- Amalfi Coast,
Celebrating our 20th Anniversary, starting 4 days in Paris France, taking EasyJet flight to Rome, then to Florence,Sorrento, Isle of Capri, then back to Naples/Rome/fly home. Wew! Can't Wait..
La Bottega dell'Olio, Italy
Tel: 39 055 267 0468
The Tuscan countryside is renowned for its olive groves, and this little shop sells an original and interesting selection of all sorts of things to do with olives, their oil, and their wood. First and foremost is a fine variety of olive oils and other edible goodies, such as artichoke hearts preserved in oil. Then there are soaps, lotions and potions, candles, table linens decorated with an olive motif, and some beautiful olive wood breadboards, cutlery, and pestles and mortars. The best time to buy is from January onwards, as this is when the previous autumn's new bottlings begin to arrive.
Closed Sundays and Monday mornings.
Il Bisonte, Italy
Tel: 39 055 215 722
Bisonte's chunky leather bags (with the trademark bison motifs) are renowned throughout the world, and the business began in Florence. The current central premises are housed in two huge arched rooms, one dominated by a life-size model bison. Workmanship is of the highest quality, as are the hides used. A characteristically soft Bisonte bag will last for years and years if you take good care of it, only improving with age. Come here for suitcases, handbags, briefcases, accessories, gift items, and a range of clothing
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Manarola is just as picturesque as Vernazza, but it feels a little more reserved and privatethough privacy is a relative concept in high season, when the ease of road access from La Spezia adds to the crush of walkers and train-hoppers. The village's houses follow the 'S' shape of a narrow valleypast the Museo della Sciacchetrà, with a small display dedicated to the celebrated Cinque Terre dessert winedown to the sea, where dwellings cluster out of range of the waves on a small headland. The fishing boats hauled up on the flagstones of the harborside piazza seem placed for maximum postcard potential, but come here on a stormy day in winter when the scirocco sends the breakers crashing against the rocks, and you'll understand why the locals like to keep them up here. The station is east of town, reached via a pedestrian tunnel that emerges around halfway up the main street. Punto Bonfiglio, the headland on the other side of the harbor from the main nest of houses, hosts the village cemetery; below it is a pretty park with a summer bar and children's play area. This is the place to come for views back over the town, and it's also the starting point for the short walk to . But easily the most famous stretch of the coast path is the 20-minute stroll east to Riomaggiore, known as the Via dell'Amore. Sections of the path tunnel beneath overhanging rocks; others brush past semitropical outbreaks of aloe, prickly pears, and mock orange.
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Though it's not strictly one of the Cinque Terre villages, it would be a shame to miss out on a visit to historic Portovenere. The town lies just around the headland of San Pietro, which separates the Cinque Terre from the Gulf of La Spezia, and is best approached by sea, on one of the regular ferries that ply the coast. The houses that front the quay look as if they've been squeezed together by an angry giant: Each is one room wide but five or six stories tall, and they're all painted different pastel shades. On the hill above town is a 12th-century Genoese castle (the town was the Genoa Republic's southern bulwark against its rival Pisa), while to the south, on the rocky headland, stands the ancient church of San Pietro, a 12th-century Gothic structure in stripes of black and white marble erected on the remains of a sixth-century Paleochristian chapel. Via Cappellini, Portovenere's main street, heads uphill from the town gate; if lunch is on the agenda, the Antica Osteria del Caruggio at number 66 is a good traditional trattoria where you can sample local dishes like mesciua, a chickpea and pearl barley soup (39-01-8779-0617). Small ferries cross the narrow channel between the port and the island of Palmaria, where you'll find a more up-market lunch stop, Locanda Lorena (39-08-779-2370). Another much smaller island, Tino, belongs to the Italian military and is open to the public only on September 13, the feast day of one of its early inhabitants, seventh-century hermit San Venerio.
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Riomaggiore is the closest of the five villages to the urban sprawl and naval dockyards of La Speziawhich provide employment for a number of localsbut the proximity has not ruined its charms. Quite the opposite, in fact: Riomaggiore comes across as one of the most confidently self-contained of the Cinque Terre villages. Tourists are welcome, but they don't stop the Riomaggioresi from getting on with their lives. The village centers on the usual main street, snaking inland and uphill; in this case, though, the tiny harbor is off to one side, almost like a separate village (and considered such by people here). It's a great place to watch the sun set over a glass of white Cinque Terre wine. Note that the cluster of houses outside the station is not downtown Riomaggiore. To get there, you can either walk through the long, well-lit foot tunnel (decorated with murals by a local artist), or if not loaded down with luggage, take the pretty scenic path that branches off from the end of Platform 3. For the Via dell'Amore footpath, see Manarola.
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With its ripple of bright houses on a rocky promontory and its main piazza chock-full of fishing boats above a pocket-sized harbor, it's easy to see why many visitors consider Vernazza the archetypal Cinque Terre village. It's also easy to understand why it's best avoided on Sundays in July and August. Like most of the Cinque Terre, Vernazza was founded in the early Middle Ages. When the Cinque Terre fell under the influence of Genoa toward the end of the 13th century, it was Vernazza that was considered the real prize, as it was the only one of the five villages to have a true harbor (its strategic importance was reflected in the fact that Vernazza had its own seat in the Genoese parliament). From the train stationcentrally located, for onceVia Roma snakes down to harbor-front Piazza Marconi, with its cluster of tempting bars and restaurants, framed by the bell tower of Santa Margherita di Antiochia and the tall keep of the Doria Castle.
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This tiny harbor, circled by the gaily painted facades of what were once fishermen's houses but have since become millionaire's retreats, is excessively pretty. The high water mark of the Portofino legend came in the '50s, when a procession of film stars came to stay (many of them friends of Rex Harrison, who owned a villa here). By 1954, the picturesque fishing port was so well known that it became a film location itself, in Joseph Mankiewicz's The Barefoot Contessa. This is where you'll find the Splendido, a former monastery, then a patrician villa, and now one of Europe's most exclusive, and expensive, hotels. Though cruise ships and bus tour parties have since democratized the Portofino experience, the place still retains an aura of exclusivitypartly thanks to stringent local planning regulations. There's not much to do here except sip an aperitivo down by the port (try La Gritta, at 20 Calata Marconi, with its floating pontoon terrace), browse the luxury brand boutiques, or wander up to the Castello Brown, the castle that dominates the harbor and that takes its name from the English consul who turned it into a private residence in 1870. You could also try for lunch at Puny, the most celebrated of Portofino's waterside restaurants. There's another side to Portofino, though, that has more to do with nature and hiking boots than dry martinis. The rocky, densely wooded promontory behind the town has long been a regional park, and several marked footpaths traverse it. One of the best is the two-hour trek via Pietre Strette to San Fruttuoso, a 10th-century Benedictine abbey that stands in a tiny inlet. You can continue across to San Rocco on the other side of the promontory. This stone village offers extraordinary views down the coast toward Genoa, and a fine end-of-trek trattoria, La Cucina di Nonna Nina. San Fruttuoso can also be reached by boat, from Portofino or Camogli.
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Piazza Maggiore, Italy
This huge pedestrian square is the center of Bolognese life. It's a great place for people-watching (locals on their daily strolls, well-dressed workers sitting at café tables sipping their cappuccinos, children squealing at street performers) or for starting a guided tour (information and times at the IAT tourist office in the square), as most major attractions and historical monuments are within walking distance. The piazza is also flanked by several architectural gems: the Palazzo d'Accursio (whose clock tower is Bologna's Big Ben), Palazzo Podesta (the city's law court in the 14th century), and the imposing Basilica di San Petronio, with its rugged, unfinished facade.
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Every day is market day in Bologna. Locals and tourists alike haggle for fresh fruits and veggies, spiffy leather handbags, and antique furniture at these center-city street fairs. (Watch your wallet though: Pickpockets have been known to "shop" there too.)
The largest is La Piazzola (Piazza VIII Agosto, 348/006-2204, every Friday and Saturday), a great place to pick up shoes, crafts, fabrics, and a huge selection of vintage clothes. For produce and seafood, don't miss the Mercato di Mezzo (Via Pescherie Vecchie) and Mercato delle Erbe (Via Ugo Bassi, 051/230-186).
Collectors love bargaining for antiques and knickknacks at Celo' Celo' Mamanca (Piazza San Martino and Via Valdonica every Thursday) and San Stefano (Via San Stefano, second Sunday of the month except July and August). The Decomela market (Via San Giuseppe) is the place for arts and handicrafts.
There are ten regular markets and various seasonal markets selling holiday sweets and Christmas decorations. Check the tourism office's Web site for the entire schedule (iat.comune.bologna.it), click on the link for "events" and then go to "markets").
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Clinging improbably to the near-vertical coast about halfway between Amalfi and Sorrento, Positano is the best-known resort of the Costiera Amalfitana. Achingly picturesque, with its tumble of pastel-hued houses ranged in stepped ranks like spectators in an amphitheater, the town specializes in promenaders' activities—shopping, eating, sipping, boat-hopping, and, especially, people-watching. The gray shingle beach is fine for a quick dip, but most serious sun-worshippers take one of the regular boats to and from a series of smaller coves along the coast. If you're driving, be warned that the whole town has a painfully slow one-way system that can take the best part of an hour to negotiate: Best advice, if you don't have the benefit of a hotel parking lot, is to leave the car at the first space you find (not an easy task in high season) and walk—or hop on one of the regular buses.
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Valle delle Ferriere, Italy
Most visitors think of Amalfi as a seaside town—and it's true that the Republic's glory days in the early Middle Ages were founded on its maritime prowess. But to really understand the place, you need to run the souvenir-shop gauntlet of the main street, Via delle Cartiere, until you emerge in the quieter upper part of town. There, a series of abandoned paper mills bear witness to one of Amalfi's two "inland" trades—you can learn more about the history and technique of Amalfian paper-making at the Museo della Carta (24 Via delle Cartiere; www.museodellacarta.it). The other was the smelting of iron ore, which was brought from Elba or Puglia and carried up the valley by donkey convoy. Today, the Valle delle Ferriere, or "valley of the ironworks," is a protected nature reserve and an enchantingly cool, green spot even in the height of summer. Take a seat at one of the picnic tables surrounded by waterfalls and rock pools, rare species of orchid, and giant fern. A footpath leads to the hamlet of Pontone in around 90 minutes (www.valledelleferriere.com, Italian only). From here, a paved staircase provides an easy shortcut back down to Amalfi.
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Amalfi, the town that gives the coastline its name, lies about halfway between Sorrento and Salerno. Its name is derived from that of the nymph, Amalfi, loved by Hercules—legend has it that he buried her in the world's most beautiful spot after she died. Though it's entirely given up to tourism today, this was once a proud maritime republic, founded in the ninth century, which rivaled Genoa, Pisa, and Venice in stature and power. The bustling, café-lined port is served by hydrofoils to and from Salerno, Positano, and Capri, while the bus terminus on the quay offers road connections to Salerno, Ravello, Positano, and Sorrento. Buses to the latter two towns also pass by the upper entrance to the Grotta dello Smeraldo, a famous cave with 33-foot deep, crystal-clear waters that shimmer with emerald-green light thanks to an underground crevice. From the harbor area, pass under the Porta Marinara gate into Piazza del Duomo, pictured, Amalfi's open-air living room, which is dominated by the magnificent Duomo di Sant'Andrea. It's well worth scaling the steps to see the cathedral's splendid bronze door, cast in Constantinople in the 11th century, and its 13th-century Romanesque-Arabian cloisters, the aptly named Chiostro del Paradiso. You should also try to get away from the touristy main street into the narrow pedestrian streets above, which offer a glimpse of the town's unusual, Moorish-influenced vernacular architecture, with its whitewashed houses linked by arches and vaults—some of them so long that they turn certain lanes into tunnels.
Villa Lara, Italy
Amalfi 84010, Italy
Tel: 39 089 873 6358
The best budget option in town, this six-room hotel is perched well above the tourist hordes, among the terraced vineyards and orchards that rise above the inland stretch of Via delle Cartiere, Amalfi's main street. From the gate down below, a short path leads past orange gardens and through a short tunnel to the elevator, which carries guests up to the white, 19th-century villa in exactly 50 seconds. Most of the spacious, white-walled, air-conditioned rooms have views across terraced vineyards, a tumble of rooftops, and majolica church domes to the sea, though a couple of the upper rooms are under the eaves and illuminated only by skylights. The decor is typical Amalfi-seaside, with colorful Vietri-tiled floors and baths, beamed ceilings, and king-size beds. Breakfast is served on a pretty terrace overlooking the water, and there's free broadband Internet in the lobby. But it's the warm welcome and helpfulness of the staff (not always a given on the Amalfi Coast) that give Villa Lara an edge over competitors in this price range. Co-owner Nello Rispoli will happily steer you to the best local restaurants, walks, and beaches.