Ragusa: Baroque from the Top Down

Ragusa has been one of the most important cities in Sicily since the native Sicels first defended their hilltop town of Hybla Heraia from the invading Greeks four millenia ago. Though successive waves of invaders and conquerors from the Arabs to the Normans left their mark on city's cuisine and culture, it was Mother Nature who changed Ragusa's history most dramatically.

scale-ragusa-ibla-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

A devastating earthquake razed most of the city center in 1693, killing thousands and destroying almost all of the historic buildings and monuments. Reconstruction began in the 1700s, and divided the city into two main sections: Ragusa Superiore, located on the higher point of the hilltop and laid out in a modern grid pattern, and Ragusa Ibla, rebuilt on top of the destroyed historic center and laid out to match the historic Medieval city plan, with its labyrinth of winding lanes and small squares. It was during this rebuilding that many of the city's most famous and breathtaking Baroque churches and palazzi were built, and what has made Ragusa Ibla one of the most charming historic centers in Sicily and a UNESCO World Heritage Site (along with other Baroque masterpieces in the surrounding Val di Noto valley) since 2002.

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Look Down: Italy's Most Beautiful Floors

Enter a historic villa, palazzo, or cathedral in Italy, and you'll find that your eyes are almost immediately drawn upwards. Intricate Byzantine mosaics, ornate Renaissance frescoes, and sumptuous Baroque plasterwork cover the ceilings of many of Italy's most important buildings, a symbol of the wealth and power of the emperors, dukes, and popes who commissioned them centuries ago.

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

The next time you step into one of Italy's landmark buildings, however, don't forget to look down. Many floors can rival the ceilings, and are artistic masterpieces of complex patterns and prestigious materials that have survived the passage of thousands of feet over time. Here are a few of the most interesting floor types, and where to find them.

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Plautilla Nelli: Florence's First Woman Artist

After centuries of masculine domination, Italy's most important museums are starting to show their feminine side in both boardrooms and exhibition halls. Women have been named to head a number of the country's leading galleries in recent years, beginning with Cecilie Hollberg at the Accademia in Florence and Sylvain Bellenger at Naples' Capodimonte Museum in 2015, and more recently, Barbara Jatta ,who this year became the first woman chosen by a pope to direct the Vatican Museums.

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By Plautilla Nelli - Advancing Women Artists Foundation 2014-02-07 07:30:08, Public Domain, Link(Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

In addition to taking the helm in managing Italy's struggling state museums, women have also begun to take center stage as artists in both special exhibitions and permanent collections. A major retrospective dedicated to Artemisia Gentileschi, the greatest female artist of the Baroque age, has been one of the most successful exhibitions in Rome since it opened in December, and Eike Schmidt, director of the Uffizi Galleries in Florence, has made good on his promise to highlight more works by female artists with “Plautilla Nelli: Convent Art and Devotion in the Footsteps of Savonarola”, dedicated to Florence’s first-known female Renaissance painter, open now until June 4th.

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Coming Soon: Switzerland!

Our love affair with Italy began in the quiet (and, at the time, virtually unknown) region of Umbria. We had been visiting regularly since 2000, and by 2004 had become specialized in creating unique trips focused on the history, culture, and cuisine in our lovely corner of the Bel Paese. Soon, however, our custom travel itineraries expanded to include all of Italy, as we searched out the best destinations, accommodations, and experiences from Sicily to the Dolomites in order to craft unforgettable trips for our travelers.

switzerland-cr-maria-landers(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

After more than a decade spent perfecting our on-the-ground expertise in Italy, we've decided to widen our scope to include Switzerland! We've had many clients request that we add a visit to Switzerland to their Italian itinerary, so we've been using our Italian, German, and French language skills- Maria is perfecting her Römisch - and working hard on expanding our knowledge of all things Swiss.

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Prosecco: Italy's Beloved Bubbly

With all due respect to the French, the world's favorite bubbly is now officially Italian.

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

After centuries of living in the shadow of Champagne, Italy's sparkling Prosecco has taken the globe by storm, outselling its French rival by a few million bottles and gaining such popularity in the UK that suppliers almost ran out in 2016. Champagne may have a corner on glamour, but the DOC and DOCG Prosecco has become universally beloved as an “everyday” bubbly, with an affordable price that belies its excellent quality and long history, and a crisp taste that makes it versatile enough to be used as a mixer, paired with savory dishes, or poured for a dessert toast.

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