Peter Morrell discovers three uniquely different areas of Italy.
The geography of Italy stretches from the Alps in the north to Sicily where parts of the island are further south than Africa. It is said that Italy changes every 30 kilometres, so the journey from one end of the country to the other is a kaleidoscope of differing cultures, cuisines, architecture and landscapes. I recently met representatives from three widely differing parts of Italy to find out what was unique about their particular areas.
Saline di Priolo, near Syracuse, Sicily
My journey started in the far south, just outside the port city of Syracuse, in the restored nature reserve Saline di Priolo, old salt pans that host more than 240 species of birds. The reserve was founded in 2000 and is managed by LIPU, the Italian equivalent of the RSPB, It has covered walkways and five hides which allow for the observation of a Flamingo flock and many other exotic breeds. Windmills that pumped water from pan to pan when sea salt was being produced have also been restored
The area has been inhabited since at least 1400 BC and on a spit of land, the Magnisi Peninsula, are the remains of a bronze age settlement. Close by are the Christian catacombs of Manomozza and back is Syracuse there are well preserved structures from the many civilisations who have lived there. The town was a thriving Greek city state and the birthplace of the mathematician Archimedes. There is a beautifully positioned amphitheatre where Greek plays are still performed In the Piazza Duomo stands the cathedral, its architecture a mix of Greek and Baroque.
Vicenza, in the region of Veneto
My next stop was far north, the province of Vicenza in the region of Veneto. This is the area where the architect Andrea Palladio, beloved of the British nobility, expressed his art. His villa designs were influenced by the classic styles of the Greeks and the Romans and set the standard for architectural grandeur. In the province is a vast collection of the master’s work and the area is also renown for its natural beauty with the Little Dolomite mountains.
In the province the town of Asiago and the surrounding plateau is the origin of the revered Asiago cheese. There you will also find a memorial and museum for the Battle of the Plateau which took place in May 1916 between Italian and Austrian-Hungarian troops.
The capital of the province is also called Vicenza and one of its most famous buildings is the Basilica Palladiana with its distinctive loggia. It is now in part an art gallery with exhibitions featuring Van Gogh, Carravaggio and Tutankhamun. Also worth a visit is the Basilica of St. Mary of Mount Berico from which there is a panoramic view of the city. The area surrounding the capital is rich in vineyards, producing smooth, top class red and luscious, fruity white wines and the local distilleries produce that most famous of Italian spirits, Grappa.
For more information go to www.vicenzae.org/eng
Langhe Roero, in the region of Piedmont
My final destination was the area of Langhe Roero in the region of Piedmont. Many people will not have heard of Langhe Roero but say white truffles and Barolo and it will become immediately familiar with dedicated foodies worldwide. The area itself is only 30 kilometres square but boasts more than 500 restaurants of which 13 of them are Michelin starred.
The main town is Alba where there is an annual truffle fair and the world famous auction which sees these prized fungi being sold for 000s of pounds a kilo. Visitors can go on a truffle hunt, despite the legend, it’s not pigs that sniff them out but small white dogs. Small because when they dig they don’t damage the buried treasure and white because the hunting is usually at night so the dogs are more visible. The truffle season runs between September and January.
There are more than 600 winemakers in the area and the rolling landscape and vineyards have been declared a UNESCO world heritage site. It is possible to arrange visits to the wine cellars, for more information and to book go to www.piemonteonwine.it. It is in these cellars that you can appreciate the many different ways that Barolo tastes depending on the soil and which way the vines are facing. Barolo is just one of the wines which are produced, the town of Asti is where the famous aromatic Moscato sparking wine originates.
One final food fact, Alba is the home of Nutella, it is made by Ferraro which is now one of Italy’s largest companies.
For more information go to www.langheroero.it
At the end of the discussions all the talk about food had made me very hungry and this was quickly remedied by a buffet offering some of the finest wines and foods from the three destinations. Air dried ham, salamis, cheeses, roast peppers and sun dried tomatoes accompanied by focaccia bread laced with the pungent taste of olive oil. There also were nibbles of almond flavoured cakes, hazelnuts and dark chocolate.
Listening to the unique attractions that each destination has on offer is the compelling reason why Italy is a great place for a holiday. You could visit 100 different places and always discover a new taste and a new cultural experience.
For more on visiting Italy go to www.italiantouristboard.co.uk