Venice Carnevale—Life’s A Masquerade!

by Admin 15-Jan 2013

It’s the week before Lent and the calendar says “Party!” And while Rio dances in the street 24/7 and New Orleans jazzes the blues right out of winter, Venice puts on a show that rivals the rest. If you’ve never experienced Carnevale, then be sure to bump it to the top of your bucket list ... The breathtaking, exuberant pageantry of masks, festooned boats, and centuries-old rituals draw participants and revelers from across the globe for reasons you have to see to believe.

There are so many events going on, so many traditional celebrations and pageants, that it’s impossible to describe them all — much less their origins. So, here’s our short list of what not to miss and what to look for “behind-the-mask.” Carnevale runs from Jan. 26 to Feb. 12, 2013.

The 2013 Theme: LIVE IN COLOR!
The kaleidoscopic image relates to the amazing colors that Venice emanates, from its pastel buildings to the nuanced reflections in the waters. It’s a tribute to the painters who first captured the light and colors of the city: Canaletto, Guardi, Titian, Bellini, Veronese. And it will be present in every aspect of this year’s feast, from the foods to the colorful regalia on buildings and boats everywhere.

• Saturday, January 26
The Grand Parade of Masks in Piazza San Marco. This opening ceremony is dedicated to the citizens of the city of Venice, many of whom arrive in traditional Venetian costume and a spectacular array of painted masks.

• Sunday, January 27
Parade of Boats. Thousands of watercraft, small and big, sail the Grand Canal to the fabled Canareggio district where countless food and wine stalls serve forth traditional Venetian specialty foods and beverages late into the evening.

• Twice daily
The Best Mask Contest: 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. in Piazza San Marco. Originally made of glass, today’s finest masks are made of leather, porcelain, or carta pesta (papier maché), elaborately painted and often themed with the traditional motifs: Bauta — full-faced and often worn with a black cloak; Columbina — the half-mask, usually highly decorated with gold and feathers; Medico del Peste — the bird-beak mask; and the Volto — the popular all-white mask, often worn with a tri-corner hat and cloak.

• Sunday, February 3
Volo dell’Angelo (Flight of the Angel). A tradition since the early Renaissance, an anonymous Venetian “guest” flies along a rope from the bell tower of San Marco and lands in the middle of the Piazza, greeted by throngs of masked festival-goers.

• Three times daily on weekends
The Secrets of Venice – Walking Theater Show. Beginning in the 15th century, nobles and wealthy Venetians were escorted in the evenings by a codega, a story-telling servant who lit the way home down the alleyways with lanterns. Today, theatrical actors play the part of the codega, leading the “audience” through the streets of Venice, stopping at secret places and watching other actors appear in the dark to tell tales tall and true.

• Tuesday, February 12 (Mardi Gras)
The Silent Water Parade & Closing Ceremony. Starting at the Rialto and ending at the Punta della Dogana in the Grand Canal, this moving and dazzling ceremony features a huge flotilla of gondolas and traditional rowboats, all lit with candles and bringing to life the Venice of another era.

For more information and tickets, visit the comprehensive Italian site, which translates into English.

Experience Carnevale up-close ...
... from one of Parker’s Gondole Apartments. Rented on a nightly basis, with plenty of living space, cooking facilities, and drop-dead views, each apartment makes a perfect home in the serene Giudecca neighborhood, just a 10-minute vaporetto ride to St. Mark’s Square. Take a moment to check out views from Tortuga and Gandalf

Book-it to Venice: Insider Travel Tips

by Admin 08-Jan 2013

Venice is on everyone’s “places-to-visit-in-this-lifetime” list—for a million great reasons. It’s not, however, one of the most straightforward places to get to. Since we’ve had many years of experience in sending travelers to Venice and the Veneto, we’d like to share some of our “insider” tips to help make your own travel planning easier.

Venice Airport & Transfers
During certain periods Delta flies direct to Venice from the U.S. It’s worth checking out. Venice's Marco Polo Airport is easy to navigate with water taxi service directly from the airport to locations along the Grand Canal. Private water taxi cost €110 for 1-4 persons and takes about 20 minutes; the private waterbus (vaporetto) company, Aliguna, goes to Piazza San Marco for €25 and take about an hour.

Getting Around
If you’re planning to explore Venice for a day or longer, the Travel Card (ACTV) offers substantial discounts on water and land buses within the county of Venice, the Lido, and Mestre (excluding the airport). As an example, just one vaporetto ride costs €7 while an entire day’s worth of unlimited travel along the canals costs €18 with the Travel Card. Buy as little as a 12-hour card or one good for up to 7 days. Cards can be purchased from the ACTV in Piazzale Roma (the staff speaks English). Visit Moving Venice for more details.

Book Venice Early
Venice is a hugely popular weekend destination for Italians. Hotels tend to fully book by February, especially for Friday and Saturday nights.

July is Off Season in Venice

If you’re on a budget, plan to visit Venice in July. July is considered low season for most Venetian hotels and there are great deals to be had especially from Sunday through Thursday nights.

Ride a Gondola
Yes, it’s pricey (a 30-minute ride costs around
100), but it's an experience you'll treasure forever. If there’s a moon out in the evening, that’s the best time to go—and be sure you pass under the fabled Bridge of Sighs.

Experience the majesty of Venice’s skyline (literally) ...
... from one of Parker’s Gondole Apartments. Rented on a nightly basis, with plenty of living space, cooking facilities, and drop-dead views, each apartment makes a perfect home in the serene Giudecca neighborhood, just a 10-minute vaporetto ride to St. Mark’s Square. Take a moment to check out views from Tortuga and Gandalf


Orvieto Underground: The city beneath the city

by Admin 12-Dec 2012

When you’re standing in one of the arched stone caverns deep inside the Parco delle Grotte (park of caves), consider that there’s a cathedral right atop your head.

Orvieto’s history reaches deep into Etruscan times. Built high atop a tufa “mountain,” the town’s soft porous stone was easily cut and carved into a warren of labyrinthine passageways sometime around the 5th century B.C. When the Romans arrived in 264 B.C., they nearly demolished Orvieto, but the town rose from the proverbial ashes in the 14th century when approximately 30,000 people settled here and rebuilt the glorious little city that still rises above the broad valley below. The noblemen, who brought their business to town and who built churches and the mighty cathedral, dug and expanded the passageways beneath their homes, creating escape routes in case the city came under siege. As time went by, other citizens altered and conformed the subterranean halls and passages for their own industrious purposes, creating wells, cisterns, pigeon-breeding centers, a cement quarry, kilns for their ceramics, and storage for olive oil.

As the centuries rolled by, the caves were abandoned, their storied past fading from public knowledge. It has only been since the late 19th and 20th centuries, when archaeologists began combing the Umbrian countryside for Etruscan artifacts, that this underground world resurfaced. In 1985, a huge well was discovered, and next to it, the remains of two ceramic kilns. One dates to the Renaissance when it was used in a process called the “third fire.” The result was a hard, shiny ceramic, whose iridescent gold and red finish remains unique in the world.

As you’re wandering about Orvieto, you can gain access to many of the caves through local shops and restaurants—some even advertise entry on their signs—and we recommend dining in one of the city’s grotto restaurants for the enchanting atmosphere. It’s also well worth the time to take the “Orvieto Underground Tour,” a guided adventure where you can climb up and down the winding stairways, photograph ancient olive presses, and marvel at those little symmetrical square holes in the walls. You’ll find out what those are, along with these other fascinating facts about this magical and mysterious world:

• Many caves are connected underground, perfect for chatting with the neighbors.
• The 57-degree F temperature is steady through the labyrinth, which is just right for processing the excellent olive oil famous throughout Umbria.
• “Ladders” for climbing into higher chambers were carved into the walls using a series of alternating foot and hand holds.
• That strange sequence of uniform niches in the larger galleries? Those are pigeon holes, where the birds nested and laid eggs, an important source of revenue for the locals.


Parker’s VILLA MIRABELLA offers your own perfect go-to grotto, its stone walls and terracotta floors a beautiful use of local materials. Whether for 8 guests, or up to 14, the very private villa features a pool and a bocce court. The covered portico with a wood-fired barbecue make al fresco dining a memorable experience. Orvieto, with its many restaurants, shops, fabled cathedral and underground caves, is just 15 minutes away. Click here for more information.

Saint Nicholas: A tale of two Italian cities

by Admin 06-Dec 2012

Long before Santa Claus and his toy business moved to the North Pole, the benevolent Nicholas, Bishop of Myra (Demre in today’s modern Turkey), delighted poor children with candies and small gifts.
Born in A.D. 270, and orphaned at a young age, Nicholas devoted his life to Christ and the poor. He was made Bishop and his reputation for generosity was celebrated far and wide; after his death in 343 his grave in the Myra Cathedral became a place of pilgrimage­. By popular demand, Nicholas was pronounced a Saint in the year 400, and December 6th
was established as his official Feast Day.

After Myra fell to Islam in 1081, the Christian faith was suppressed and churches, including the Cathedral of Myra, were shuttered. Ever opportunistic, yet keeping a penitent eye toward holy heaven, Italian merchants—from Bari and Venice in particular—vowed to bring the sacred relics of Saint Nicholas to their respective cities for safekeeping, aware that an influx of pilgrims would also significantly boost the local economy.

On May 9, 1087 the contingent of three ships from Bari returned home first with the remains of the good saint. The sailors pledged to build a magnificent church and, in 1089, Pope Urban II placed a hand-carved casket in its crypt. For the next three centuries the Basilica of San Nicola remained one of Europe’s main centers of pilgrimage and May 9 continues to be a day of celebration in Bari.
Meanwhile... The Venetians doubted that the sailors from Bari had recovered all of the relics.
In 1099, during the First Crusade, Venetian contingents stopped in Myra and, digging through the mostly abandoned church, discovered an ossuary engraved with the words: “Here lies the Great Bishop Nicholas, Glorious on Land and Sea.” They returned to Venice with the container in 1101 where it was laid to rest in the church already dedicated to the saint—San Nicolo al Lido. Of course, the origin of the relics was highly disputed in Bari and beyond, but the Venetians never once reconsidered their claim. It took 891 years to vindicate them.

In 1953,
Luigi Martino, anatomy professor from the University of Bari, took samples from both cities and measured, X-rayed, and compared the bone fragments, concluding that they were indeed the remains of the same man—the patron saint of children, mariners, merchants, bakers, and the early Christian church. Bless both Bari and Venice!

Panettone: A Love Story

by Admin 29-Nov 2012

Disclaimer: Based on a multitude of “true” stories, the origin, at least, of the beloved Christmas bread, Panettone, is anchored in 15th century Milan. The names of the heroes and heroines are real, according to history, and the recipe has remained fairly consistent through the centuries. Following is a compilation of facts, undoubtedly some fiction, and likely the omission of a few details, which we secretly hope Hollywood will one day fill in ...

Once upon a time, in 15th century Milan, there was a young nobleman and falconer named Ughetto Atellani. He liked to train his birds near a bakery and would watch the beautiful baker’s daughter, Adalgisa, at work. Ughetto introduced himself to the girl one day and they fell in love. Because the nobleman’s family would not hear of his marrying so far beneath his place in society, the two met in secret.

Adalgisa’s father, Toni, had fallen ill and the young girl had to work extra hard and for long hours. Ughetto felt sorry for his beloved and devised a plan to help. He disguised himself as a poor peasant and offered to work in the bakery in exchange for an occasional loaf. Knowing that the local gentry found the taste of the bread too unrefined, he used his own funds to buy more expensive ingredients: butter, eggs, candied lemon and orange peel. The result was a cake-like bread he named Pane di Toni for Adalgisa’s father, and word spread quickly of the light, sweet confection found only at this particular bakery. Business boomed. With the coming of Christmas, Ughetto added golden raisins to his confection—a Midas touch that secured the destiny of Panettone as the official celebratory holiday bread throughout Italy.

Meanwhile... Ughetto finally emerged from his peasant disguise and the Duke of Milan, Ludovico il Moro Sforza, agreed to the marriage of the enterprising falconer and the lovely baker’s daughter. Leonardo da Vinci, himself an enthusiastic promoter of the panettone, attended the nuptials.

Panettone: Just the Facts

• Literally translated, panettone means “big bread” (but surely that’s coincidental).

• Creating the sweet bread is somewhat labor-intensive, with a triple-rise series that often takes 15 to 20 hours to complete.

• Panettone can be kept for months in its packaging, and even once opened, it doesn’t stale quickly (because of its “dry” ingredients, not because it has preservatives—it doesn’t). The linger-longer factor makes the bread a perfect treat to serve throughout the holiday season with rich coffee or sweet wine, such as Moscato d’Asti.

• While it originated in Milan, today’s best Panettone comes from all over Italy: Modena, Padua, Vicenza, Pescara, and Sicily.

• Our favorite is Panettone Pepe from Salerno along the Amalfi Coast—soft and bursting with flavor, the candied fruit is moist, not over-powering, and the rich aroma of vanilla and orange is just heavenly! Click here to visit their website.

More than one hundred million Italian-made Panettone are sold worldwide.

While in Italy, enjoy your Panettone fireside at one of these cozy Parker homes:

Cottage la Vita, a charming cottage for 4 just ten minutes from Siena, offers a country kitchen with a blazing fireplace to gather around. Medieval Siena celebrates the holiday season in splendor and the Nannini pasticceria (c. 1909) is said to be the best bakery in town stocked with Panettone and other festive cakes. Click here for details and photos.

Villa Spago, a classic country farmhouse with its original open hearth, is an ideal gathering spot for a group. In the heart of Umbria’s Montefalco wine region, the area’s dessert wine, Sagrantino di Montefalco Passito, is a fantastic match for Panettone and makes for a great gift during this festive season. Click here for details and photos.

Spumante or Frizzante: Italian Bubblies for the Holidays!

by Admin 13-Nov 2012



Nothing says “Celebrate!” like bubbles. And that includes the new wave of Italian sparklers enjoyed prolifically throughout the country ... definitely not your papa’s Asti Spumante!

Like quality olive oil and artisanal cheeses, Americans have discovered the good stuff when it comes to sparkling vintages. In addition to the already popular Prosecco, there’s the wonderful world of Lambrusco, Franciacorta, Moscato, and the “new” Asti—all of which are produced in the north (Piedmont, Veneto, Lombardy), and can be enjoyed at a fraction of the cost of many champagnes.

VINO 101
Spumante means Sparkling
Frizzante means Fizzy

Spumante, like so many food and beverage “discoveries,” was a happy accident, Man has known for millennia that when you make wine it requires storage in a consistently cool dark place to ferment (i.e. those convenient wine caves). BUT, if you forget to put your barrels of autumnal grape juice into that cool place and leave them exposed to the whims of the seasons, when the temperature rises in spring, fermentation starts up again and you get ... bubbles! This is how champagne gets started, of course, except that it’s the individual bottles that go through a secondary fermentation where the quality can be controlled. With Spumante, the wine is left in barrels for its second round (called the charmat method), so it’s less refined. But given that this novelty “wine” was served to the likes of Antony and Cleopatra during a first century banquet (as documented by poet Marcus Annaeus Lucanus, who was quite enchanted with the bullulae, or “bubbles”), who are we to turn our noses away from the tingle? 

So what’s the difference between Spumante and Frizzante? The amount of bubbles! In contrast to Spumante, Frizzante undergoes its second fermentation for only half the time, therefore taking in only half the amount of carbon dioxide. Which is why it’s a “softer” bubbly and Spumante a more prickly one.

Following are a few distinguishing features of the favored Italian sparklers:

PROSECCO – Spumante, Veneto & Friuli (11-12% alcohol)
Characteristics: Light, crisp, dry to slightly sweet
Pairs with: Cheese, almost any appetizer, and risotto, especially made with shrimp
Of interest: At Harry’s Bar in Venice, Prosecco was turned into the Bellini with a splash of peach juice.

FRANCIACORTA – Spumante, Lombardy (11-13% alcohol)
teristics: Ranges from demi-sec to brut; crisp, almondy
Pairs with: Fish and seafood dishes, including risottos and spaghetti with shellfish
Of interest: This is Italy’s most popular sparkling vintage, and considered one of the finest sparkling wines in the world; by law it must be aged for a minimum of 18 months.

LAMBRUSCO – Spumante, Emilia Romana and Lombardy (10.5-12% alcohol)Characteristics: Red, dry (secco) or slightly sweet (amabile), refreshingly light, fruity
Pairs with: Salumi appetizers or sandwiches, grilled meats, hearty pasta sauces
Of interest: Toda
y’s Lambrusco is not the “cheap” sweet wine popular in the 1970s. Its pedigree reaches back to Roman times; Italy is currently lobbying to be the only country permitted to label its noble vintage “Lambrusco."

ASTI – Spumante (DOCG), Piedmont (7-9.5% alcohol)
Characteristics: Soft, fewer bubbles, slightly sweet, honey and citrus blend

Pairs with
: Desserts with creams, fruit pastries, strawberries, light cheeses
Of interest: Asti can claim to be the world’s first sweet sparkling wine.

MOSCATO (Moscato d’Asti) – Frizzante, Piedmont (5-6% alcohol)
: Delicately fizzy, sweet, fruity and floral blend, aromatic
Pairs with: Desserts (anything with apples), and aged cheeses such as Gorgonzola.
Of interest: The Moscato is famous for its heady, multi-layered fragrance; be sure to put your nose in first for that delicious whiff!



Saint Galgano and the Sword in the Stone

by Admin 06-Nov 2012

Who knew? The “original” Sword in the Stone just may be firmly stuck in bedrock near the ruins of a Cistercian abbey, about 20 miles from Siena.

At least that’s what some clergy, and a few medieval scholars, have believed for centuries. There’s not much to prove it except that the simple iron sword has been dated to those typically in use in the 12th century, and that it bears a very close resemblance to one found in England from 1173. Which seems to be enough fodder to argue that the King Arthur legend may have its roots deep in the Tuscan countryside...

The backstory here tells of a young noble knight, one Galgano Guidotti, who, like most of his adolescent peers lived life in pursuit of worldly pleasures. One day, out of the proverbial blue, the Archangel Michael appeared and demanded that Galgano renounce his creature comforts and accept salvation. On the way to tell his fiancée that he would be leaving their town of Chiusdano, Galgano’s horse reared and threw him to the ground. A spirit voice took it from there, lifting him up and guiding him to nearby Montesiepi where a vision of Jesus, Mary, and the Apostles beckoned him to the top of the hill. There, the voice appealed to the young lad to cease his wanton ways for good. Galgano replied that that would be about as easy as “splitting a rock with a sword.” He then pulled his sword and plunged it into the ground, where, to his astonishment, it slid into sheer bedrock and wouldn’t budge. Galgano too stayed put in the forests of Montesiepi, living out the rest of his life as a poor humble hermit until he died at age 33, in 1181.

The much-celebrated Galgano was canonized the following year and Cistercian monks constructed a chapel on the site of his hut near the top of Montesiepi. The round capella, built in concentric  “stripes” of Sienese brick and stone, was dedicated to the saint in 1183 ... San Galgano’s “Sword in the Stone” rests eternally inside, as the centerpiece. As to whether the original lies buried in the waters of Arthurian England, or was planted on this remote Tuscan hillside by a young knight, we’ll likely never know for sure. But there’s little doubt that it, and its young heroic owners, are the stuff legends are born of.

If you go:
Location: Between the towns of Chiusdino and Monticiano, 20 miles southwest of Siena, and about 40 miles north of Florence.
Hours (always subject to change): 8 a.m. until 12:30 p.m.; and 4:00 p.m. until 6-7 p.m.
Of note: Attached to the original Capella is a second chapel, added in 1340. Its walls are covered with paintings
(beautifully restored) by Lorenzetti, which depict the life and times of the young Galgano. The Herbalist shop here offers homemade jams, tonics, and medicinal botanicals. In addition, be sure to wander among the spectacular Gothic ruins of the Abbey, built in the 13th century just below the chapel.

Parker Villa’s "Cottage La Vita" – Create your own legend!

Enjoy the life enchanted at Parker’s charming  “Cottage La Vita” (sleeps 4), which includes a private pool and gardens that overlook the rolling Sienese hills. Head out of town and you’re surrounded by the lovely Chianti countryside. The San Galgano Abbey is a half-hour away and Florence is a just a 40-minute drive.

Positively Medieval: San Gimignano’s Museum of Torture

by Admin 31-Oct 2012

Enough with the enlightened art of the Renaissance already—at least for now! Kids want the dark and creepy world of medieval horrors. What better place to indulge them than at the Torture Museum, suitably situated in the dungeon of Devil’s Tower—one of the perfectly preserved 13th-century torri, (towers) of San Gimignano. Here a ghoulish (and highly imaginative) collection of more than 100 pain-inflicting instruments is certain to elicit more than one bravely whispered “that’s so cool!”

The well-executed (ahem) displays include the usual suspects: guillotine, thumbscrews, iron chastity belts... But the real wow factors come when you get to the – drumroll please – Maiden of Nurenburg. We’re talking ultimate nasty: a sarcophagus with 1,000 inwardly pointing spikes. But wait, there’s more! Your ticket also includes the Museum of the Death Penalty, located virtually next door. If your horror appetite hasn’t already been sated, you can witness a collection of instruments used for those “final touches” when the death sentence was handed down.

After you emerge into daylight, taking in that deep "I'm alive" breath of fresh air, we highly recommend a calming triple gelato in the nearby Piazza della Cisterna. Everyone’s happy, and you might even find there’s no resistance when you cannily suggest a visit to San Marco in Florence later in the week to view the blissful Fra Angelicos...


Location: The Torture Museum and Museum of the Death Penalty are located in San Gimignano’s historic center, on Via del Castello.
Hours: Daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Fees: Adults, 12€; Children and Students (to age 25 with ID), 7€. (Admission valid for both museums)
Forgive us for torturing you further, but click here for the (Italian-only) website.

Planning a Tuscany vacation? Parker Villas properties offer a great base for exploring San Gimignano and the surrounding Tuscan countryside:

• Our 9-bedroom Villa Salvucci is perfect for an all-ages family or friends reunion. Both comfortable and elegant, our guests always enjoy the hunting estate ambiance and the culinary delights of the surrounding community.

• Located adjacent to Villa Salvucci, the newly appointed Villa Santa Fina offers five bedrooms, private pool, and portico patio. Some of San Gimignano’s legendary signature wines have been produced locally since the 13th century.

• Imagine waking up in a medieval tower and looking out over San Gimignano’s sun-splashed Piazza della Cisterna below. Our 3-bedroom Villa Zafferano is perfect for a small group of friends (no children under 12, please) who love the lively, in-town experience.

Monte Oliveto Maggiore: 700 Years of Abbey Life

by Admin 24-Oct 2012

Perched on a cliff surrounded by thick woodlands, and overlooking the starkly beautiful landscapes of le Crete Senesi, the Abbazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore is one of southern Tuscany’s architectural jewels. Wander the breathtaking cloisters, and pause in the serenity of a Mass sung in sublime Gregorian chant.

A bit of history
The Olivetan Order traces its beginnings to 1313 and a blind philosophy professor from Siena, Giovanni Tolomei. After years of fervent prayer to the Virgin Mary, his eyesight was miraculously restored. Tolomei left his home and worldly possessions and, accompanied by two Sienese senator friends, traveled into the wilderness to live off land owned by Tolomei himself.  The three hermits devoted themselves to Mary, vowing to live a life of austerity and following the strict Rule of Saint Benedict. Giovanni changed his name to Bernardo, after the Benedictine Saint, and established the Olivetan Order of Benedictine Monks. Today, members of that Order—the Benedictine Monks of Saint Mary of Mount Oliveto—still live and work at the Abbey, their white robes a symbol of devotion to the Holy Mother.

A short distance from Asciano and a 20-mile drive from Siena will bring you to this ancient, tranquil beauty spot. An avenue of venerable cypress trees leads to the Abbey courtyard. When you enter the gate, be sure to look up—there’s a Mother and Child ceramic by Della Robbia at the top.

Three graceful cloisters surround flowers and medicinal botanicals used by the monks. Especially spectacular is the double-tiered 15th century Chiostro Grande; the portico is covered in 35 huge frescoes by Sodoma, completed in 1508. The Pharmacy, active until the 1860s, showcases a magnificent collection of ceramic pharmaceutical jars made from the pale clay of the Senesi region and fired in the famous furnaces of nearby San Quirico d’Orcia.

The Abbey Shop

Be sure to stop in at this veritable treasure chest. In addition to books, religious objects, and beautiful art prints, you can purchase lotions, potions, tinctures, and locally made liqueurs, infused with special, restorative herbs. While it could be coincidence that the local residents live longer than most of us, the Abbey and its immediate surroundings do sit on one of the earth’s ley lines, a positive energy vortex. Perhaps those ancient secret liqueur recipes really are palliatives—at the very least they make great gifts. Read more about this curious phenomenon.

Gregorian Chants

Dating back to the 6th century, this melodic journey into the mystery and magic of the liturgy is part of the conventional daily Mass at many Benedictine monasteries. If you can, plan your visit to Monte Oliveto during a Mass when the monks sing—it’s an unforgettable experience.

To Hear the Gregorian chants:
Weekdays: 7:00 a.m. (Lauds with Gregorian chant)
 Sundays: 11:00 a.m. (conventional Mass with Gregorian chant)

Click to visit the Abbey Website

Planning to explore beautiful southern Tuscany?
Parker Villas’ property, "l’Affresco," offers 6 apartments (each sleeps 4 guests) in a restored—and restorative!—olive oil estate surrounded by 300 stunning acres. Since it's just 10 minutes from the town of Asciano, 20 minutes from the Abbey, and an easy drive to Siena, Pienza, Arezzo, Montepulciano and Montalcino, all of central Italy awaits your discovery.

Asciano & Le Crete: Southern Tuscany Discovered

by Admin 22-Oct 2012

Ancient and otherworldly, central Italy’s Le Crete Senesi is among the country's most magical landscapes. Its name derives from the Siena clay, which hallmarks the rolling hillsides with a pale grey hue—echoes from a sea that covered the southern part of Tuscany some three million years ago. The area’s human history dates back, and probably beyond, the Etruscans in the 5th century B.C.; in medieval times its two principal cities, Siena and Florence, waged constant battles to win control of the villages and towns that thrived here.

Among them was Asciano, ultimately won by Siena. A jewel in the hills, the town and surrounding 14th century walls still stand in wonderful condition. For a description of its setting and cultural highlights, please read our earlier blog: The Other Tuscany, Part 2 – Asciano.

For visitors to le Crete, the rewards are multiple. This is where you’ll find the “classic” Tuscany ... the cluster of cypress trees rising from an otherwise stark hillside ... the silvery green of olives groves, producing some of Italy’s finest oils ... open roads that wind past tiny stone villages and lone farmhouses. It’s a magical, shape-shifting landscape in any season, at every time of day.

If you’re based in Asciano, your choice of day trips is almost inexhaustible. In addition to Siena, just 20 minutes away, don’t miss Buonconvento with its impressive Sacred Art Museum; San Quirico d’Orcia, renowned for its Romanesque and Gothic architecture and the Horti Leoni, the Italianate gardens. And then there’s Pienza, founded by Pope Pius II and today a splendid UNESCO World Heritage Site.

And lest we seem too lofty in our reasons to stay in the area, let’s get down to the simple basics: the food here is worth the trip alone. Time-honored culinary traditions showcase the unique bounty of the region—white truffles; impeccably cured meats (especially wild boar); and the unique wines, such as the distinctive dessert vintage, vinsanto.

No one will argue that Italy is a wonderland of memorable destinations... But we dare you to spend time in le Crete and deny that there is some serious magic going on here, and that you haven’t been utterly bewitched.

Planning to vacation in beautiful southern Tuscany?
Parker Villas property, "l'Affresco," offers 6 apartments (each sleeps 4) in a restored olive oil estate surrounded by 300 stunning acres of le Crete. Just 10 minutes from the town of Asciano, and an easy drive to Siena and Pienza, all of central Italy awaits your discovery.

About this blog

Welcome to our Access Italy blog, a mosaic of eclectic, but practical, information; fascinating cultural insights; and unique commentary on a wonderful way of life only the Italians could have designed.  more....


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