Imagine embarking on a 245-day long cruise that takes you to 59 countries and includes tours of 113 of the world’s greatest cities – more than most of us will visit in a lifetime! Well, Viking Ocean Cruises can now make this a reality for you on the Viking Sun, taking you on the world’s longest ocean cruise. The 2019-2020 Viking Ultimate World Cruise starts and ends in London and essentially takes you on a tour of the entire Western Hemisphere:
Prices start at $92,990 per person BUT this is a first-class cruise that includes:
Business Class air
Ground transfers to/from the ship; private car transfers for all guests on the 245-day Viking Ultimate World Cruise
All onboard gratuities and service fees
The Silver Spirits beverage package, including virtually all drinks on board
Complimentary VISA Service2
Free luggage shipping services for embarkation & disembarkation for all guests on 245-day Viking Ultimate World Cruise
Also, if you book by Dec. 31, 2018, you will receive:
$4,000 per person shore excursions credit, which can be used toward optional shore excursions or overland tours
$2,000 per person shipboard credit, which can be used toward spa services, onboard shops & beverages
Here’s a video overview of the Viking ocean cruise experience:
Contact us for more information on this unique experience!
Last summer, while on the way back from Florence to our apartment in Southern Italy, Chris and I stayed with some friends of ours in a villa in Montepulciano for a few days. While having dinner at a restaurant in the area, I noticed a nearby hill town silhouetted against the beautiful Tuscan sunset.
The following morning, the village looked even more intriquing from our villa, and we decided to visit it.
Pienza is just a few miles away from its better-known sister village of Montepulciano (which we had visited the previous day) and turned out to be a short 20-min. drive away from our villa.
The history of Pienza is fascinating. The village is in the beautiful Val d’Orcia area and was originally settled in the 8th century as Corsignano. The noble Piccolimini family from Siena had vast estates in the neighboring areas; Enea Silvio Piccolomini was born into that family in Corsignano in 1405.
After studying in Siena and Florence, Enea became a brilliant orator and scholar, and was elected Pope in 1458 as Pope Pius II. He had a dream of transforming his native village into an ideal Renaissance town, much like a smaller Rome. He enlisted the help of the architect Bernardo Rossellino to start work on the reconstruction of Corsignano in 1459. Pius II renamed the village as Pienza, after himself. Most of the work on the village stopped with his death in 1464.
In 1996, UNESCO declared the town a World Heritage Site.
We found Pienza to be much less crowded than Moltepulciano and enjoyed walking through its narrow streets and visiting several shops.
One of the highlights of our visit was seeing the Palazzo Piccolomino, the main residence of Pope Pius II, with its beautiful courtyard, gardens, and views of the surrounding Val d’Orcia.
Pienza’s Cathedral is a masterpiece by Rossellino that combined Gothic style and new Renaissance ideas.
In Pienza, you can enjoy beautiful artistic and architectural beauty, in a peaceful setting away from the large crowds of the bigger Italian cities.
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Most Italian tourist itineraries cover the cities of Venice, Florence, Rome, and maybe Naples.
There is certainly much to see in these places, making them the first stop for first-time Italian tourists.
In Florence, for example, summertime tourists vastly outnumber the local residents.
But if you look beyond the big cities, there are locations off the beaten path and not covered by most tourist guidebooks. There, you can enjoy a quieter, uncrowded, and much more authentic Italy.
There is a largely unknown major resort area along the Tyrrhenian (western) coast of Calabria, in Southern Italy, known as the Riviera dei Cedri. This region, named after a local citrus fruit called the Cedro, encompasses 22 stunning seaside and hilltop towns along the coast, from Tortora on the northern border of Calabria, to the town of Paola farther south along the coast.
Here are 10 towns along the Riviera dei Cedri that will amaze you with their beauty and charm:
Aieta is nestled in the mountains 1,600 ft. above the sea. It is slightly inland from the coast and is only marked by a single sign along the main SS18 highway. The name of the village comes from “aetos“, the Greek name for eagle.
The territory of Aieta has been inhabited since prehistoric times, as proven by artifacts that have been uncovered there dating from the Paleolithic and Neolithic ages.
The village is dominated by the Palazzo Rinascimentale, considered to be the most beautiful example of Renaissance architecture surviving in Calabria. It has recently been converted into an art gallery and museum.
2. Belvedere Marittimo
Belvedere Marittimo is a beautiful village that’s separated into two distinct areas: the modern town which borders the beach and marina, and the CentroStorico (historical center). The village features a Norman Castle originally built around 1000 AD and restored by King Ferdinand of Aragon in 1490.
Belvedere is a photographer’s dream with stunning architecture and sweeping views of the crystal-blue Mediterranean.
Diamante is known as the “City of Murals” and features over 150 works of art by artists from all over the world. These decorate the walls of the buildings in Diamate’s Centro Storico.
Diamante also features a wide promenade next to the sea, bordered with shops and restaurants.
Diamante is perhaps most famous for its annual Festa del Peperoncino, held early in September, celebrating the local hot chili pepper which is the foundation of Calabrian cuisine.
Maiera is perched high atop a narrow ridge overlooking the sea. It was first established around 500 BC. The town derives its name from antiquated Spanish, meaning mountain.
The village has a very reverent and reserved feel to it as you walk along its narrow streets and paths.
Like in Diamante, there are many murals on the town’s walls, and ceramic art can be seen in windows along the narrow paths in the town.
5. Praia a Mare
Praia a Mare is a major beach resort that has over 11km of continuous, walkable beach, that ends alongside the beautiful Dino Island at its most southern stretch. Around the steep limestone cliffs of Dino Island are four grottoes, the largest of which is the Blue Grotto which features deep blue water.
Praia a Mare is also well know for the Madonna Della Grotta, a small church built into a cliff overlooking the city. Closer to the beach area is a long pedestrian-only tree-lined street with lots of shops, restaurants, and B and Bs all along it.
Orsomarso is locally known as “the soul of the mountains” and the village is indeed folded into the jutting landscape.
The Church of San Giovanni contains paintings from the 16th-century and houses hundreds of frescoes constructed by the ancient local master, Colimodio.
Towering above the oldest part of the town is the clock tower built into a cliff.
Pizzo has several main attractions: the Chiesetta di Piedigrotta, a cave-chapel on the shore, the Castello Murat, and the renowned Tartufo di Pizzo, a chocolate truffle ice cream.
Close to the town’s main Piazza (the Piazza della Republica) lies the CastelloMurat. It was built in the fifteenth century. Napoleon’s brother-in-law, Joachim Murat, who was King of Naples for a short time, was imprisoned there and later executed.
The castle is open to the public, and also hosts special events.
Pizzo is most famous for itsTartufo di Pizzo . This is a delicious chocolate and hazelnut ice cream treat coated in cocoa powder and sugar, with a core of chocolate fudge sauce.
Its popularity spreads beyond Pizzo and you’ll find it on dessert menus all over Southern Italy. The cafes around the main square in Pizzo all serve this specialty, and delicious variations of it.
8. Santa Domenica Talao
The hilltop village of Santa Domenica Talao was established in 1640 when the land originally belonged to Hector Maria Spinelli, Prince of Scalea.
Today, the character of the original town is still evident in the buildings of the village, and reflected in the relaxed and friendly lifestyle of its residents.
Santa Domenica Talao is only 4 mi. away from the beach at Scalea, and also borders the Pollino National Park, the largest natural park in Italy.
The village overlooks the Lao River valley, which is rich in history and offers hiking adventures as well as white-water rafting.
On a clear day you can also see Stromboli (80 mi. away), a volcano that’s been continuously erupting for the last 10,000 years.
Scalea is a major beach resort community just down the hill from Santa Domenica Talao. There are basically two towns: the Centro Storico, with buildings dating back to the 1600’s, and a shopping area surrounded by condominiums and apartments mostly occupied by tourists during the summer.
The shopping area is a charming area pedonale or walking area where no cars are allowed. Some of the best restaurants and pastry shops are located there.
The area pedonale is a wonderful place for a leisurely lunch followed by a stroll and perhaps even a gelato.
There are several restaurants in the Centro Storico that serve authentic Calabrian cuisine during the summer.
Tortora (from the Latin turtur-uris, or turtle-dove), is the north-westernmost village in Calabria. The area has been occupied since prehistoric times.
Excavations that took place at the foot of the limestone cliffs of Torre Nave (an ancient watchtower) revealed stone tools dating back to 35,000 years ago.
Since then the area has been occupied by the Enotri(the early people of Italy) up through the 6th century BC, as well as by the Romans, Lombards, and Burbons thereafter.
The village is divided into three sections: The Marina, the Centro Storico, and small mountain towns in the area.
The area hosts many summertime activities including concerts and theatrical performances.
The Museum of Blanda, in the Centro Storico, houses a large collection of local Etruscan artifacts.
Now that you know the Riviera dei Cedri with its beautiful towns and beaches, you can spend your vacation time exploring, taking amazing photos, and eating magnificent food instead of fighting the crowds in the big cities.
A gorgeous train ride south from Rome is all it takes to get here.
No trip to Rome is complete without a visit to the Piazza Navona, one of the largest public spaces in Rome and a favorite gathering-place for visitors and local Romans alike.
It is the home of several famous fountains including (my favorite) Bernini’s Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, or Fountain of the Four Rivers, built between 1647 and 1651. The fountain glorifies the four major rivers of the Old World – The Nile, Ganges, Danube, and Rio Plata.
This particular fountain is featured in Dan Brown’s 2000 thriller Angels and Demons, where it is highlighted as the fourth Altar of Science.
But to me, the most fascinating part of Piazza Navona is what cannot be readily seen, unless you know exactly where to look. Hidden below the surface of the piazza are the remains of an enormous stadium having a seating capacity of 30,000 spectators. It was even larger in area than the Colosseum!
In 86 AD (right after Emperor Titus completed the Colosseum in 80 AD), Emperor Domitian built a new stadium to provide a venue for competitive athletics. It was patterned after similar Greek stadiums and used brick and concrete for the first time in its construction.
The stadium was built in the area shown under the red circled “1” on this map of ancient Rome:
The ancient Romans went to the Stadium to watch the agones (games) when it was known as the Circus Agonalis (competition arena). This name was gradually corrupted into in avone, then to navone, and eventually to navona, the current name of the piazza.
The Stadium was eventually abandoned in the 4th century. In 1477 Pope Sixtus IV relocated the city market to the stadium area and built over the seating area of the old stadium, keeping its original shape and transforming the arena into the present-day Piazza Navona.
You can still see the remains of one of the main entrances of the Stadium of Domitian at the northwestern end of Piazza Navona. Discreetly tucked away behind a building is an archway of the Stadium set back below street level:
It turns out this is part of a newly-excavated area that you can now visit. In 2014 the restoration of the archaeological area of the Stadium—now a Unesco World Heritage site— finally opened to the public. The entrance to the associated museum is just past this archway. Here you can descend below street level and walk amongst the remains of the great Stadium built in 86 AD.
You can even see stamps from the original builders on the masonry!
The museum has much information on the history of the stadium and has some models of its original design.
You really get a sense of the layers of Rome as you look back up at the present street level from the Stadium:
You can also see a diagram of historical ground surface levels showing the surface of the stadium about 3.5 meters below the current level of the cobblestone pavement of Piazza Navona:
Be sure to visit the Stadio di Domiziano Museum the next time you’re in Rome!
One of the things I really enjoy about Italy is that it is like an open-air museum, with new things to continually discover about the origins of our Western civilization. Southern Italy is really interesting from this standpoint since it was extensively colonized by Greek settlers starting around the 8th century BC (see my previous blog post). Chris and I saw even more evidence of this on our way back to our village in Calabria from a visit to Matera last summer. The route back from Matera suggested by Google Maps ended up taking us along the Ionian Sea for a short distance:
Taking a closer look at that route, I noticed an archaeological site marked on the map called “Tavole Palatine” near the city of Metaponto, right along our route:
It turns out that the Tavole Palatine (or Palatine tables or hills) are the ruins of a sixth-century BC Greek temple dedicated to the goddess Hera, built on the site of the ancient Greek colony of Metapontum (now known as Metaponto). This intrigued me so we decided to check it out on our drive back from Matera.
We quickly found the entrance to the site, just off the E90 highway.
The ruins themselves are set back towards the back of the site. You can see fifteen columns of the temple now, but apparently there were originally thirty-two columns making up the original temple. The columns are made of a local limestone called mazzarro.
Originally the temple had a tiled roof with colorful decorations. Many remains of terracotta decorations and ceramics were found at the site and were originally kept at the Antiquarium there, but apparently they have all been moved to the Metaponto National Archaeological Museum (which unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to visit).
Reading up more about the city of Metaponto, I learned it had become very wealthy as an exporter of grains and corn when it was a Greek colony. I discovered that the philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras lived there after leaving Crotone, due to the city’s ongoing skirmishes with its neighboring city of Sybaris or possibly because of being expelled from there along with the followers of his Pythagorean school.
Much later, the slave-rebel Spartacus sacked the town and spent the winter of 73-72 BC there training his army, and from there he went on to fight and defeat many Roman armies for the next two years.
Ancient Greek sites like the Tavole Palatine and Metaponto are only a few of the treasures of Southern Italy that await your visit! Let me know if have any questions about the area or need any tips on what to see in Southern Italy.
Sunshine, the sea, astonishing natural beauty, unbelievably good pasta, pizza, and wine, and friendly, warm people! These are the reasons my wife Chris and I bought an apartment in Santa Domenica Talao five years ago, in a 400-year old hilltop village in Southern Italy. We also knew the area had a deep rich history, but little did we know we would stumble upon a 2,500-year-old ancient Greek village literally in our own backyard! But more on that later ….
Our village is in the coastal area of Southern Italy known as the Magna Graecia (literally “Great Greece” in Latin). Greek settlers extensively colonized this area starting around the 8th century BC, who brought with them their dialects of the Ancient Greek language, their religious rites, their traditions of the independent city-state, and most importantly, a variety of the Greek alphabet which evolved into the Latin alphabet.
Unquestionably, the highlight of the Magna Grecia is the ancient city of Paestum, about an hour and a half away by train from Santa Domenica Talao, and which we visited the day before we purchased our apartment in April of 2011. Paestum was founded around 600 BC, and it has the best-preserved ruins of Greek temples anywhere outside of Greece.
There are three large temples still remaining, all amazingly well-preserved:
After its foundation under the name Poseidonia, the city was conquered by the local Lucanians (who named it Paistos) and then the Romans who again renamed it to Pesto or Paestum. Alongside the original Greek temples, you can now see the remains of Roman roads and houses.
So fast-forward to June of 2016, when I was driving through the village of Marcellina, about 20 min. away from our village, on my way to look for furniture for our apartment. Just outside of Marcellina I noticed a fenced-in area alongside the road with a placard stating “Parco Archeologico di Laos”:
Signs on the fence confirmed that this was the site of the ancient Greek city of Laos, founded around 500 B.C.!
Even though a sign stated the park was supposed to be open, the gate was locked. Peering through through the fence I saw what appeared to be foundations of several houses:
A few days later, Chris and I drove past the park and noticed that this time the gate was open and there appeared to be a tour group inside. We quickly stopped and went in to look around and saw that the area encompassed a few acres of mostly remains of stone foundations of houses. Several signs described these areas in quite a bit of detail and even described a house (“The Mint House”) that was used to mint coins!
I was amazed to see that this technologically advanced city that even had terracotta sewer pipes!
I had no idea that this ancient city was literally in my own backyard! I now understand the origin of the name of the Lao River which runs though the large plain above which our village sits:
Ancient Greek cities like Paestum and Laos are only a few of the treasures of Southern Italy that await your visit! Let me know if have any questions about the area or need any tips on what to see in Southern Italy.