We are all driven by travel desire when summer approaches. Possibly, even at the beginning of spring. Or we chase the last rays of the sun and the warmest nature’s palette in autumn. But – unless we are skiers – we often overlook the beauty of travelling in winter.
I know…It is cold! But isn’t the winter light the most relaxing one and the soft fog pouring over silent landscapes romantic? And let’s not forget that, especially in Italy, many region’s recipes taste better if enjoyed with a cold wheatear…Think of polenta and sausages or Canederli, they would not taste as good if it was hot!
Therefore this month, I wanted to inspire an unusual escape by designing the following 5 winter long-weekend ideas to explore some Italian pearls.
My hometown and a place that everyone who visits remains astonished by. This hidden gem of a town is surrounded by mountains – the highest in Central Italy – and treasures a huge cultural and historic heritage and many restaurants serving mouth-watering food, organic wines and the most genuine hospitality.
NOT TO BE MISSED: all the little squares of the historic town – Piazzetta Nove Martiri, Piazza Santa Maria Paganica, Piazza Regina Margherita and Piazza Palazzo, the Basilica di Collemaggio – a cathedral with a critical role in the Templars’ history hosting one of the few Holy Doors in the world, and the 99 Cannelle fountains – I encourage you to count them and look into their mysterious story.
IN THE SURROUNDINGS: the medieval village of Santo Stefano di Sessanio – renowned for the fine local lentils and its lost-in-time atmosphere, and the little chapel of Bobinaco – part of an important ancient monastery, also known as the Sistine Chapel of Abruzzo. Also, if you are a skier, spend a day on Campo Imperatore’s slopes.
TO GET HERE: land in Rome (about 1.30h by car) or Pescara (about 1h by car).
My favourite city in Italy! Being on the coast, this honest, uncombed and come-as-you-are destination is mostly visited in summer (imagine that some people come here just to get on a boat to Capri without even stopping!). But isn’t the sea most romantic as ever in winter? Also, in the neighbourhood of San Giuseppe Armeno you’ll find many historical artisans creating traditional “presepi” or native scenes…So you can just imagine the festive atmosphere you’ll get there when Xmas approaches.
NOT TO BE MISSED: a stroll in Quartieri Spagnoli – the most folkloristic area in town, the Monastero and Chiostro di Santa Chiara – heaven on earth for majolica lovers, Naples Underground – if you are not claustrophobic, and a visit to the Cristo Velato by Giuseppe Sanmartino – one of the most touching sculptures ever created in history, exhibited inside the San Severo Chapel.
IN THE SURROUNDINGS: there’s so much to see in Naples itself that I’d spend the whole weekend in the city. However, if you have a car and fancy a day trip, opt for Salerno that in December hosts a splendid light festival.
TO GET HERE: land at Naples International Airport.
The Roero area, the little sister of the world-renowned Langhe, is a prime example in terms of biodiversity and heaven for foodies. I’m going to admit that Piemonte – in general – is always the most surprising food destination for me, especially in winter. Indeed, until the end of December here it’s truffle season.
NOT TO BE MISSED: the Magliano Alfieri castle and Serralunga d’Alba castle, the town of Bra – hosting the University of Gastronomic Sciences and the international headquarters of Slow Food, and the village of Baldissero d’Alba – covered by 450 hectares of land cultivated with peaches, strawberries and Arneis vineyards.
TO GET HERE: land in Turin (about 1.30h by car) or Milan (about 1h by car).
This hilltop village, part of the little-known Tuscan area of Val Tiberina, will welcome you with Medieval and Renaissance palazzos, little squares and many pottery and antiquity shops.
NOT TO BE MISSED: Piazza del Borghetto – paying attention to the façades of Palazzo Marzocco and Palazzo Taglieschi, the Campano di Anghiari – the town’s tower, the Museo della Battaglia di Anghiari – the museum dedicated to the battle that happened here in 1440 also portrayed by Leonardo in the homonymous painting inside Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio, and the workshop Busatti – to discover the local textile tradition and buy some artisanal souvenirs.
IN THE SURROUNDINGS: the nearby town of San Sepolcro – part of St. Francis Camino, Arezzo – where the Oscar Best Picture winner movie La Vita è Bella was set, and the village Caprese Michelangelo, where Michelangelo Buonarroti was born.
TO GET HERE: land in Perugia (about 1h by car) or Florence (about 1.30h by car).
Even if surrounded by mountains, you’ll be surprised by the mild climate of this little town in Südtirol (…hence the palm trees). If you are passionate about Xmas markets, this is the best option for you!
NOT TO BE MISSED: a stroll in the Medieval area of Rione Steinach, the Merano’s Xmas Market, breakfast in one of the irresistible patisseries in the historic town – the chestnut specialities are my faves, and a visit to the frame shop and little art gallery Rahmen Egger Cornici.
TO EAT: Ristorante Meteo – to try typical dishes like pan dell’oste and stufato. Otherwise, if you prefer to enjoy a panoramic view, opt for Ristorante Panorama – inside the Miramonti Hotel, about 15 KM from Merano.
IN THE SURROUNDINGS: Bolzano – to visit the local Xmas market, and Val Gardena – to explore the gorgeous villages of Ortisei and Santa Cristina.