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An Italian Christmas Tradition: Nativity Displays

December 22, 2016

Italy is home to some of the most beautiful and intricate Nativity displays. Mangers can be found in churches, squares, shops, and other public areas. Displays often go beyond the manger scene and may even include a representation of the entire village.The mangers are usually put on display on December 8, the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception, through January 6, Epiphany, and some are unveiled on Christmas Eve.Most Italians set up a Christmas crib in their house and figurines for nativity scenes are made in many parts of Italy, with some of the best coming from Naples and Sicily.The Baby Jesus figurine is added on Christmas Eve.

Here are some of the best places to see Navity Displays:

Naples is the best city to visit for their Christmas mangers. Hundreds of nativity scenes are erected throughout the city. Some creches are very elaborate and may be handmade or use antique figures. 

In Vatican City a huge manger is constructed in Saint Peter's Square for Christmas that is usually unveiled on Christmas Eve. A Christmas Eve mass is held in Saint Peter's Square at 10PM.

In Rome some of the biggest and most elaborate mangers are found in Piazza del Popolo, Piazza Euclide, Santa Maria in Trastevere, and Santa Maria d'Aracoeli, on the Capitoline Hill.   A life-size nativity scene is also set up in Piazza Navona where a Christmas market is also held. The Church of Saints Cosma e Damiano, by the main entrance to the Roman Forum, has a large nativity scene on display all year.

Verona has an international display of nativities in the huge Roman Arena through January.

Jesolo, which is close to Venice, offers sand sculpture nativity scenes made by top international artists. It takes place daily in Piazza Marconi through mid-January. Donations are used to fund charitable projects.

Manarola in Cinque Terre has a unique ecological nativity powered by solar energy.

Custonaci, a small town near Trapani in Sicily, has a beautiful nativity scene re-enacted inside a cave. A tiny town was buried in the cave by a landslide in the 1800's. The cave has been excavated and now serves as a setting for the interesting live nativity events December 25-26 and early January.

5 things to see in Italy this Christmas

December 10, 2016

Rome is enchanting any time of year, but at Christmas the city sparkles with a unique fairytale-like magic all its own.  Lights twinkle in the city squares; the smell of roasted chestnuts drifts through the streets, and street vendors sell toys, sweets and unique hand-made decorations. 

The festivities center in Piazza Navona, a 15th century square that's home to three fountains and many luxurious cafes and Baroque buildings. Here, Babbo Natale, Italy's Father Christmas mingles with roving musicians and artists selling souvenirs. 

The Christmas holiday begins in Italy on December 6 and extends to January 6.  To fully experience Natale Old World style, here are some recommendations for you and your family from Donna Franca Tours.

Here are 5 things to see in Italy this Christmas

Precepi

Precepi are ornately hand carved Italian nativity scenes that are believed to date back to the13 century when St. Francis of Assisi created the first one by placing an ox and a donkey near a manger he built himself. During the 18th century precepi became popular Christmas decorations, commissioned by King Charles and built by famous artists. Today, the tradition continues with many of the country's finest precepi created out of terracotta and wood in workshops in Naples.  Elaborate nativity scenes are set up in churches throughout the country, and in some towns people create a living nativity by walking the streets dressed in costume.

Some of the country's biggest and most elaborate precepi are displayed at Christmas in Rome. Over one hundred precepi are displayed at the Sala del Bramante in Piazza del Popolo from late November till January 6, daily from 9:30AM to 8:00PM. 

Santa Maria Maggiore Christmas Crib

Said to be the oldest known nativity scene in Italy, this unique structure is carved of marble and dates to the late 13th century.  It now sits in the Museum of Santa Maria Maggiore, the church where the first Christmas Mass was held.  Stick around on December 31st to hear bells chime at midnight to ring in the New Year.

Church of Saints Cosma and Damiano Nativity Scene

Commissioned by Charles III of Naples, this is one of the city's largest nativity scenes displayed above the forum. Six master wood carvers spent forty years creating this work of art that includes people from everyday life mixed in with ornately-dressed royalty and traditional religious figures. 

Vatican City

Vatican City displays a large precepi in St. Peter's Square that is unveiled on Christmas Eve.  The Pope holds Midnight Mass at St. Peter's Basilica and on Christmas Day greets the crowds from his apartment window with a special Christmas Blessing. 

Enjoy the winter wonderland-like atmosphere by going ice skating on a rink that's set up near Castel Sant'Angelo daily from 10:00AM to midnight.

Christmas Trees

Though Christmas trees are a fairly new tradition in Italy (adopted from the U.S.), they are becoming more popular with several beautiful trees displayed in Rome.  Visit St. Peter's Square, Piazza Venezia and the area in front of the Museums on Capitoline Hill to enjoy the comforting glow of the Christmas lights.

Featured Hotel: Villa d'Este in Lake Como

December 8, 2016

 Named one of the best hotels in the world by Travel & Leisure, Conde' Nast Traveler and Forbes Traveler, the Villa d' Este Hotel of Cernobbio will dazzle you with its charm, impeccable decor, and extraordinary service. 

Set on the banks of one of the most romantic lakes in the world, Lake Como, Villa d'Este was built in 1568 as the summer residence of Cardinal Tolomeo Gallio. The property consists of 25 acres of gardens, whose statues and landscape have been photographed for centuries.  Amenities include a floating pool on the lake,  boat rental, elegant cuisine at their lake view restaurant, a fitness center, a beauty center and wifi throughout.

Accommodations at Villa d' Este are divided between two historic mansions, one dating from the 16th century, and the other built for the queen of England. Within, each room is uniquely decorated with silk-brocade drapes, linen sheets and oil paintings.   Guests are able to use all of the facilities and amenities of the Villa d'Este while offering the tranquillity and exclusivity that a private villa can offer. 

 To book your stay here, contact one of our sales agents.

 Please visit our hotels page for more details.

It's Christmas Time in Sorrento!

November 25, 2016

In Sorrento, come experience some of the most vibrant Christmas celebrations Europe has to offer! Italy's colorful south hosts some of the best Nativity Displays. For example, Sorrento's churches house elaborate scenes, many with hand carved miniatures depicting Christmas Stories and everyday old town traditions. 

Glance up a mountainside or descend into a grotto to view intricate manager scenes with the Three Wise Men adoring the Christ Child.  Attend one of the many free events and concerts during the Holidays.  On December 23rd and again on the 31st an outdoor stage in Piazza Tasso offers free entertainment.  

The Christmas Day services at St. Philip and James Cathedral are joyful and welcoming where carols are sung by the youth choir.

On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day the old town center streets are closed to road traffic and becomes a huge pedestrian walkway so locals can stroll up and down the Corso Italia. Sorrento hosts a Christmas Market with food vendors, local boutique and artisan shops.  The area  is known for its ceramics, inlaid wood and intricate coral carvings which make unique Christmas gifts.  Check out the ice skating rink for revelers of all ages!

Featured Hotel: Ma&Ma in Sardinia

November 10, 2016

Set along the Mediterranean Sea in La Maddalena off the coast of Sardinia, the Grand Hotel Resort Ma&Ma is a 7-minute walk from Punta Tegge Beach and 2 km from the La Maddalena Ferry Terminal for trips to Palau.  La Maddalena is Sardinia's best kept secret. Surrounded by translucent seas,  this group of seven large islands and 55 tiny islets offer some of the most spectacular beaches in Italy, you will feel like you are in another world! 

The glamorous rooms feature plush furnishings and linens, and offer free Wi-Fi and flat-screen TVs. Some have island and/or sea views. Suites add living areas and Nespresso machines; upgraded suites offer terrace hot tubs. Room service is available.

Continental breakfast is complimentary. Other amenities include a sophisticated restaurant, 2 bars, and an outdoor pool with sea views. The upscale spa offers massage and beauty treatments, a gym, a sauna and a hamman, plus an indoor pool with a waterfall wall.

Spread over 4 floors in different styles: minimal, casual, romantic and fashion, the 92 rooms of the hotel are devoted to excellence.

 To book your stay here, contact one of our sales agents.  

 Please visit our hotels page for more details.

Longtime Boston Travel Operator Releases Story of Her Life

October 20, 2016

Donna Franca Franzaroli shares the recipe for her success in her autobiography

Donna Franca Franzaroli, owner of Donna Franca Tours in Boston, announced today the release of her new book, “Pride and Perseverance: A Story of Love and Courage.”

The self-published autobiography shares the story of Franzaroli’s journey from Rome, Italy to Boston, Mass. where she started her very own travel agency in 1964.

“Pride and Perseverance is the story of my life,” said Franzaroli. “It begins with my childhood during the Second World War, when I came to understand the meaning of privation and terror with German occupation and the Allied bombings of Rome.  It then follows my triumphs and warships in the U.S. as the 22 year-old bride of an American GI, and later as a mother of four children. I then recount how I turned negative circumstances into positive outcomes through determination and hard work.”

As one the few female tour operators in the highly competitive and always changing travel industry, Franzaroli had to set ambitious goals and prove herself time again. The book details how she perseveres through a divorce and raises four children as a single mother.  It then details how she went from working as a banker in Downtown Boston to  starting Donna Franca Tours and helpingso many Italian-Americans visit the mother-country. Lastly, the books outlines Franzaroli’s love for cooking.  Every chapter includes a truly authentic Italian recipe based on her own culinary creation and the expertise of the many chefs that she has met through her travels across Italy.

“My story expresses an abiding belief that facing challenges can only strengthen our character and discipline us to become confident in our abilities and help us to actualize the successful, strong individual within each of us.”

“Pride and Perseverance: A Story of Love and Courage” is available at The Harvard Coop Official Bookstore.

About Donna Franca Tours: Donna Franca Tours operates out of its Kenmore Square office at 470 Commonwealth Avenue.   For more info visit www.donnafranca.com.

Purchase Donna Franca's book HERE

Make Travel Easier with TSA Global Entry

October 3, 2016

Traveling to Italy this year? Skip the majority of the airport security line and breeze right through.  Register today for TSA Pre Check, and you are automatically eligible when you pay $100 for Global Entry.   Doing this will save you hours and is much less stressful than waiting in a crowded airport.

How Do I Apply?

First, you'll need a U.S. passport or a permanent resident card, and second, you cannot have previously violated any customs or immigration laws. (Here's a full list of eligibility requirements.) The application process itself is easy: you answer a series of straightforward questions online, including employment history-but have your passport ready, because it does ask for a list of every country you've visited in the last five years. There's a $100 application fee (which you have to pay every five years when you renew)-you won't get the money back if you're denied Global Entry.

I've Submitted. Now What?

The response time is pretty quick. You will have to wait a few days, via email, and then schedule an interview at the location of your choice. Most international airports have a Global Entry office, and there are a few non-airport locations as well. Also, there are usually 15-minute appointment slots within the next week or so, if stopping by the airport isn't a major hassle.  Another option is to go to the airport early before you have a flight, but note that most offices keep regular hours, so this might not work for a morning flight.

What Happens in the Interview?

Make sure to bring your passport or resident card, one other form of ID, and a printout of your approval email. Most of the questions asked  will be to confirm the information you had submitted on the online form, and they also check your driving record to make sure there are not any outstanding violations. They'll take your fingerprints (this allows you to use the kiosks in the future), and a photo.  You should received a physical card in the mail two weeks later.

What Do I Do With the Card?

Nothing, actually, unless you're entering the country by land (via car or train) or sea. It's not required while you're flying, and won't work at the Global Entry kiosks. Instead, it's the Known Traveler number, on the upper-left hand corner of the back of the card, that's important. To take advantage of TSA Pre Check, you'll want to input this into your traveler profile whenever you fly on participating airlines: AeroMexico, Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, American, Delta, Etihad, Hawaiian, Jet Blue, Southwest, Sun Country, United, Virgin America, and WestJet. Without this number on your boarding pass, you'll have to line up as usual, which really defeats the purpose (no, you cannot wave your card at a TSA Agent). There are plans to get international airlines on board as well, but it's currently a work in progress. There is one other bonus of the physical card: it works as another form of government-issued ID.

How Do I Use Global Entry?

When you land at a major airport after an international flight, head directly toward signs for Global Entry kiosks. At the kiosk, scan your passport or type in your Known Number, which typically brings up your flight details to confirm. You'll answer the customs form electronically. The kiosk will then take your photo-stand way back or they will only get your forehead-and scan your fingerprints.  The kiosk will print out a tiny receipt that you hand to the customs agent on your way out using the dedicated Global Entry exit.

Listen to and read more about this process here: Travel & Leisure.

Donna Franca Shares Seafood Recipe

September 5, 2016

Donna Franca's Summer Seafood Recipe:  Pesce all'acqua pazza

Surprise your friends and family with this simple yet delicious Sicilian Seafood  Specialty.

Pesce all'acqua pazza means Fish Poached in "Crazy Water" and this dish offers terrific flavors.

Ingredients (for 6 to 8 people):

2 large fresh haddock or cod fillets, gently rolled in white flour

3 large garlic cloves

5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon of fresh parsley, finely chopped

1 tablespoon of fresh basil, finely chopped

1 tablespoon of fresh mint, finely chopped

1 pinch of crushed red pepper

salt to taste

¼ cup of dry white wine

3 fresh tomatoes, finely chopped

⅓ cup of clam juice

6 small slices of toasted Italian bread

How to prepare:

In a large skillet, pour the olive oil and add the garlic, fresh herbs, salt, and crushed pepper.  Over medium heat, sauté the ingredients. When they are light golden, pour in the wine and let the wine evaporate.  Add the chopped fresh tomatoes and the clam juice. After 5-10 minutes, add the fish fillets and with a wooden spoon pour the sauce over them.  Gently turn them around.  Cover them for 10 minutes.  The fish will start to produce its own water ("acqua pazza").  Cook the fillets for an additional 10 minutes, basting them with the watery tomato sauce.  Serve them hot, with the toasted Italian bread slices drizzled with olive oil.  Buon appettito!

3 Reasons to Visit Sardinia

September 5, 2016

Sardinia, a large island off the coast of Italy surrounded by the azure Mediterranean Sea is famous for its beautiful beaches, great seafood, and a large centenarian population thanks to their healthy lifestyle.  Here are the top three reasons why you should add this island do your bucket list.  

1. Stintino: This small seaside town, appearing as a painting with its white houses and the contrast between the crystal-clear sea and light blue sky, offers endless leisure possibilities, from golf to excursions and scuba diving, from cycling to horseback riding. 

2.   Basilica of Saccargia: Known for its stone architecture, the church was finished in 1116 over the ruins of a pre-existing monastery and is one of the most beautiful sights on the island.

3.   Archipelago della Maddalena: Located on the north-western coast of Sardinia, off the Costa Smeralda, it consists of 7 major islands, surrounded by beautiful crystal clear and transparent water.

Our expert team of Vacation Specialists are ready to assist in creating your very own personalized holiday!  We currently offer Sublime Sardinia Island Adventure from October 3-15.

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