For artisan skill, there’s nowhere in Italy like Le Marche, a central region populated with family businesses that handcraft paper from hemp, weave basket bags for Italy’s biggest fashion houses, and stitch the leather balls used in an ancient, tennis-like sport.
I’m peering in through the window of Renzo Castellani’s barbershop in Treia when he rushes out. “You’re not from here, are you?” he says, ushering me in to talk about his beloved town. Renzo is in his 61st year of barbering—and he wants passers-by to know it.
Welcome to small-town life in Le Marche, just across the Apennines from Tuscany and Umbria. The Renaissance hill town—all elegant terracotta buildings, narrow streets, and a jewellery box of a theatre—reminds me of Montepulciano, in Tuscany. Only instead of touristy wine shops, there’s a queue at the butchers for herby porchetta, diners crowding out the vaulted-roofed, frescoed cafe, with its stucco Jesus outside. And Renzo.
Le Marche is often touted as an alternative to Tuscany; it has the same billowing hills and medieval streets minus the selfie sticks and souvenir shops. But it also lives its history not least through its artisans. Here in Treia, you’ll find such curiosities as bracciale, a tennis-like game played with spiked wooden ‘fists’ that look like torture instruments. Dating back to the Renaissance, it’s largely died out in Italy, but here in Treia, on the first Sunday in August, locals transform a car park into a court where a tournament is played. Each ball costs €100 (Rs8,995), says cobbler and ball-maker Daniele Rango, whom I find in his workshop hand-stitching strips of leather onto grapefruit-sized balls. “It’s hard work. It ruins your shoulders,” he shrugs, as if to say: this is Treia’s history, so it must be done.
Inspired by Daniele, I’m keen to hear more of the story of this central part of Le Marche, as told by its artisans. Thirty minutes later, having weaved around walled medieval towns and through a landscape as rumpled as an unmade bed, I reach the hilltop hamlet of Mogliano. I eat the porchetta panino I’d bought in Treia while admiring the view of snow-capped mountains, and beyond them fields, forests, olive groves and necklaces of terracotta villages cresting grassy peaks.
At the foot of the hill, Tonino Nardi welcomes me into his garage. “It’s just a tiny business,” he blushes. He, his wife Morena and his brother Dino weave wicker and leather, with help from his mum and daughter. Tiny it may be but the Nardis produce bags for the likes of Prada, Dolce & Gabbana and Fendi, overseen by their pet parrot and a photo of the Pope. Their work—I watch Morena weave a Louis Vuitton bag in 90 minutes—is a high-speed blend of dexterity and artistry. Pride, too. “Everyone in Mogliano used to do this,” says Tonino. “It was born from necessity; peasants wove their own baskets.”
Fried crab claws, prawns, squid rings and bread dough outside a seafood cafe (bottom right) near Castro Marina harbour, Puglia; Luigi Mecella (top left) with freshly made paper in his countryside workshop near Fabriano, Le Marche; Street scene (top right) in the Sanità district of Naples; Seafront (bottom left) near Chiaia, with Posillipo in the background. Photos By: Francesco Lastrucci
Now there are only four such artisans left in the village. Eight years ago, the Nardis didn’t think they could keep going either, then Prada called and changed their lives. “Before, you were almost embarrassed to say you were a weaver,” says Tonino. “Now it’s being rediscovered, I’m proud. It’s art and it links our culture to the area.” Dino breaks off from weaving to take me to a nearby 16th-century church, for which the family are keyholders. It’s just the two of us by the frescoed altar, a chorus of birds serenading us as we walk in.
An hour west of Treia is the town of Fabriano, renowned for its paper since the 1400s. At the Paper and Watermark Museum Fabriano, guide Claudia Crocetti takes me around the workshop, where papermaker Roberto dips moulds into a cotton-water solution and lays the barely formed sheets onto wool to dry off. Upstairs, artist-in-residence Stefano Luciano is busy making startlingly modern prints, when master papermaker Luigi Mecella bursts in. “Have you tried my paper yet?” he asks. Stefano hasn’t.
And so it is that the next morning we all pile into Luigi’s workshop to watch him transform 800-litre tubs of homegrown hemp into paper, while his colleague Emiliano Scattolini binds the sheets and adds leather covers. It’s a process that’s been carried out here in the outskirts of medieval Fabriano for over 600 years. The Marchigiani doing what they do best: living their history.
More info: casadegliamori.com; Visits to the artisans all by direct appointment, prolocotreia.it
A Taste of the Streets
Explore the revitalised district of Sanità to find authentic pizza restaurants, unique pastry, washing line-strung streets and a cathedral-sized ossuary carved into the rock.
It should be a quiet Tuesday lunchtime in the Sanità, but Via Vergini is full of life. Little girls in fancy dress—a Chiquita banana girl, Elsa from Frozen—strut about with their parents. An elderly man races over the cobbles in a cart pulled by a skewbald pony. Passers-by inspect the shop displays: garish pleather bags, vegetables stacked impossibly high, fresh fish from the Bay of Naples. It’s so noisy here, outside Pasticceria Poppella, I can barely hear Ciro Scognamillo speak. “I got a tattoo,” he says, rolling up his sleeve to reveal an icicle-hung snowball on his forearm, with ‘fiocco di neve’ (‘snowflake’) inked above it. “I tattooed it because this changed my life,” he adds.
Ten years ago, Ciro was a struggling third-generation baker in the Sanità, which was, he admits, not a great area. “It was a bit abandoned by everyone,” he says. “No one came here.” Struggling to make a living alongside his father, he decided to invent a pastry that would bring all of Naples to their door. Ciro tried over and over again—“I was desperate”—but nothing happened. Until one day in 2014, he came up with the fiocco di neve: a profiterole filled with chilled sheep’s ricotta and fresh cream.
“From one day to the next, people were here,” he says proudly. In 2017, buoyed by the success of his snowflakes, he opened a fancy pasticceria on Via della Sanità. My fiocco di neve is chilled, the sweet-but-not-too-sweet filling melting on my tongue as I bask in the Naples sun, attended to by a smart, black-gloved waiter. Ciro’s success has paid dividends for the neighbourhood. His 37 staff are “ragazzi del quartiere”: local lads, employed so that they “don’t grow up wrong”. All thanks to his snowflake.
These days, the Sanità is buzzing. Up the street, a man with a clipboard is policing entry to Concettina ai Tre Santi, a 68-year-old Naples institution. After a 40-minute wait, I’m ushered through heavy, scarlet curtains to the brand new semi-secret kitchen area, where we sit at high tables around a wood-fired oven, watching tattooed arms stretching dough, hurling on toppings, and slinging pizzas into the oven. Pizza is quick in Naples—the menu even lists how many seconds each takes to cook. My San Marzano (a margherita reliant on its namesake tomato for its sauce) takes a couple of minutes to arrive, the waiter ripping leaves off a basil plant and flinging them on my pizza as soon he sets the plate down.
The pastry counter (bottom left) at Pasticceria Poppella; Shrine (top left) in a fish shop on bustling Via Vergini, Sanità district; Pizza chef (top right) outside Concettina ai Tre Santi pizzeria with a tray of dough; Garnishing a San Marzano pizza with fresh basil (bottom right), Concettina ai Tre Santi. Photos By: Francesco Lastrucci
The deeper I go into the Sanità, the more Neapolitan it gets; I pass flaked-paint palazzos with laundry strung from every balcony, and elaborate shrines to saints. Padre Pio, Saint Vincenzo Ferreri, the Madonna. Totò, the early-20th-century actor, aka ‘the prince of laughter’, was born here, his former home marked by a mural of the great man, complete with his trademark top hat and sardonic expression, although I can barely make it out, thanks to the washing lines.
Further into the district, the streets get quieter (it’s siesta time). I walk past a furniture stall, its owner lolling on one of the couches, and butcher’s shop windows filled with tripe and cornicellos, Naples’ ubiquitous, horn-shaped lucky charms. A 20-minute walk takes me to the Cimitero delle Fontanelle, a cathedral-sized space hollowed out from an outcrop of soft tufa rock. This vast paupers’ grave is where the bodies of thousands of Neapolitans were placed over the centuries, their skeletons artfully stacked and topped by layers of skulls.
Naples is a fiercely religious city, which explains why every surface here is covered with lovingly placed tokens: train tickets, pencils, a sachet of a face cream. Candles flicker in the gloaming as pop music blares from a nearby house and dogs howl in the distance. It’s pure Naples and pure Sanità.
More info: hotelparadisonapoli.it; pasticceriapoppella.com; pizzeriaoliva.it
History on the Heel
The Salento peninsula offers a road trip packed with sandy beaches, clifftop cave dwellings, dolmens and towns studded with elaborate, baroque palazzi.
The lights are off but everyone’s home in Gallipoli. It’s Sunday lunchtime, and they’ve gone from church to table. At least, that’s according to the clinking of cutlery through open windows. Outside, it’s a ghost town, the summer heat sitting heavily on the cream-stoned palazzi.
Gallipoli is already a fairy-tale of a place, a fishing village teetering on a rock in the Ionian Sea, tethered to the mainland by a sandy wedge. But the stillness makes it more special. Even in summer, when tourists flock to the sugar-sanded bay, life continues at a rhythm established over hundreds of years.
History is inescapable here on the Salento peninsula, the southernmost tip of Italy’s heel. It’s here in the prehistoric dolmens; here in the angels smiling down from baroque buildings. It goes still further back at Porto Selvaggio, to the north of Gallipoli, whose cliffside caves were, 45,000 years ago, home to Europe’s first documented Homo sapiens.
Countryside around the Capannelle Pass (bottom right) en route to Campo Imperatore, Gran Sasso and Laga Mountains National Park; Beachside dining at Punta Prosciutto (top right); Spiaggia della Purità, Gallipoli (bottom left); Pescoluse Beach (top left), on Puglia’s west coast. Photos By: Francesco Lastrucci
Those early humans, who’d travelled up from Africa, were the first of Puglia’s many immigrants. Some had fled here (like the Basilian monks, escaping Jerusalem in the eighth century, sculpting underground churches whose frescoes survive to this day). Others chose to settle here (the Greeks founded towns like Calimera). Other arrived with conquest in mind: the Normans, Lombards and Saracens all left their mark on Salento architecture; the watchtowers, valiant attempts to ward them off, dot the clifftop as I head south on my road trip around the Salento coast.
Salento may be just 40 kilometres across at its widest point, but its east and west coasts are starkly different. The flatter, western side is known for its beaches. Earlier, I’d stopped at Punta Prosciutto, where dunes melt into thick sand. South of Gallipoli, there’s a beach every five minutes—some with a platform of spiky rock sheering into the sea; others, more idyllic, like Pescoluse, nicknamed Puglia’s Maldives.
Santa Maria di Leuca, Italy’s most southeasterly point, is where the Ionian and Adriatic coasts slide into each other. From Leuca, the coast gets more spectacular, the road roller coastering up and down sharp cliffs, past teeny fishing villages below a headland speckled with myrtle and carob bushes. At the Grotta Zinzulusa, a local guide shimmies me deep into the cliffside to an enormous, bat-filled cave. In the town of Otranto, I see the cathedral’s 12th-century mosaic ‘carpet’, complete with cameos from an elephant and a buxom mermaid. Just above it, from the Aragonese castle, I look back along the coast: it’s a carbon copy of the Amalfi shoreline but without the traffic, crowds or high prices.
The coastal road between Pizzo and Reggio Calabria passes pretty villages and apocalyptic views of two active volcanoes: Stromboli, smoking offshore to the east, and Etna, puffing away in Sicily, across the water. Stop at Tropea, where palazzi teeter against the blue, and finish at Reggio’s Lungomare walkway, with Sicily brooding across the Straits of Messina.
This mountainous region is home to bears, clifftop villages and twisting roads. The Grand Highway winds through the best of it, cleaving through mountains and rolling through the altipiano between L’Aquila and Teramo provinces.
Sardinia’s southwest coast is less manicured than the Costa Smeralda, but no less spectacular (its hairpin clifftop roads aren’t for the fainthearted). From Fontanamare, wiggle round the old mining coast, stopping at Porto Flavia, home to a mining tunnel that looks out on the cobalt sea. Finish inland at Carbonia’s mining museum.
Historic Bagno Ausonia (top left), a popular swimming spot close to Il Pedocin; Coffee with sachertorte at Caffè Tommaseo (top right); Walled garden (bottom right); at Castello di Ugento, Puglia; People dining in Turin (bottom left). Photos By: Francesco Lastrucci
One Perfect Day
From your first cappuccino in a Viennese-style cafe to a nightcap of Friulano wine in a folksy osteria, we map out the perfect day in Italy’s easternmost border city
Breakfast at Caffè Tommaseo
One look at its Viennese-style coffee houses will show you that Trieste used to be part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Caffè Tommaseo is one of the finest—drenched in more stucco than an opera house, with musical instrument-playing cherub carvings serenading you over your cappuccino and croissant. (caffetommaseo.it)
King of the Castle
San Giusto Castle looms over the city, with views from its battlements across the Gulf of Trieste and down the coast to Slovenia and Croatia. Nip into the Lapidarium, a museum housing Roman remains, for geometric mosaics and lifelike funereal sculptures. (castellodisangiustotrieste.it)
Pay Your Respects
Its border-territory location means Trieste is no stranger to dark times, but the nadir was the 1943-5 Nazi occupation. Around 3,000-5,000 people, largely political prisoners, are thought to have been murdered at the Risiera di San Sabba, a factory-turned-concentration camp. Today a museum accompanies the sobering buildings. risierasansabba.it
Taverna Sapori Greci’s fairy-lit bower brightens up its surroundings (the area was knocked down while excavating the adjacent Roman amphitheatre). Sure, it’s a Greek restaurant, but there’s no better place to sun-soak and try Trieste’s outstanding seafood. (facebook.com/tavernasaporigreci)
Rooms with a View
Miramare Castle, the city’s most famous site, is eight kilometres away—whisked straight out of a Disney film and plonked on the Gulf of Trieste. Built in 1856 by Maximilian I, Archduke of Austria, its story is tinged with tragedy: following Maximilian’s execution in Mexico, wife Charlotte had a breakdown she never recovered from. The rooms are haunting, while the cottage-style grounds, overlooking a marine reserve, are superb. (miramare, beniculturali.it)
Have a Bath
Triestini love their city beaches. You’ll find them rolling out their towels on the shoreline all the way from Miramare back into town. But it’s more fun to head to the old-school La Lanterna or Il Pedocin, the latter a pebbly beach near the marina with ‘male’ and ‘female’ areas separated by a concrete wall.
Piazza Unità d’Italia is one of Europe’s most captivating squares. See the sun set over the water from the outdoor tables at Caffè degli Specchi, a belle époque coffeehouse, with a local Friulano wine, then have dinner at nearby Osteria da Marino, a tavern with 700 types of wine that specialises in Trieste’s Balkans-influenced cuisine. (caffespecchi.it, osteriadamarino.com)
Cliffside entrance to Grotta Zinzulusa. Photo By: Francesco Lastrucci
It’s a rare Italian city that indulges in the aperitivo hour as much as Turin, where drinks are served with ‘snacks’ so substantial you won’t need a meal
Best for atmosphere // Floris House
Comprising a restaurant, bar and perfume shop, Floris House is an elegant spot for an aperitivo. Order a drink amid the many palms and potted plants and you’ll soon find yourself being served tiered stands of chef-made snacks. (floris-profumi.it)
Best for summer // Edit
On sunny evenings, grab a seat in the garden of this bar and restaurant. There’s a hint of a Budapest ruin bar to the courtyard, which is dotted with food trucks and fairy lights, and a lot of Milan in the tapas-style sharing plates and lengthy cocktail list. (edit-to.com)
Best for free food // Beerba
If you want to make a dinner out of your aperitivo buffet, look no further than this San Salvario bar, famous for its buffet dinners. Like the area itself, it’s geared to a younger crowd. Grab a beanbag and settle in—there’s a lot of eating to be done. (facebook.com/beerba.frytobegood)
Daniele Rango making a bracciale ball in his workshop (right), in the village of Treia; Street scene in Treia (left). Photos By: Francesco Lastrucci
Seeking a standout Italian hotel? These rustic-chic stays deliver showstopping views and service with style
Sextantio Santo Stefano Di Sessanio, Abruzzo
This is one of Italy’s more remote ‘scattered hotels’ (a concept that sees guest rooms spread across buildings throughout town)—and one of the cushiest. It occupies a hamlet in Abruzzo, with plush digs in old cottages. (Doubles from €130/Rs11,661, B&B, sextantio.it)
Su Gologone, Sardinia
This mountainside hotel offers an immersion into Sardinian culture, from the meat smouldering on a spit to the farming equipment strung up on the walls. The whitewashed rooms feature colourful accessories, and there are daybeds outside. (Doubles from €197/Rs17,671, B&B, sugologone.it)
Villa Paola, Calabria
Located close to the pretty coastal village of Tropea, this candy-coloured villa was originally a convent. The views are the main draw here—in an Executive room, you’ll be woken by the sun glinting on the Med. (Doubles from €212/Rs19,017, B&B; villapaolatropea.it)
Castello Di Ugento, Puglia
On the far-western tip of Italy’s heel is this honey-stoned 17th-century castle, whose nine rooms and suites are filled with designer Italian fittings. There’s also an excellent restaurant and cookery school on site. (Doubles from €430/Rs38,573, B&B, minimum stay of two nights, castellodiugento.com)
Forestis, South Tyrol
This hideway offers a plum view of the Dolomites including from the suites, all of which face the peaks with floor-to-ceiling windows. Leisure options include yoga and skiing, but you’ll also want to leave time for the spa, with its pine, spruce and larch treatments. (Doubles from €320/Rs28,705, B&B, forestis.it)
In a forest north of Orvieto lies this newbuild ‘hermitage’, where dinner is eaten in silence, rooms have a monastic aesthetic and there’s little to do except soak up the solitude. Eremito was designed with solo travellers in mind, so be ready to mingle. (Doubles from €230/Rs20,632, all-inclusive, eremito.com)
Maronti beach, on the island of Ischia. Photos By: Francesco Lastrucci
With so many lakes, mountains and UNESCO-listed sites, Italy has no shortage of stunning locations to while away a few days. These oft-overlooked spots promise a unique break
The Lake: Iseo
Often overshadowed by its higher-profile siblings, Garda, Como and Maggiore, Lake Iseo is where the Milanese retreat to. This is fishing territory, and on Monte Isola (the island in the middle of the lake, accessible by ferry) lies the hamlet of Peschiera Maraglio, where villagers make their living either by hauling in the daily catch or manufacturing the nets.
You’ll find fish on menus all around the lake, often paired with hyper-local wine from the Franciacorta region, whose sparkling whites bear more of a resemblance to Champagne than Prosecco. Don’t miss the 40-mile Strada del Vino Franciacorta wine trail, which whisks you from one vineyard to the next.
WHERE TO EAT: Ristorante Le Margherite
Tinca al forno (a baked carp-like fish, stuffed with grated bread, cheese and spices) is the speciality of lakeside Clusane, and this restaurant is one of the best places to try it. (ristorantelemargherite.it)
WHERE TO STAY: Castello Oldofredi
This porticoed, towered castle dominates Peschiera Maraglio, offering top-notch views of the lake. (Doubles from €79/Rs7,086, room only, oldofrediresidence.it)
The Island: Ischia
It shares the same glittering sea and glorious Vesuvius views as Capri, but Ischia remains very much an island for Italians, rather than for the jet set. Its thermal waters have been popular for thousands of years, and you can still take a dip today. Relax in the natural pools of Cavascura, as the Romans did, or, for something a little fancier, gently stew as you dangle over the Med at the Aphrodite Apollon thermal park. There are dinky villages (like Sant’Angelo, a hamlet with almost more beach than pavement) and glorious beaches, too—don’t miss Maronti, a long strip of sand on the south of the island, made famous by Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. (cavascura.it, miramaresearesort.it/aphrodite)
WHERE TO EAT: Ristorante Neptunus
Frequented by many a celebrity over the years, this is the go-to spot for perfectly grilled, caught-this-morning fish. (ristoranteneptunus.com/en)
WHERE TO STAY: Botania Relais & Spa
Get back to nature at this adults-only retreat, where villas and rooms are dotted around the richly planted grounds. (Doubles from €150/Rs13,455, B&B; botaniarelais.com)
The Unique Wonder: Matera
It appears almost as a mirage: thousands of houses carved out of the caves and cliffs, piled higgledy-piggledy on top of each other. The southern Italian city was once considered a national embarrassment, with its population living in dire poverty until they were evicted on public health grounds in the 1950s. But today, Matera is fresh off its stint as 2019 European Capital Of Culture and its sassi (‘rocks’) are slowly being reinhabited. There are excellent small museums including Casa Noha, a clutch of chic galleries and shops and artisans’ workshops. Don’t miss the rock-hewn churches or the Cripta del Peccato Originale (‘crypt of original sin’), a 20-minute drive from town. (criptadelpeccatooriginale.it; fondoambiente.it/luoghi/casa-noha)
WHERE TO EAT: Osteria al Casale
At this swish trattoria in a former cave, the only link to the past is the traditional Basilicata dishes on the menu. (osterialcasale.it)
WHERE TO STAY: Sextantio Le Grotte della Civita
This ‘scattered hotel’ comprises 18 cave houses converted into honey-hued, candlelit rooms. (Doubles from €153/Rs13,724, B&B, tsextantio.it)
Pasta con le sarde (top left), a traditional Sicilian dish of pasta with sardines; A fresh harvest of Sicilian round aubergines (bottom left); Olive tree in Sicily (top right); Giuseppe Trapani (bottom right). Photos By: Francesco Lastrucci
Food is done a little differently on Italy’s largest island. Sicilian olive oil producer Giuseppe Trapani explains the principal flavours, and shares the restaurants not to miss
Sicilian food is a pot pourri of Mediterranean cultures. We have flavours and products that mainland Italy doesn’t. It’s been influenced by the cultures that have come here: the ancient Greeks brought the olive tree; the Arabs brought aubergines, oranges and lemons; and the Spanish brought things from the Americas like chocolate and prickly pears (originally from Mexico but now often associated with Sicily). Recently, there’s been a Tunisian influence, too, thanks to the exchange of fishing in Mazara del Vallo, on the southwest coast.
We use a lot of aubergine and artichokes in Sicily; Cerda, near Palermo, is famous for the latter. Couscous is popular as well, and every September there’s a dedicated festival held in San Vito Lo Capo, near Trapani. Sicilian oranges are very intense and the olives here are big—we have a lot of autochthonous varieties, like the nocellara I grow in Poggioreale. Pistachios from Bronte, near Catania, are also famous. Then there are the islands: we have capers from Pantelleria, tuna from Favignana and salt from Mozia.
We tend to use our ingredients very differently from the rest of Italy. Our national dish, pasta con le sarde, combines wild fennel, sultanas, pine nuts, toasted breadcrumbs and sardines; it’s a very special flavour. We’re also famous for our street food, like arancini (rice balls), which can be filled with ragu, butter, prosciutto or even fish. There’s also panelle (chickpea fritters), sfincione (like a spongy pizza but don’t call it that, or you’ll cause offence) and pani câ meusa (rolls filled with deep-fried offal and topped with cheese).
As for my favourite restaurants? Antiche Scale in Castellammare del Golfo is run by a fishing family—I love their pasta with sea urchins. In Scopello, Bar Nettuno serves traditional food with a fancy twist. Then there’s Le Gole in Calatafimi, where they make ragu with maialino nero (a local breed of pig). It’s incredible and there are no tourists.
MORE INFO: anticafocacceria.it; acebook.com/antichescale; facebook.com/legoleristorante
Tommaso Chiarli (right) speaks about Lambrusco; Pizza-making in Naples (left). Photos By: Francesco Lastrucci
Pizza in Naples
The Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana exists to promote and protect ‘real’ Neapolitan pizza. As well as training professionals, it also offers four-hour courses for amateurs. Make the perfect pizza, then eat your handiwork. (€84/Rs7,535 per person, pizzanapoletana.org)
Street Food in Genoa
Genoa is the home of street food favourites like focaccia and farinata (chickpea pancake), which you’ll learn how to make at food blogger Enrica’s immersive market-to-table class. (From €110/Rs9,867 per person, minimum two people, asmallkitcheningenoa.com)
Fish in Venice
Take a private class with Venetian chef Marco Scarpa, who’ll walk you through creating a seafood feast, including cicchetti (traditional bar snacks) and mains such as squid ink risotto. (€300/for a group of four, experience.veneziaautentica.com)
Spice in Calabria
Calabria is known for its chilli-infused cooking. At Cantina Masicei, you’ll be taught how to make dishes including Tropea’s famous red onions in sweet-and-sour sauce, courgette blossom fritters and frittata with nduja. (From €69/Rs6189 per person, calabriacongusto.co.uk)
If the idea of Lambrusco fills you with images of over-sweetened, bubble-heavy Eighties wine, then think again. When drunk on its home turf of Emilia-Romagna, Lambrusco is a different thing entirely: red wine with a hint of fizz that cuts through the fat from the cured meats and cheeses typical of the region. And the reason? UK law. Between 1958 and 1965, tax on low-alcohol sparkling wine was cut by around five times as much as that on normal wine.
“So, by the end of the 1960s, everyone was sending light Lambrusco (essentially, partially fermented grape must) to the U.K.,” explains Tommaso Chiarli, export manager at Cleto Chiarli, Emilia-Romagna’s oldest winery. “Even we did it; we used to sell 13 million bottles a year. From there, we got into a vicious circle. People now realise they were drinking rubbish that didn’t respect the traditional characteristics of Lambrusco.
“But Lambrusco is a fantastic grape. It has a lot of sugar, but also a lot of acidity. Even the sweetest wine can be good — the acidity means you can enjoy it.”
Tommaso is the fifth generation of his family’s wine-making business, which was started in 1860 by Cleto Chiarli. “He was the first to understand Lambrusco’s potential and to commercialise it—he was like Dom Pérignon,” says Tommaso.
By encouraging this revival of Lambrusco’s reputation, Cleto Chiarli hopes to secure a place for itself at the forefront of the industry. “There are still very few wine tours in Emilia Romagna compared to Tuscany, but last year we had 5,000 visitors,” Tommaso says. With Lambrusco’s standing on the rise, it’s safe to say he’ll be seeing a lot more in the future.
The Cleto Chiarli winery has 150 hectares across the Emilia-Romagna region and produces 15 wines. (chiarli.it)
Fortress in Populonia, Tuscany (top); Archaeology professor Elisabetta Govi (bottom) discusses the Etruscan civilisation. Photos By: Francesco Lastrucci
Elisabetta Govi, an archaeology professor at the University of Bologna, discusses Italy’s ancient Etruscan civilisation and its most impressive remaining sites
If I had to pick anywhere to visit, it’d be Cerveteri and Tarquinia in Lazio, both known for their necropolises. At Cerveteri, there are underground chambers that show you how aristocratic houses must have looked. Walking through is incredibly moving. And the tombs in Tarquinia have extraordinary frescoed walls, with still-bright colours. The dead are brought back to life in the paintings, mainly in banquet scenes where they’re eating and drinking with dancers and musicians. I’d also recommend Populonia on the Tuscan coast, which has spectacular views from the acropolis in the archaeological park.
The Etruscans lived in various areas of the Italian peninsula from around 900 BC to AD 100 (what we call the ‘Romanisation’ phase, as the Romans progressively conquered them). Modern Tuscany and northern Lazio make up the best-known area, but the Etruscans were also found in the north, around the Po river, the Adriatic coast and Bologna, and in the south, around the Gulf of Salerno. Most Etruscan cities were built over by the Romans.
For an idea of what an Etruscan city would have been like in its entirety, try Marzabotto, near Bologna, where I’ve worked for years. Sadly, only the foundations remain, but as there was never a successive occupation, you can walk on streets built by Etruscans, see their urban planning and view the foundations of houses, temples and tombs. ❚
‘Etruscans: Journey Through the Lands of the Rasna’ was at the Archaeological Civic Museum of Bologna in November 2020. (etruschibologna.it; necropoliditarquinia.it; archeobologna.beniculturali.it/marzabotto; erveteri-tarquinia-sitiunesco.beniculturali.it)
Sardinia’s Iron Age people littered the island with nuraghi (conical towers). At Su Nuraxi di Barumini, tours take you up internal stairways and across the ramparts. (fondazionebarumini.it)
Pompeii’s neighbouring town was also wiped out in the AD 79 Vesuvius eruption. Its ruins are more complete and better preserved, from doors and frescoes to upper floors of buildings. (ercolano.beniculturali.it)
This breathtaking Greek temple stands in a field an hour’s west of Palermo. It’s perfectly preserved, with Doric columns dating back to around 420BC. (segestawelcome.com)
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