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Immerse yourself in the beauty of rolling hills and picturesque villages. Italy is home to some of the most idyllic villages in the world, which also offer a closer look into the country’s rich history. 

Put the authentic experience of visiting the medieval streets of Siena or the characteristic Cinque Terre to the top of your list. Live the true Italian experience. 

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Nature

The Vesuvius National Park

The Vesuvius National Park, a land of fire and rebirth Vesuvius National Park protects the territory of the only active volcano in continental Europe, the symbol of the city of Naples. An ascent along its slopes, amidst the scent of broom and the smell of sulphur, offers the thrill of looking out over the crater of the Gran Cono, in a landscape marked by the geological formations shaped by the last eruption in 1944. This is a unique territory, rich in the archaeological treasures of Pompeii and Herculaneum, and the fruits of an exceptionally fertile land. A spectacular caldera with an active volcanic cone Visiting the Vesuvius National Park allows you to take a stroll through at least two million years of history. The great caldera of Somma is what remains of an ancient volcano three hundred thousand years ago, and inside it is the Gran Cono del Vesuvio (1281 metres), with its typical truncated cone shape, a diameter of 450 metres and a depth of 300 metres. Inside it there are small fumaroles that reveal its state of 'active rest'. Along path number 5 traced on the ashes and lapilli of the last eruption, that of 1944, one can admire the inside of the crater. Having conquered the summit, visitors are rewarded by a magnificent view of the gulf and the city of Naples. There are 11 paths in all. Number 9 allows you to observe how the vegetation is regaining its hold on the 20th century lava flows of 1906, 1929 and 1944. How pioneer plants get the better of lava Despite the succession of eruptions, the slopes of Vesuvius are covered with dense vegetation that has reformed on the lava flows due to the phenomenon of 'ecological succession': when the lava cools, the first to colonise it are lichens and mosses, the so-called pioneer species. These are very hardy organisms that form an initial organic substrate on which more complex organisms such as ferns or some graminaceous plants can begin to develop, in turn creating a layer for plants with more complex root systems. Today, a grey, filamentous lichen (Stereocaulon vesuvianum) can be observed on the areas affected by the most recent eruptions, which prepares the ground for other plants, while older flows feature shrub species such as helichrysum, cistus, mugwort and red valerian. The next stage is that of broom, large expanses of which can be seen colouring Vesuvius yellow in the springtime. The different stages of the 'ecological succession' can be clearly observed along path number 3, where sections of still exposed lava are flanked by areas colonised by lichen, alternating with broom and holm oak woods. What to visit in the Vesuvius National Park After hiking to the crater, inside the Vesuvius National Park you can visit the Park Museum in the municipality of Boscoreale, where plastic models are on display that illustrate the evolution of the volcano, materials showing the special features of the soil and biodiversity, as well as the story of the complex interaction between human populations and the volcanic environment. In Boscoreale there is an archaeological museum, the Antiquarium, explaining the territory of Vesuvius before the eruption in 79 AD that affected Pompeii and Herculaneum. In the latter location is the world's first volcanological Observatory, created in the 19th century for the first research and measurements of seismic activity, with its original instruments. Among the municipalities on the slopes of Vesuvius, it may be interesting to visit Borgo Casamale in Somma Vesuviana, the only medieval quarter left in the area; Terzigno, an area where lava stone was worked, where a museum has been opened with the archaeological remains of several Roman villas; and in Torre del Greco, visit Villa le Ginestre, where the poet Giacomo Leopardi was hosted. The good products of a fertile land Lacryma Christi is a white and red DOC wine produced from various vines grown on the slopes of Vesuvius, whose palatability has been known since Roman times. There are also apricots, about 40 varieties of which are grown in the area; they are known to be sweet and tasty, and the secret always lies in the volcanic soils which are so rich in minerals, especially potassium. The same can be said of the Monte cherry, with its pinkish-yellow fruit and pale, firm flesh, and the Catalanesca grape, so called because it was imported from Catalonia by Alfonso of Aragon in the 15th century. It has the distinctive quality of remaining intact on the vine until Christmas. You cannot leave the park without having tasted (or bought) the Piennolo del Vesuvio DOP cherry tomatoes, harvested in clusters: hung in well-dried places, they can last for up to 7-8 months, from summer until the following spring, preserving their intense flavour that derives from a high concentration of sugars and a wealth of organic acids. What makes the area of the Vesuvius National Park one of the most fascinating and most visited places in the world is a mix of natural treasures, breath-taking landscapes, centuries-old cultivations, popular traditions and much more.
Nature

Corniglia

Corniglia, a village overlooking the Cinque Terre district Set at the top of a spectacular sheer cliff, Corniglia is the only village in the Cinque Terre district where direct access to the sea is not available. The vast expanse of the Tyrrhenian Sea appears one hundred metres below the cliff-top settlement. The surrounding countryside presents the green natural dimension of the Cinque Terre National Park with its terraced vineyards and olive groves. A picturesque ascent towards the village If you arrive on one of the many trains that travel along the route between La Spezia and Levanto, and this is recommended as an alternative to travelling by car, the Scalinata Landarina (stepped pathway) leading up to the crest awaits you. As you walk up the 33 ramps and 377 steps you will feel you are floating between the rock formation and the water. This is how you will reach the promontory upon which the village is situated (100 metres a.s.l.), immediately entering a magical landscape. Take your time as you walk calmly through the shady streets and alleyways, admiring the stone houses and ancient religious edifices. The Parish church of St Peter is certainly worthy of note. A striking element on the façade of the building, constructed in the Ligurian-Gothic style, is a carefully embroidered rose window produced in Carrara marble. You may then move on towards the Oratorio dei Disciplinati di Santa Caterina, which dates back to the 18th century. The panoramic view from the Sanctuary of San Bernardino is highly suggestive. Enchanted by this small village, you may decide to spend a night here at one of the smaller guest houses or you may decide to rent an apartment or a single room provided by local residents. The fact that there are no large hotels at Corniglia would appear to enhance its particular charm. A dense maze of trails When you plan a visit to Corniglia, you should prepare a rucksack with a decent supply of water and a few snacks and use a pair of comfortable hiking shoes. At this site you will be following a network of pathways in an entirely natural environment. If you want to go for a swim, a good solution would be to go down to the Spiaggione, a large beach not far from the railway station, or, starting at Corniglia, you might decide to follow another pathway leading towards Vernazza and stop at the Marina beach. You should also consider climbing up to the higher areas to enjoy direct contact with the splendid hinterland and the slopes leading down to the sea. This is the most iconic landscape of the Cinque Terre, now recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site. One of the most beautiful pathways starts at Corniglia and leads on towards Manarola, another gem of the Cinque Terre, and passes through the small hamlet of Volastra. Walking on the slopes, you will follow a route that also presents very steep sections and stepped trails. You will enjoy glimpses of the coastline as you walk past groups of fruit trees, vegetable gardens, olive groves and vineyards. The ingenious agricultural terracing method This is a marvellous wild zone. However, as occurred elsewhere in the world, humans found a way of altering the landscape to facilitate the cultivation of certain crops. The age-old technique, already adopted in the Middle Ages, involves the creation of terracing with dry stone walls: a typical method of the entire area between the Ligurian Sea and the Apennines. Reducing slope gradients in this way, the terraces may be covered in orchards, olive groves and the renowned vineyards which are the source of Ligurian wines. This truly natural spectacle, which will accompany you during your trekking sessions, represents a masterpiece of agricultural engineering. Precious wines Once you have returned to the village after completing a rather strenuous walk you can reward yourself with a lovely glass of wine, a delicious evening meal or a few appetising snacks. Choose the wine shop or wine bar that suits you best, and at Corniglia it’s not hard to find a good solution. Consider the extraordinary local red and white wines which present the DOC and IGT appellations of the Cinque Terre. The dessert ritual will also be interesting because you can try the rare and very precious Sciacchetrà, a sweet dried-rasin “passito” wine produced in accordance with the criteria of the “Slow Food Presidia”. This traditional wine is produced from grapes harvested in the local terraced vineyards. Guvano, a legendary beach with an atmosphere reminiscent of the 1970s Before leaving Corniglia you may be tempted to spend some time on the Guvano beach. In the 1970s it was a point of reference for nature lovers and ecologists. It still retains a special charm, embedded as it is in a small bay and protected by the rocks behind it. You can arrive at the beach by sea, on a private or hired boat, or walking down along a path, which is not always easily accessible. It is still a favourite venue for nudism enthusiasts.
Art & Culture
Città della Pieve

Panicale

Panicale, the enchanted countryside around Lake Trasimeno The village of Panicale is prominent amidst the sugar loaf hills bordering Lake Trasimeno to the south. This medieval town is still surrounded by walls, but its origins are much older: the Roman soldiers who escaped the defeat of Trasimeno found refuge on this hill. It was a free municipality, and the great artist Perugino worked here during the Renaissance. Today, it is an obligatory stop on any trip to Lake Trasimeno, over which there is an enchanting view. A small village rich in history Although small in size, the historical centre of Panicale allows you to take a stroll through history, among Romanesque churches, such as the Collegiate Church of San Michele; the 14th-century Palazzo del Podestà; the 15th-century Palazzo Donini Ferretti-Mancini; the Church of San Sebastiano, which houses two frescoes by the painter from Città della Pieve, Pietro Vannucci, known as Perugino (the Martyrdom of St. Sebastian and the Virgin with St. Augustine); the Caporali Theatre, founded in the 17th century; and a preserved Pinacoteca (picture gallery) in the Town Hall, which houses the Mariottini collection, consisting of 31 portraits of illustrious local personalities, painted by various Perugian artists in the 18th century. The Tulle Embroidery Museum The former church of St Augustine houses a small museum that tells an important story for a small town like Panicale, that of an all-female craft, the art of embroidery. Popular throughout Umbria, embroidery was a significant economic sector for this area, providing supplementary income for farming families. In the 19th century, production intensified following the introduction of the tulle machine, which made production much faster. The museum also chronicles the story of a woman from Panicale, Anita Belleschi, who founded a school of embroidery on tulle that enabled several local women to become financially independent. Still today in Panicale there is an association of embroidery enthusiasts who also offer on-line courses. Montalera castle From Panicale, take the road to the hamlet of Casalini and you will find yourself in beautiful countryside where fields of grain alternate with wooded thickets, rows of trees and hedges. On the highest hill, nestled among the holm oaks, stands Montalera Castle, a building of medieval origins that underwent renovation in 1534 by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, a celebrity in Rome and in the papal court, who came from a family of architects specialising in fortifications at a time when the development of artillery meant that medieval buildings had to be reinforced. Montalera became almost a fortress, and one of the most modern buildings in the area. Today it is home to a large organic farm.
Art & Culture

Castel Rigone

Castel Rigone, the highest point on Lake Trasimeno If you are looking for the most amazing view of Lago di Trasimeno "a veil of water stretched out over a meadow", as art historian Cesare Brandi put it, then climb to the highest point of the lake, Castel Rigone. Found in the hamlet of Passignano, 650 metres away, in a charming medieval village. One of Umbria's Renaissance masterpieces, the Sanctuary of Maria Santissima dei Miracoli, has been a place of popular devotion for centuries and is preserved within its walls. Nowadays, it draws those who prefer an idyllic countryside. The village of miracles Castel Rigone is believed to have been founded by a commander of the Ostrogoths, Arrigo, in the year 543, as an outpost for the siege of Perugia. To this day, a festival of the Barbarians is celebrated in the village to commemorate the Ostrogothic foundation. The present-day village dates from the Middle Ages and remains nearly intact. Over recent decades, many of its buildings have been transformed into holiday homes. Founded by the people of Perugia during the 1494 outbreak of plague, the Sanctuary was inspired by that of Madonna del Calcinaio in Cortona. With its many agritourism sites, Castel Rigone is a destination for those who appreciate local products, from the oil and wine of the Trasimeno hills to the specialities of lake fish and the Trasimeno bean. Within easy reach is Magione, a village guarded by the castle that still belongs to the Knights of Malta, with the church of San Giovanni Battista, decorated with frescoes by the Perugian futurist painter Gerardo Dottori.
Art & Culture
Portofino

Portofino

A seaside village on the Ligurian Riviera today an icon of elegance and fine Italian living. “A small village, Portofino, stretches crescent-shaped along the edge of this calm bay.” Thus wrote Guy de Maupassant when describing Portofino, tiny sea village on the Italian Riviera circumscribed by the green of the Natural Regional Park and Marine Reserve. This splendid sea resort with its lux, Mediterranean personality, also boasts an ancient marine culture, and of course is another one of those spots beloved by artists, famous personages and writers that have long sung its praises. The “Piazzetta,” meeting-up point for the international jet-set, is the symbol of Portofino, while the port, with its characteristic, brightly-colored houses, is the icon of this borgo’s maritime traditions, whose inhabitants were called delfini (“dolphins”) by the Greeks and Romans, so apt were they at sea navigation. The charm of these places, the fine cuisine of the Ligurian Region, and the innumerable cultural and nature itineraries make this corner of the Gulf of Tigullio an ideal destination any time of year. Nonetheless, tourists most appreciate Portofino during the summer months, when the flora is at its most lush, and the warm seawater transports visitors beyond paradise. Travelers will not be able to see everything here, so many are the historic, cultural and natural attractions. Still, make a little room in your schedule to see the Church of Portofino’s Patron Saint, San Giorgio, a construction from the 12th Century; inside are relics brought back by sailors after the Crusades, as well as a breathtaking panorama from the parvis (churchyard). Nearby, the Brown Castle (Castello Brown) is a fortress smack-dab in the middle of a hanging-garden, and characterized by partitions with lovely bas-reliefs, and architectonic embellishments in marble and slate. The lighthouse is accessible from here, and is situated on Punta del Capo (aka Punta Portofino), imposing itself over the entire bay. Equally-interesting is the Gothic Oratory of the Brotherhood of Mary Assumed (Oratorio della Confraternita dell’Assunta), preserving various artworks inside, including a 12th-Century wooden statue of the Assumption of the Virgin. Those curious about the local traditions can stroll the streets of Portofino’s borgo, visiting the artisan workshops where the town’s women sophisticatedly work elegant patterns of bobbin lace. Prefer a little adventure out in the open? Take an excursion up to Monte di Portofino for a slight adrenaline rush, or navigate the Gulf of Tigullio in a boat, for close contact with the beautiful Mediterranean Sea. Special events also take place rather frequently during Portofino’s summer season – everything from international regattas to glitzy evening engagements and religious celebrations - for instance the Feast Day for San Giorgio (April 23rd), with a procession and final bonfire illuminating the Piazzetta. Finally, if fine wining-and-dining is your thing (and it usually is), get ready for some prime sea-based dishes, served in restaurants throughout Portofino. Here the typical recipe is “Lasagna di Portofino,” delectable primo based on, what else, pesto. But before dinner, make sure you do as the locals do: head back to the Piazzetta for 7 o’ clock aperitivo, where you can snack on Genoese foccaccia and sip some Giancu de Purtufin, a wine that combines several of the territory’s grapes and that is only produced locally. A visit to Genoa just 18.6 miles away, or to the Cinque Terre (31 mi); after all, Portofino is perfect as a hub close to countless intriguing destinations on the Riviera. A trip to the evocative Medieval Abbey of San Fruttuoso, just a few miles inland from the coast and surrounded by lush vegetation. According to legend, five Spanish monks fleeing from Arab-invaded Tarragon built the Abbey. The monks, after a long and dangerous journey, brought with them the relics of Bishop Fruttuoso. A visit to the little theatre (the teatrino, Teatro Perla del Tigullio) of Portofino, a favorite place for artists and intellectuals, where periodic conferences and events both national and international are held.
Art & Culture

Passo della Cisa

Berceto and the Cisa Pass, the last Emilian stopover on the Via Francigena A jewel of the Parma Apennines, nestled between the Val di Taro and Val Baganza, 852 metres above sea level and 65 kilometres from Parma, Berceto is situated along the Strada Statale della Cisa road leading to La Spezia, not far from the Cisa motorway. It is the last stop in Emilia on the Via Francigena route, before reaching the Cisa Pass, which divides the provinces of Parma and Massa-Carrara. A welcoming place and a centre of worship It is precisely to its strategic position on the Via Francigena that Berceto owes its fortunes and importance as a mercantile and religious centre since the Middle Ages, when the numerous pilgrims heading for Rome found welcome and refreshment here before continuing their journey, across the arduous Apennine pass, towards the Tyrrhenian coast and the Eternal City. The monastery and the legend of Moderanno It is believed that a Roman garrison already existed in the area, but the present village developed from the establishment of a Benedictine monastery in the 7th century, by decision of the Lombard king Liutprand and thanks to the intercession of the bishop of Rennes Moderanno. In fact, one of the legends that usually surround the myths relating to its foundation narrates that Moderanno was forced to leave the precious relics of Saint Remigio, which he had recently come into possession of, right here: probably on his way to Rome, he allegedly tied them to a tree for a short stop before resuming his journey, but while he was sleeping, the tree grew out of all proportion, making them unreachable. Forced to stop in Berceto, Moderanno was thus appointed by Liutprand as the first prior of his monastery. The cathedral and castle, vestiges of ancient splendour The town's patron saint, Saint Moderanno is also the name of the Berceto cathedral, right on the route of the Via Francigena. With its imposing structure that encompasses different eras and styles, from Lombard to Romanesque to Renaissance, it bears witness to the reputation the town has acquired over the centuries. In the museum adjoining the cathedral, one can still admire sacred furnishings and vestments, including a 7th-century cope that is said to have belonged to Moderanno himself. Next to the cathedral is the chapel of Sant'Apollonia. Behind the cathedral is the famous Piazza San Giovanni, which the inhabitants of Berceto call “piazza dei canoni” (square of the canons), due to the presence of the Fontana dei Canon, where people used to go to fetch drinking water. The castle of Berceto must also have been imposing; it once towered over the town, but now only parts of the outer walls, remains of the inner subdivisions and some stairs remain. Buried under layers of earth and debris, wells, tunnels and ancient dungeons can still be found, which are gradually being unearthed to create an archaeological park. Founded in 1221 by the Commune of Parma and the subject of continuous disputes between the local seigniories, it was long in the possession of the Rossi counts who ruled Berceto until the Farnese era. Medieval hamlets and enchanted villages Once in Berceto, it is worth taking a tour of the passageways, churches and fortresses of its beautiful hamlets, scattered among the chestnut groves of the Parma mountains. Starting from Corchia, an evocative stone village with paved lanes, arched subways and a 12th-century hostel, to the ancient fortress of Pietramogolana, perched on the Taro; located at the confluence of the Manubiola and Taro streams, Ghiare is the site of a recently renovated former kiln, an example of late 19th-century industrial architecture; finally, it is said that the church of Bergotto was inhabited by a colony of witches, who would appear at night to come to the aid of smugglers; while the bundle of paths leading to the spectacular Salti del Diavolo (Devil's Jumps) starts from Fugazzolo. The Cisa, slow tourism and gourmet cuisine From Berceto, following one of the toughest sections of the Via Francigena, we reach the Cisa Pass, the mountain pass that separates the Ligurian Apennines from the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines and links the upper Val di Taro and Lunigiana, at an altitude of about 1041 metres above sea level. Here, just before the current pass, stood the hospice of Santa Maria. Today, the ancient border between the Duchies of Parma and Piacenza and the Grand Duchy of Tuscany is indicated by wall inscriptions on the ancient post station. The chapel of Nostra Signora della Guardia, built at the top of a steep flight of steps in 1921, is of much more recent origin. From here, the descent continues towards Pontremoli and the Tyrrhenian coast. These places are a haven for cyclists and those who love trekking and “slow tourism” in general. While the views and cosy atmospheres of the Via Francigena satiate travellers and pilgrims, the restaurants and trattorias in the area offer plenty of temptations for food and wine lovers, with traditional country dishes enriched by the aromas and flavours of the forest, in particular mushrooms and chestnuts. For more information www.borghiautenticiditalia.it/borgo/berceto viefrancigene.org - From Cassio to the Cisa Pass