Wednesday, 13 April 2016

The Whisky Trail in Scotland, England

Whiskey is made from barley, yeast and stream water and each year, 524,009,191 million litres of whisky are produced in Scotland every year and each distillery, currently there are 71, believes with an unshakeable conviction, that their whisky is the finest in the world. You can see the proof of these claims everywhere on the Whisky Trail.  A 70 mile (112kms) long signposted tour that takes in several malt whiskey distilleries.
The trail is focused around the town of Dufftown in the Grampian district in the heart of the Scottish Highlands
Dufftown was laid out in 1817 by James Duff, the 4th Earl of Fife, initially to give employment after the Napoleonic Wars, and has the appearance of a particularly well-appointed Scottish village.  The first of numerous distilleries were established in 1823 and gave rise to the couplet “Rome was built on seven hills Dufftown stands on seven stills"
The route takes in such distilleries as Glenlivet, Glenfarclas, Cardgu, Macallan, Glen Grant, Strathisla and Glenfiddich  to name only a few.
If there’s a catch, then it is this. You can’t really do the Whisky Trail without a car.  There is no real public transport that can take you along the route and drop you off at each distillery.   And if you do bring your car then you can’t really taste any of the whisky at the conclusion of each tour of these producers of fine Scotch!
Fortunately there is a solution, as the district has more than enough pubs and hotel bars whose shelves are very well stocked with many, many choices of the local scotch. So create your own whisky trail and leave the car and get the barman to pour you a large one.

Some important factors to consider when choosing your scotch is that it will take time to select the scotch, which is right for you.  There are an estimated 2,500 Scotch whiskies. In making your selection of the correct drink you must consider the history, as every distillery has its own folklore, the geography as Islay malts are the generally the smoky ones and the Speyside ones the more rounded, the aesthetics such as the look and feel of a bottle and its label are important.
To water or not to water this is the question.  This is a hotly contended issue among Scotch drinkers. Some say whisky is designed to be watered in order to bring out its full qualities, others say that it is made to be drunk neat.  It is best to try your scotch both ways, just to make sure.
It’s important to acknowledge the drink by inhaling the aromas.   Don’t feel you have to put a name to the aroma, just enjoy the whole experience and there is something distinct and sublime about the aroma of a fine scotch.
Finally take a nip, enough to coat the tongue well.  Hold the drink awhile on your tongue to truly experience the taste as it’s been said that a quality single malt should taste like an angel crying on your tongue.
That’s a big claim, but there are few drinks that are so much part of a national culture and pride as Scotch Whisky.

Below is the route as shown on Google Maps

Civita di Bagnoregio, Lazio, Italy

Civita di Bagnoregio in Italy is a stunning example of a medieval city left relatively untouched by modernity. It is located 145 km (90 mi) north of Rome on the boarder of Lazio and Umbria about 20km (12 mi) south of Orvieto .

Known as ‘Il paese che muore’ - the dying town – Civita di Bagnoregio sits atop a rocky outcrop that stands between two valleys. The erosion caused over the centuries changed this once thriving settlement into an isolated citadel and Civita di Bagnoregio now only has a handful of residents. It is accessible only by a remarkable foot-bridge, leaving the town closed to all motorized traffic.

Believed to have been founded around 500BC, Civita di Bagnoregio was originally an Etruscan settlement and sat along an important trade route that was once the main Etruscan road leading to the Tiber Valley and Rome. Later falling under Roman rule, the area was conquered by the Lombards after the fall of the Western Empire. In fact, the city was once known as Balneum Regis – meaning ‘the bath of the king’, as the Lombard King Desiderious had his wounds treated by the hot springs in the area.

Passing later to the Franks and then becoming part of the Papal states, Civita di Bagnoregio is also known for being the birthplace of Saint Bonaventure (475-525) who is considered the father of western religious thought, though the location of his boyhood house has long since fallen off the edge of the cliff.

An earthquake in 1695 started the decline of Civita di Bagnoregio as many inhabitants began to leave. After further earthquakes and more significant damage occurred the bishop and the municipal government were forced to move to Bagnoregio. In the following decades and centuries the seismic activity, landslides and erosion saw the Civita di Bagnoregio virtually abandoned as more and more of the city was destroyed.

In the 19th century, Civita's location was turning into an island and the pace of the erosion quickened as a layer of clay located below the stone was reached in the area where today's bridge is located. Bagnoregio continues as a small but prosperous town, while Civita became known as il paese che muore

Today Civita di Bagnoregio’s unique history, location and architecture has seen it become a tourist attraction and efforts have been made to try to preserve this historic location. However, Civita di Bagnoregio remains on the list of the 100 Most Endangered Sites.

Visitors to Civita di Bagnoregio can see a number of interesting sites as well as the exceptional architecture on display. The fascinating ‘Eutruscan Corridor’ is a Eutruscan tunnel that completely crosses the town. Also worth a visit is the Cave Of Saint Bonaventure, an ancient olive-press and Saint Donato's Church.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

What to do in Orvieto, Umbria, Italy

Ovieto is known for many things; its wine, its well and its Duomo.  Located in southwestern Umbria, Italy, Orvieto is situated on a flat summit of a large butte of volcanic tuff. The site of the city is among the most dramatic in Europe.  Rising above plains the almost-vertical faces of tuff cliffs are completed by defensive walls built of the same stone overlook vineyards below, which produce a fine dry white wine classified as Orvieto Classico. 

The ancient city has been populated since Etruscan times and was a major centre of Etruscan civilization; the Archaeological Museum (Museo Claudio Faina e Museo Civico) houses some of the Etruscan artifacts that have been recovered in the immediate neighbourhood
Orvieto was annexed by Rome in the third century BC. After the collapse of the Roman Empire its defensible site gained new importance to where its population numbered about 30,000 at the end of the 13th century, and be became one of the major cultural attractions of its time when Thomas Aquinas taught at the Studium, a small university, now part of the University of Perugia.

The vast well of Orvieto was commissioned in 1527 to provide the town with a water supply in case of a siege.  It was designed with a double helix staircase and drops over 62m, 203 feet and took over 10 years to complete.  The double helix design allows one to descend by one route and another to ascend up another, at the same time without meeting. In addition to the well, Orvieto has an extensive labyrinth of caves and tunnels. Dug deep into the volcanic rock, these hidden and secret tunnels have yielded many historical and archeological finds and are open to view through guided tours.

The jewel of Orvieto is its Duomo.  The Duomo of Orvieto, was begun in 1290 and took over 300 years to complete and is considered one of the greatest Romanesque-Gothic churches in all of Italy.
On November 15, 1290, Pope Nicholas IV laid the cornerstone for the present building and dedicated it to the Assumption of the Virgin, a feast for which the city has had a long history of special devotion. The design has often been attributed to Arnolfo di Cambio, but the prevailing modern opinion is that its master mason was an obscure monk named Fra' Bevignate from Perugia.
The Gothic façade of the Orvieto Cathedral is one of the great masterpieces of the Late Middle Ages. The three-gable design is attributed to Maitani,
The most exciting and eye-catching part is its golden frontage, which is decorated by large bas-reliefs and statues with the symbols of the Evangelists (Angel, Ox, Lion, Eagle) created by Maitani and stand on the cornice above the sculptured panels on the piers. In 1352 Matteo di Ugolino da Bologna added the bronze Lamb of God above the central gable and the bronze statue of Saint Michael on top of the gable of the left entrance.
The bas-reliefs on the piers, also by Maitani, depict biblical stories from the Old and New Testament. They are considered among the most famous of all 14th century sculpture. Above this decorations are glittering mosaics created between 1350 and 1390 after designs by artist Cesare Nebbia and represent major scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary.
The spandrels around the rose window are decorated with mosaics representing the four Doctors of the Church. The frame of the rose window holds 52 carved heads, while the center of the rose window holds a carved head of the Christ.
The newest part of the decorations are the central three bronze doors which give access to the entrance of the cathedral. These were finished in 1970 by the Sicilian sculptor Emilio Greco and depict mercies from the life of Christ and are surmounted by a sculpture of the Madonna and Child created by Andrea Pisano in 1347.
The cathedral's side walls, in contrast to the brilliant façade, are more simply furnished with alternating layers of local white travertine and blue-grey basalt stone but as still hold a simple elegance of their own.

Why You Must Explore This Hidden Riviera

By Winnie Yang Conde Nast Traveler March 2014

Tucked into a thyme-scented hillside, the slow-paced fishing village of Camogli is easy to find and hard to forget. It’s only a two-hour drive from Milan—and yet one of Italy’s best-kept secrets.
The picturesque, just-sleepy-enough village of Camogli is intricately tied to the sea. Lore has it that Camogli, shortened from case delle mogli (“house of wives”), got its name from the women who watched over the town while their fishermen husbands were away. It sits an hour’s drive up the Ligurian coast from the Cinque Terre, and like the five towns there, it’s linked to neighboring villages by a footpath backed by vertiginous hills and cliffs giving way to the brilliant-blue sea below. Here too are the multi-story palazzi, painted in the muted pinks, yellows, and terra-cottas you find along this coast, their deep-green shutters framed by trompe l’oeil flourishes.
Unlike the Cinque Terre or nearby Portofino, however, Camogli is a secret that Italians have kept to themselves. It’s the summer retreat of discreetly well-heeled Milanese and Turinese, whose families have returned for generations to get their annual dose of sunshine and pesto... and, you’ll find, the ideal escape from the madding crowds.
Perhaps no one appreciates Camogli’s under-the-radar calm more than Mario Pietraccetta and Fulvio Zendrini. In 2007, the couple quit their corporate jobs in Milan to open Villa Rosmarino, a six-suite 1907 palazzo that they’ve impeccably restored with a clean, modern sensibility.
But the best way to get to know the area is on foot. Heading south from Camogli, take the stone path that briefly follows a shaded creek and then climbs a series of stairs, leading you past olive and citrus trees, cactus, and stands of palm, under boughs of myrtle and laurel, and through air scented with wild rosemary and lavender. Unlike on the heavily tracked route through the Cinque Terre, you’ll be virtually alone.
Just when you think you can’t possibly make it any farther (it’s a half-hour trip, nearly all uphill), you arrive in San Rocco. Here you can take in the spectacular view of the surrounding countryside or stop for a meal at La Cucina di Nonna Nina, where Paolo Delpian prepares traditional Ligurian dishes, including an antipasto plate of marinated anchovies and sardines and octopus salad.
It’s worth continuing on the trail all the way to the abbey at San Fruttuoso (an additional two and a half hours), where there’s a ferry back to Camogli. If you return instead from San Rocco, keep an eye out for a hand-lettered sign just outside town advertising marmellate: Here, an elderly couple sells homemade lemon marmalade and a glorious apricot jam.
Back in Camogli, join the beachgoers who head to focaccerias like O’ Becco Fin or Revello for focaccia col formaggio, a specialty from nearby Recco in which rich, gooey cheese is encased in millimeter-thin sheets of dough. And before heading to dinner—perhaps at Da Paolo or Dö Spadin, for freshly caught seafood—join the locals emerging for their passeggiata to watch the sun go down, the sky draining all the color from the buildings and turning the sea to silver.

Escape crowded beaches and take to the hills along the Italian Riviera


Catchy harmonica music wafts across the cafe umbrellas that line the minuscule harbour of this conch-shaped village, squeezed between vine-covered hills and the Mediterranean Sea.

Tourists sip aperitifs and enjoy the sunny cliches of the Cinque Terre, one of the most scenic (and overrun) stretches of the Italian coast. But today, sweat-drenched and a bit wobbly, I feel smugly that I am in on a secret: I have earned this gorgeous view because I hiked here, up and down a cliff-hugging sliver of a path that will take me several more strenuous kilometres by day's end.

There, the only tunes are cicadas above and pounding waves below. Bursts of purple bougainvillea and glimmers of silvery olive trees provide the splashes of colour. And, rather than sipping cocktails in a cafe, hungry hikers get to feast guilt-free on sublime seafood specialties at locals-only restaurants not far from the trails.

From a full-day hike linking five medieval villages to a leisurely stroll (called passeggiata by the locals) through one of Italy's largest botanical gardens, walking is the best way to experience this region of pine-splattered mountains plunging into the cobalt sea. Here are my four favourite walks in Liguria, going west to east along this arc-shaped slice of Italy, from the border with France to Tuscany's coast, along with recommendations for restaurants.

Giardini Hanbury (garden): In the late 19th century, Northern Europeans flocked to get health treatments at seaside resorts on the westernmost stretch of Liguria. One visitor, Thomas Hanbury, an Englishman who made a fortune in silk and tea trade from China, devoted a 18-hectare promontory to a collection of exotic plants, now managed by the University of Genoa.

The botanical garden on a terraced hillside is now home to 6,000 plant species and also offers wide views of the sea and horizon. A series of trails cascade from Hanbury's stately villa down to the sea, passing by a papyrus-fringed fountain, through a cypress-lined path and in between a wild assembly of plants ranging from azaleas to eucalyptus, from aloe to olive trees.

It might be the most genteel speck of Italian Riviera, nature exquisitely tamed and framed as a series of perfect backdrops. Another kind of nature - seafood, in the form of the prawn-and-squid fritto misto - is exquisitely framed at Ristorante Lilliput, on a hillside farther east along the coast, above the medieval hamlet of Noli.

Lungomare Europa (path): Pink-veined white boulders alternate with ink-black rocks in coves along the recently completed Lungomare Europa. The wide, 7.2-kilometre path was paved over an old railroad line between the small towns of Varazze and Cogoleto.

Wedged between hills studded with silver wattle trees and vacation homes, and a series of tiny pebbly beaches, the walk is the favourite off-season passeggiata for local families.

In summer, the blindingly white and black rocks form curtains between tiny coves that grant refuge from the teeming, deck chair-covered beaches at each end of the lungomare, which is accessible only by foot or bike.

At dusk, the salt air mingles with the smell of blooming pittosporum and wild fennel, not suntan lotion. While night falls, I like to be the last person on the still-warm pebbles as the sea playfully pulls and pushes them and the first boats venture out to fish for anchovies they attract with powerful spotlights.

Then I am on my way to eat at U Baracun near the hamlet of Alpicella, just inland from Varazze, which serves the best pansotti (herb-filled pasta in nut sauce) and cinghiale (wild boar roast) in Italy. Not that I would ever forgive myself if I passed on the dozen fresh antipasti, ranging from artichoke frittata to porcini crepes and homemade olive paste.

Punta Chiappa (trailhead and swimming spot): Punta Chiappa, the rocky point where the forest-covered Monte di Portofino meets the sea, is one of the best swimming spots on the Italian Riviera.

It's also a pool-size harbour if you want to cheat and come by boat; a long sliver of grey rocks jutting into deep water; and the end of a breathtaking 45-minute downhill trail.

With ample provisions of focaccia and water, I started from the church of San Rocco, high above the fishing town of Camogli and the departure point of many trails on the mountain, taking in the view encompassing the sprawling city of Genoa and the curving Riviera di Ponente, with the Maritime Alps at the horizon.

Making my way down toward the point, I passed fig orchards, terraces crawling with jasmine vines and bushes hiding hedgehogs. The goal was to stake a speck of rock with my beach towel and plunge with a refreshing splash in the sea.

The other goal was a meal on the open terrace of Da Drin restaurant, just above the mini-harbour. I first had its spaghetti al cartoccio, bursting with crayfish, mussels and calamari, a few years ago, and nearly didn't make it back up the trail. But last summer after stuffing myself, I was nimble enough to avoid the baby boars scurrying across the path in the dark.

Sentiero Azzurro (trail): This 14.5-kilometre "azure trail" links the five villages of Cinque Terre and provides a way to experience them as something other than a series of postcard views with a "for rent" sign in English in virtually every window.

The hardest and most rewarding stretch is from Monterosso to Vernazza and on to Corniglia. Climbing nearly 457 vertiginous metres up the dark-green hills, the unpaved, rocks-strewn trail meanders among olive trees, fragrant shrubs, and gnarled pines.

On a July weekend, I met only two kinds of fellow hikers: awestruck tourists who were more likely to say "hi" than "ciao," and taciturn Liguri tending the fantastically terraced vineyards that cling to the cliffs.

After passing through the main piazza of Vernazza, huddled between the church and a black castle tower, the trail takes off again on the cliffside unto Corniglia, perched high on a hilltop. Then it gets back to sea level and, at Manarola, becomes a wide, paved passeggiata known as the "Via dell'Amore" (the way of love) that ends in Riomaggiore, where the train takes you back to Monterosso.

Last stop, La Brinca restaurant, which serves up the vegetable-and-meat cuisine of inland Liguria, like springy lettuce wraps in hot bouillon. Only an arduous day on the trail can justify its gargantuan antipasto-to-dolce meal.

Beyond jaw-dropping views (and dishes), walking the trails of Liguria is to get right inside the poems of native son and Nobel Prize-winning poet Eugenio Montale. One of his most celebrated verses, "Meriggiare pallido e assorto," turns a stroll under the blinding sun on a pallid afternoon into a melancholy existential metaphor.

But there are sadder ways to live than, as Montale puts it, walking alongside a "scorching orchard wall" as "scales of sea pulsate far away among branches" on the Riviera's trails.

All walks are enjoyable year-round, best in late spring and early fall. Anyone in any shape can do the Giardini Hanbury, the Lungomare Europa and the Manarola-to-Riomaggiore part of the Cinque Terre hike; the rest are best for the moderately fit. The Hanbury gardens - and the Sentiero Azzurro - charge a small admission fee.