Postcards from Italy
THE BLOG OF CIU TRAVEL

Parma's Festival Verdi

One of our favorite pastimes in Italy is uniting our love of opera with our love of the Bel Paese and exploring new and wonderful ways to see live concerts and performances in everything from small mountain towns to magnificent Roman amphitheaters. We have often enjoyed memorable stagings, stunning theaters, or contagiously enthusiastic audiences...and, on rare fortunate occasions, we have come upon the perfect storm of all three.

Festival Verdi - Parma(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

Just such an occasion happened this past fall when we attended the final weekend of Festival Verdi, the annual celebration of one of Italy's most prominent and beloved composers that has been held for the past 18 years in Parma and Busseto, the small town between Parma and Piacenza where Giuseppe Verdi was born and lived for numerous periods of his life. Held each year from late September to mid-October, the festival is a delightful way to experience traditional and contemporary stagings of Verdi's works, sit in on rehearsals, see up-and-coming performers and directors, and mix with opera and classical music aficionados from across the the world.

Festival Verdi - Parma(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

Here are a few highlights of our experience, so fellow Verdi fans and opera buffs who are considering attending upcoming editions know what to expect. Remember that the Festival Verdi is held in the very heart of Italy's gastronomic capital, so expect to consume copious amounts of Parmigiano Reggiano and Prosciutto di Parma along with the musical fare!

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Something Old, Something New: Recent Discoveries in Pompeii

Pompeii is one of the most famous and important archaeological ruins in the world, and among the most visited cultural sights in Italy. This ancient Roman city just outside Naples was buried in ash and scorching rock from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79 (more on that below), and remained more or less unexplored for over 1000 years. In the 18th century, official excavations began, and the site became a popular stop on the Grand Tour between Naples and Sorrento; today millions of visitors walk the paved Roman streets and admire the colorful frescoes and intricate mosaics decorating many of the unearthed villas and public buildings.

Pompei 2(Photo by CIUTravel via Flickr)

What most of these visitors don't know, however, is that the Pompeii Archaeological Park is an active dig, with new discoveries being made almost weekly that shape how historians and researchers imagine life in the city and in the 1st-century Roman empire in general. Almost a third of the Pompeii has yet to be excavated but 2018 has been a year rich with new finds as the two-year Great Pompeii Project kicks off, the most intense period of study in the ruins since the 1950s. Archaeologists have begun a large-scale excavation of Regio V, a stretch of land between the House of the Silver Wedding and the House of Marcus Lucretius Fronto and a number of important clues to the past have been uncovered over the past year.

Just this week, archaeologists uncovered a magnificent fresco depicting the Greek myth of Leda and the Swan decorating an internal wall near the entrance to an elegant villa on Via del Vesuvio, in the Regio V. This somewhat suggestive depiction was discovered just days after that of an equally eyebrow-raising fresco of the Roman fertility god Priapus weighing his member on a pair of scales. Though it was found near the Leda fresco, the depiction of Priapus is unfortunately in much worse condition.

Pompei with Vesuvius(Photo by CIUTravel via Flickr)

What have archaeologists found? Here are some of the most exciting discoveries:

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Glass Half Full: Drinking Wine in Italy

Piedmont has recently been named as one of the top destinations in the world for 2019, and the news comes as no surprise. With delightful villages, beautiful landscapes, and one of the best regional cuisines in Italy, this northern region is a winner in every way. No visit to Piedmont is complete, however, without sampling its local wine, as the region is home to Barolo and Barbaresco, two the most prestigious labels in the Bel Paese.

tasting-wine-italy-cr-ciutravel(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

Though Piedmont is one of the most captivating regions in Italy, its wine culture is in no way unique. One of the greatest pleasures when visiting Italy is discovering the rich variety of wines produced here. With tens of thousands of wineries from the tiny, family-run to the international powerhouses scattered in every region from north to south, sampling the countless local labels is both a joy and a daunting task, best undertaken with a few pointers to keep you from feeling overwhelmed.

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Dream of a White Christmas in Switzerland

Come December, cities across Europe transform into winter wonderlands, with twinkling lights, open-air ice rinks, and festive Christmas markets...but none can match the beauty and Yuletide spirit of Switzerland. With it's Hallmark-card ready landscape of snow-capped mountains and wooden chalets tucked in thick fir forests, Switzerland effortlessly creates a timeless holiday atmosphere where holiday traditions and Alpine majesty manage to overshadow the creeping commercialism that has overtaken the season elsewhere.

St. Moritz - Badrutt’s Palace(Photo by Kecko via Flickr)

If you're dreaming of a white Christmas, consider spending your winter holidays in Switzerland, where the country spends much of the month of December decked out and ready to celebrate. From a ski break to a rail trip through some of the most breathtaking scenery in the country, Switzerland is the perfect destination for an unforgettable Christmas and New Year's with family and loved ones.

Here are some ideas to inspire you for a Swiss Christmas:

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The Best Chocolate Festivals in Italy

Italians are purists when it comes to seasonal foods. At the outdoor markets, the months of the calendar are marked by what is stacked high in the market stalls: asparagus, strawberries, and lamb in spring; tomatoes, zucchini, and goose in summer; mushrooms, chestnuts, and pork sausage in fall; and legumes, truffles, and charcuterie in winter. You may be surprised to learn, however, that even foods that are normally not considered “seasonal” outside of Italy are harder to find during certain months of the year in the Bel Paese.

chocolate-modica-cr-ciutravel(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

Chocolate, for example, is celebrated whole-heartedly in Italy from autumn through spring, but is often pulled from store shelves during the country's hot and humid summer months, when many chocolate factories and artisan workshops either slow or halt production entirely. With the first cool days of fall, however, chocolate reappears at shops, cafés, and, most importantly, festivals. Exact dates of Italy’s chocolate festivals vary from year to year, but they are all held in the fall or winter months when Italy's endless varieties of bars, truffles, candies, and “sippables” can be displayed and sampled without fear of melting or curdling.

This is sweet music to the ear of any chocoholic visiting Italy during the autumn and winter months, as there are a number of chocolate festivals held across the country each year where visitors can sample offerings produced by everyone from the most famous Italian and international chocolate powerhouses to the tiniest local artisans. Some festival highlight a local specialty, be it a unique flavor or style of chocolate; others include a variety of chocolatiers offering new concoctions, free samples, workshops, demonstrations, and cultural events like concerts and performances.

Amedei. the Italian family
(Photo by Everjean via Flickr)

If you'd like to wander through a food festival where even the air smells of cocoa, here are five of Italy’s most popular celebrations of “the food of the gods”:

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