Postcards from Italy
THE BLOG OF CIU TRAVEL

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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Fall into Art: Exhibitions to See in Italy This Autumn

As September comes to an end in Italy, fall is reaching its glory: temperatures have cooled and brought balmy days and crisp evenings, a few heavy storms have cleared the last of the summer haze from the air and brought picture-perfect skies, and the autumn leaves and sunsets are tinged with red and orange.

autumn-italy-cr-brian-dore(Photo by CiuTravel via Flickr)

This golden moment of autumn, perfect for outdoor touring, is fleeting; in October and November, the weather will turn to nippy winds and sudden showers that usher in winter. Rather than spending long days in the open air, you'll want to be inside where it's warm and dry...the perfect excuse for ducking into a museum or art gallery. If you need to come in out of the cold, here are a number of excellent art exhibitions scheduled through the end of the year across Italy:

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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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