissance villas, and baroque palaces overlooking the lake. Confined more or less to one week, the festival packs in a wide gamut of musical styles – from classical to jazz, and groups – from world-renowned artists to up-and-coming student performers. The Stresa Festival begins on July 19 and offers events through the beginning of September.

Rossini Festival in Pesaro, Le Marche


Also commonly called the Pesaro Festival, the Rossini Opera Festival honors the popular opera and chamber music composer in his birthplace, Pesaro. Since 1980, the festival has produced not only his well-known works, such as Il barbiere di Siviglia and La cenerentola (Cinderella), but some of the more obscure of his 39 opera and chamber music compositions. The 2013 festival begins August 10 and features productions of Guillaume Tell, Mosè in Egitto, and L’italiana in Algeri.

Maggio Musicale in Florence, Tuscany


italian music festivals florence maggio musicale
Image by Flickr user MITO Settembre Musica

Florence’s Maggio Musicale is not a single month, as its name would suggest (maggio is Italian for May), but rather two months of acclaimed musical concerts. The festival dates back to 1933, making it one of Italy’s oldest musical festivals. Each May and June, it ties together music and dance concerts and operas often centered on a theme, such as a period, topic, or composer. This year’s festival kicks off with a new production of Verdi’s Don Carlo conducted by Zubin Mehta on May 2.

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

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

Top 10 Italian Holiday Experiences: Brian and Maria Gabriella's Picks

Trying to plan a trip to Italy and just don’t know where to start? Everyone has their favorite cities, restaurants, hotels and sights to recommend (contact us and we'll tell you ours), but here are 10 Italian holiday experiences around the country that you just can’t miss. In a country full of perfect 10s, the following are in no particular order.

#1 Italian Holiday Experience: Roma! Roma! Roma! - Ancient Rome


Image: © Concierge in Umbria

At the heart of modern-day Rome, the ruins of the ancient Roman capital are remarkably preserved despite the 4 million visitors who walk the 2600-year-old paths each year. But Rome is not the only place to find traces of the ancient civilization (Pompeii is a perfect day trip!), and Rome today is far more than a city built on ancient relics. Walking the streets, you’re greeted with the most majestic architecture and art from every period of Italian history and the vibrancy of a modern capital.

#2 Italian Holiday Experience: Rinascimento - Renaissance Florence


Image: © Concierge in Umbria

Florence may be small compared to bustling Rome, but the capital of Renaissance culture packs in so many sights that you can spend eight hours wandering four blocks and still not see everything. Though Florence is home to the grand art collections of the Uffizi and the Accademia (home to Michelangelo's David), other cities in Tuscany and further afield in Umbria (Perugia) and Le Marche (Urbino) hold equally lauded but less visited collections.

#3 Italian Holiday Experience: Venezia - A One of a Kind City


Image: © Concierge in Umbria

Often imitated but never copied, Venice remains - despite the hype, the masses of tourists, and the commercialization - a magically unique place. Where else in the world . . . is a major modern city completely devoid of motorized vehicles? . . . are "roads" sometimes only wide enough for one person? . . . was home to Casanova? Like few other cities in Italy, walking through Venice transports you to another time.

#4 Italian Holiday Experience: Sicilia - Crossroads of Cultures


Image: © Concierge in Umbria

While we often say that Italy has it all, the Mediterranean's largest island has it all in one place. Ancient ruins, Byzantine cathedrals, and Islamic architecture dot the landscape, while the flavors of all of Sicily's past rulers mix with the island's rich agricultural produce to create a singular cuisine. Throw in a volcano, hundreds of miles of coastline with beaches and diving, and verdant hiking trails, and you've got Sicily.

#5 Italian Holiday Experience: Mangiare e bere! The Food


Image: © Concierge in Umbria

There is something about Italian food that you can never replicate at home - the incredibly fresh, picked-at-the-peak-of-ripeness, seasonal vegetables. In Italy, the phenomenon called "farm to table" is not a fad, but a basic way of life. And don't forget the wine! (Not that the Italians would let you.) Even low-priced table wines and house wines are high-quality and often organic.

#6 Italian Holiday Experience: Italiani! - The Italians



Image: © Concierge in Umbria


All of the things that we love about Italy are made possible by the Italians themselves. Their passion. Their conviction. Their love of beauty for beauty’s sake. And their fervent desire to point you to the absolute best gelato, pasta, or whatever you are looking for. The Italians are great hosts and are one of the warmest and funniest peoples of the world. Recommendations by and conversations with Italians will take your trip to the next level.

#7 Italian Holiday Experience: I Panorama - The Views!


Image: © Concierge in Umbria

Italy’s peninsula (justly often called “the boot”) stretches from the Alps down to the volcanic peaks of Sicily’s Mt. Etna, benefiting from 4722 miles of coastline along the way. From the ski and hiking resorts of the Dolomites like Cortina d’Ampezzo to the rolling hills of Tuscany to the cities built into sheer cliffs along the Tyrrhenian Sea, like the UNESCO World Heritage Cinque Terre and the star-studded Amalfi coast, Italy has a view to soothe anyone’s soul.

#8 Italian Holiday Experience: Lo Shopping - Art, Clothes, and Ceramics, Oh My!


Image: © Concierge in Umbria

You may come to Italy for the art or the food, but don't forget to leave time to bring your favorite things home with you. For quality, Italy is unparalleled. For clothes, you can score Italy's top fashion brands at deep, deep discounts at outlet malls outside major cities. To decorate your home, pick up reproductions of your favorite museum art pieces and scour ceramics shops for unique regional designs and elegant painted serving dishes.

#9 Italian Holiday Experience: Un Pisolino e Una Passeggiata - Lifestyle


Image: © Concierge in Umbria

The afternoon nap (il pisolino) and the evening stroll (la passeggiata) form an integral part of the rhythm of Italian life. The morning is for chatting at a coffee bar, getting fresh vegetables, cheese, and pasta at the market for the highlight of the day – lunch! After a rest or a nap, the whole city takes to the streets for an evening stroll to catching up on gossip and grab a gelato. Italy is all about the pace of life.

#10 Italian Holiday Experience: Che Spettacolo! Fantastic Live Events


Image: © Concierge in Umbria

There is a reason that opera, philosophical dramas, and improvised comedy all have their roots in Italy – the Italians know how to put on a show. Today, you can still experience opera in ornately decorated opera houses with intermissions long enough for a drink and a chat between every act just as Verdi fans did in the 1800s. In the spring and summer, the country comes alive with world-class concerts and music festivals in every city and usable Roman amphitheater.

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