Ancient Marvels in Sicily

January, 2018
Sicily

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
We’re looking ahead to summer –  why not join us on the fabulous Amalfi Coast , in Provence, or Amsterdam?

Golden temples of old, scattered across the landscape of Sicily, were the focus of our week in western Sicily.
Castellamare del Golfo, recommended by our friend Laura of See Italy Travel, was a perfect headquarters for this winter stay. Our priority was views – and oh did we get them from our hillside Airbnb, La Casa del Normanno!Those golden temples we’re seeking out pop up inland – such as at Segesta, the closest to us at Castellamare, and in abundance at Agrigento – the valley of the temples (that’s Concordia at the top of this post), and majestically overlooking the sea at Selinunte.We spent the most time at Agrigento, in the fascinating Valley of the Temples, settled by Greeks around 580 B.C. With the best-preserved Doric temples outside Greece, it’s justifiably popular – but such a huge area (a 1300 hectare park!) that you don’t feel surrounded by crowds at all. Beginning in the Eastern Zone, we walked up to the Temple of Concordia which has survived almost entirely intact since its construction in 430 BC. Stopping for a light lunch, we reveled in the winter warmth, sitting beside fields of blooming flowers as we ate outside the little café. The area has been affected by earthquakes through the millenia, and the other temples, such as Hera and Hercules, have only sections standing – surrounded by tumbled pillars and capitals. Walking amidst this fascinating jumble emphasizes how massive the pillars and structures were! A pedestrian bridge brings us to the Western Zone where the main feature is the crumbled ruin of the Temple of Zeus. This would have been the largest Doric temple EVER built, but construction was interrupted when the Carthiginians attacked the city…then later what had been built was destroyed by an earthquake.
Although the original is in the Archeological Museum, the 8 meter tall telamon (a figure of a man with arms raised) which would have supported the temple, is still an awesome sight. Kirk stands by it to show the massive size.
As we drove off to another Sicilian beauty, we circled around to see the temple above us, a field of winter yellow blooming below.
About 20 minutes west of Agrigento the white cliffs of the Scala dei Turchi plunge to the sea, worth a walk along the beach to take a look! On the western shore of Sicily the ruins of Selinunte spread out over a vast area – so large we took advantage of the golf-cart shuttle to get to the seaside temple after wandering around a 5th century BC marvel. Standing between the massive pillars, we looked to the sea beyond, once again appreciating the winter warmth and the peaceful ambiance of this archeological park.
Then on to the sea, where once again we can walk amongst the ruins, marveling at the size and the workmanship still visible after millennia. Waiting for our shuttle back to the entrance, we’re in no hurry – it’ll be a long time before we can enjoy blooming daffodils back home in Virginia! We can’t recommend a winter jaunt to Sicily enough – where better to escape a cold bleak winter than surrounded by sunshine, blooms, and uncrowded majestic ancient marvels?!

 

Jazzy Days in Orvieto

December 2017
Orvieto, Italy

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
We’re looking ahead to Spring – Aix en Provence for the Easter Festival.

 Umbria Jazz Winter is now in its 25th year, filling the hilltop town of Orvieto with jazz all hours of the day and night. This marvelous town, halfway between Rome and Florence, is a joy any time of year, but especially delightful during this winter festival – jazz drifts through the doorways of bars and cafes, bundled up fans and families linger in the piazzas, sample a chewy nut from the chestnut vendor while sipping mulled wine, stroll the lanes during the evening passeggiata, pausing to greet friends, showing off holiday gifts of new cozy coats, follow the Tuscan troubadors Funk Off as they march through the streets twice a day – it’s all so much fun! It’s been 15 years since the first time we came, and my most vivid memory of that first year, 2002, is the New Orleans Jazz band strutting through the streets. The current marching jazzmen have been leading the parade for 14 years now – at noon and at 6.
The town goes to sleep for the winter, from what we’ve been told, after Umbria Jazz Winter, but it’s lively as ever right now – the florist under the arcades doing a brisk business, shop windows and entries showing off their best New Year’s Eve attire  the most beautiful boutique in town is esconced in a gorgeous old palazzo. Ready for a bite to eat, we grab a stump-table at Cantina Foresi, beside the majestic Duomo, and order the soup of the day and a platter of Umbrian tastes – superb as always! 
Hotel Palazzo Piccolomini is the perfect historic-center location to really feel a part of Umbria Jazz Winter  – each year some of the musicians stay there, making our breakfast and aperitif conversations quite memorable for both us and our tour guests. This year a legendary bass player, Henry Grimes from New York, and his wife, were a pleasure to talk to – and passed on a CD recorded with Henry’s trio in the renowned Village Vanguard where some tour clients took us last year!
On our way to check out the sunset from our hilltop perch, we pass through quiet lanes, and there it is – a beauty! The pink hue spreads from west to east, where the cliff edge reminds us how high we are.
Another strut through town with Funk Off, another delicious Umbrian meal, just one more stroll through beautiful Orvieto, and we say goodbye til next years’ Umbria Jazz Winter.

Gardens of the Riviera – from Hillside to Sea

Tuesday, April 5, 2017
The Riviera, France and Italy

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
We’re looking ahead to summer –  why not join us on the fabulous Amalfi Coast , in Provence, or Amsterdam?

Today’s garden day begins on that point of land we saw across Menton’s bay last evening. On a magnificent site perched above the sea on the Italian border, Hanbury Gardens were created in 1867 when Sir Thomas Hanbury bought this site, intending to acclimatize plants from around the world.
The entrance is at the top of the property, where we can instantly see the lush terraces tumbling to the sea – amazingly beautiful!
Could there be a better time of year to be here, with lush fragrant wisteria twining through the terraces and lacing pergolas  as we descend? I think not! Slowly we amble down, passing colorful plantings, all the way to the stately home above the sea, where the terrace takes full advantage of the view. Now for the climb back up to street level – it was a loooong way down! Did anyone count the hundreds of stairs??
We’re invited to Villa Ormond in San Remo for lunch, and are met by town officials and a gaggle of reporters eager to interview attendees. After lunch the passionate head gardener shows off the many rare specimens in this park now open to the public.
Then we’re heading west, back along the coast to France, where La Serre de la Madone awaits us. Created between 1919 and 1939 by the renowned British landscape gardener Lawrence Johnstone, the rocky terraces of old farms must have been an intriguing challenge for the man who previously designed the glorious gardens of Hidcote Manor in the rolling countryside of the south of England. Each terrace here is different – a pond on one, geometric plantings on another, a pergola overlooking another, and by the wisteria draped house, a pond with throaty bullfrogs making themselves known. Truly lovely – the kind of place for spending peaceful hours – perhaps we’ll return and do so one day!
Eye-popping Menton welcomes us for dinner again, where the chef of Breijade Meridionale has prepared another floral-themed feast. Kirk becomes our wine steward for the evening, and these unusual hanging skewers….are soon aflame!