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Viva La Festa della Donna!

March 1, 2015

On March 8th, Italy celebrates La Festa della Donna (International Women's Day) with a festival full of bright yellow flowers of the Mimosa to honor women's economic, political and social achievements.

The Mimosa is an emblem of Women's Day, for it generally blossoms at this time of year in Italy, its bright yellow color symbolizes the vitality and joy which women bestow upon us in our daily  lives.

During the festival, it has become a tradition to gift small sprigs of Mimosa Flowers to women of all ages.

An interesting twist is that part of the proceedings support projects related to women's causes, such as breast cancer research, housing for victims of domestic violence, and women's rights movements.

On this day, many Italian restaurants offer a special Festa della Donna menu, and there are often small local festivals or concerts. Some museums and sites even offer free or reduced admission for women. 

Women's Day has its roots in two events that took place outside of Italy. On March 8, 1857 a strike by garment workers in New York, leading to the formation of the first women's union of the United States!  Sixty years later Russian women led a strike calling for "bread and peace" during the twin horrors of World War I and the Russian Revolution. In 1945 the Italian Women's Union declared that March 8, should be set aside to celebrate womanhood across the country.

Some Italians joke that the holiday was created so that men would pay special attention to their spouse once a year, others claim that it was created for commercial purposes.  Some women have "ladies only" parties and Leave the men at home! 

So, why not surprise the women in your life! 

3 Italian Recipes You Must Try During Carnival

February 16, 2015
#1)  I Cenci, Le Chiacchere, Le Frappe, Le Bugie, I Galani, or I Crostoli
Five different names for the same classic Italian Carnival Treat, depending on where you celebrate the Carnival!   The traditional way to prepare this is by frying, however there is also a light baked version.

Fried Version:

300 grams of flour, 2 eggs, 100 grams of sugar, 3 tablespoons of olive oil, sugar, oil for frying

Pour the flour and add the eggs that have been already lightly beaten, the olive oil and granulated sugar . Mix well to combine ingredients and work the dough until it becomes very soft and smooth. Roll out with a rolling pin into a sheet a few millimeters high . With a wheel cutter cut long and narrow rectangles.. Heat in a skillet plenty of oil and dip the pastry rectangles . When they become puffed and golden, drain them and place them on paper towels to absorb any excess oil. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve.

Baked Version:

250 grams of flour, 2 eggs, 30 grams of sugar, zest of one lemon, 30 grams of olive oil, 4 tablespoons of Marsala (Sicilian Dessert Wine), 2-3 tablespoons of milk, 1 pinch of salt, powdered sugar for dusting, 2 tablespoons of beaten egg and milkfor brushing.

Preparation:

15mins  Cooking time: 12mins Rest time for the dough30 mintues, ready in 60 minutes.
Mix all ingredients (flour, eggs , sugar , lemon zest , olive oil , marsala , milk and salt ) together in a mixer.  Knead the dough with your hands until you get an smooth elastic texture. Roll into a ball and let stand for half an hour.  If you place in the fridge, it is easier to work the dough later.
Roll out the dough with a rolling pin into 1 mm sheets.
Cut out desired shapes using a toothed wheel .
Place the  cut dough onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper , brush with the egg and milk mixture, and sprinkle with a little sugar.
Bake at 200 ° C for about 10-12 minutes. Let cool and then sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Buon appetito!

#2 Pork Ribs with Cabbage

A typical Venetian dish that is prepared since ancient times in the cold February days , to prepare to greet the imminent arrival of spring .

Ingredients:

  • A cabbage
  • Rack of pork ribs
  • A clove of garlic
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • White wine
  • Salt and pepper

Procedure:

Blanche the cabbage in water for 5 minutes.
Sear the ribs in a pan , throw away the excess fat form the pan
In another saucepan fry the onion with a clove of garlic and extra virgin olive oil to taste.
Add the ribs, cabbage and  a glass of white wine
Add a little salt and pepper to taste .
Allow to cook slowly for about half an hour .
The presentation should be carried out on a plate , served with soft warm  Maranello Polenta.

#3) Castagnole Di Carnevale 

A typical Venetian sweet that is prepared during Carnival .

Ingredients

  • 200 grams of white flour
  • 100 grams of sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 50 grams of melted butter
  • 1 tablespoon brandy
  • Grated rind of one orange
  • Half a bag of yeast

Procedure:

The ingredients are mixed gently in a bowl, adding them in the order listed
Work the dough until you reach a good consistency, then let it  rest for a quarter of an hour
Using a spoon, form balls of dough that you will drop into the hot oil .
Once golden , the castagnole are pulled out and , once warm , sprinkled with powdered sugar .

February in Italy: Carnivals and Festivals

February 15, 2015

February is considered one of the gloomiest months here in the States, not so in Sunny Italy!  The Italians are masters in transforming the mid winter blues into a joyous series of celebrations!  For starters, the Carnival is observed throughout the peninsula..  When in Venice, there are numerous costume balls, dances, concerts  Italians celebrating life in a grand tradition!  Further south, in Viareggio, locals celebrate with a weekly parade along the waterfront with floats and clever costumes!  All along Italy, you may come across colorful paper mache' favors in the streets and parks.  Carnival ends with the Christian celebration of Lent, forty days before Easter on Shrove Tuesday culminating with Mardi Gras! 

 

We are pleased to list but a sampling of Italy's most popular celebrations this February. 

1. Carnival in Venice -  Famed for its elaborate masks, impromptu street dances, myriad revelers posing for their audiences, Carnival in Venice is a gathering of like minded party-goers celebrating in a Byzantine wave splashed city.  The fabled Carnival of Venice started out as a victory celebration of the "Serenissima" against the Patriarch of Aquileia, Ulrico di Treven, in 1162.  To honor of this victory, the people started to dance and get together to celebrate in San Marco Square. Today, you can still admire these ancient traditions  in the Calle and along the Canals of Venice!

2. For the musically inclined, the Festival di San Remo offers you a taste of internationally acclaimed vocal artists from around the globe competing in the back drop of the City of Flowers of the Italian Riviera.  The festival runs for five consecutive nights and will thrill you with its unique variety.

3. If your gourmet sprit craves a more earthy celebration,  we suggest you check out the Olive and Bruschetta Festival which is celebrated on the third Sunday of February in the Ancient Umbrian Town of Spello. Farmers parade on tractors while partygoers celebrate the olive harvest by drizzling the new oil over toast accompanied by other culinary delights. The celebrations also feature  music, dancing, and fine food.

4. When traveling through Sicily, you must attend The Almond Blossom Festival of Agrigento. The almond blossom festival represents a welcome to Sicilian spring, while we are still digging out from the last storm! The event was founded in 1934 and is known as the most famous folkloristic event in Sicily.  Parades of folk groups and typical Sicilian carriages ride through the streets of Agrigento.  The revelers celebrate the re-birth of the countryside, and the colorful almond blossoms are a welcome sign! 

5. Another lively Sicilian Religious Feast  that falls in February is the Festival of Saint Agatha, which is the most important religious festival of CataniaSicily. It commemorates the life the city's patron saint, Agatha of Sicily. Over one million people come to see  procession of the cathedral's relics, a tradition which is hundreds of years old,.  The Festival is also a celebration of light and re-birth as you can attest as you walk through the festive streets of Baroque Catania, one of the island's numerous treasures!

Come join the celebration! For assistance in travel reservations to attend any of these amazing happenings, contact one of our Italian Vacation Planners  today at 617-375-9400 or click here to send us an e mail!

SPECIAL ROMANCE PACKAGE

February 14, 2015

Surprise your spouse or significant other by treating them to an unforgettable week of romance in the Serene Republic of  Venice, paired with wining dining and a renewal of your love vows in the City of Romeo and Juliet,  Verona!

Private motor launch transfer from Venice Tessera Airport, Venice Cruise Terminal,
or Venice Santa Lucia Rail Station to your hotel.

Three (3) night accommodations in a junior suite at the Palazzo Giovannelli e Gran
Canal,  a splendid Venetian palace situated between the Rialto and St. Mark's Square
on the Grand Canal.

Welcome Fruit Basket in your room.

Private gondola ride along the canals of Venice.

A private guided walking tour of Venice with a local licensed English speaking guide.

Indulge in a Venetian style treat on a private guided cicchetti and bacari excursion
with tastings of warm Venetian tapas served with your choice of wine or Prosecco.

Private motor launch transfer from your Venice hotel to Venice Piazzale Roma or
Tronchetto.

Private limousine transfer from Venice mainland to Verona's Wine Country.

Three (3) night accommodations in a junior suite at the Castello di Bevilacqua, a historic castle and wine estate converted to an intimate resort hotel.

Welcome drink at the castle on arrival with your hosts.

Private winery visit, wine tasting accompanied with rustic snacks at the castle
estate's winery.

Private two hour hands on cooking lesson with English instruction at the castle
followed by lunch with wine.

A private renewal of vows ceremony at the castle estate's chapel or on the roof
garden.

Romantic candle light dinner for two at the castle's gourmet restaurant.

Private limousine transfer to Verona Airport or Rail Station.

DATES & PRICES:

$2769.00 per person double occupancy valid for travel Feb. 19 to April 16, 2015.  

$3069.00 per person double occupancy valid for travel April 17 to June 30, 2015  & Aug. 28 to November 7, 2015

$2869.00 per person double valid for travel  July 1 - August 27, 2015

Our 2015 Brochure Has Arrived!

January 14, 2015

Donna Franca Tours is pleased to announce the release of our 2015 collection of unique travel experiences.  Our new brochure offers over 20 pages of suggested itineraries, all of which may be customized to create your ideal Italian vacation.  We offer unique cultural experiences throughout Italy and Sicily such as wine tasting, hands-on cooking classes and off the beaten path adventures. Please click on this link to receive your personal copy.  

Siclia Bedda Mia

December 12, 2014

Come to Sicily! The mild spring like climate, empty sights and beaches, snow on Mount Etna, hotels with low rates and relaxed staff: all this invites for enjoyable winter holidays on the Med's largest and sunniest island.

Day temperatures are around 16-20°C, at night they can go down to 5°C. There are also rainy days, so pack boots, a winter coat or warm jacket and raingear.

You will find open restaurants and bars everywhere, where you can taste the delicious Sicilian cuisine. Sicily’s main archaeological sites, castles, museums and art galleries are open all year round, and a big advantage to visiting this temperate island during the winter months.  Museums and monument sites are less crowded.  Local street markets are much more pleasant when the big summer heat is over. There are no crowds, no large groups, just you  with the palazzos, piazzas, suggestive walkways , and wonderful restaurants.

Sicily is home to six Unesco World Heritage sites; Agrigento, with its magnificent Valley of the Temples, the intricate mosaics that adorn the Roman Villa Casale in Piazza Armerina,  the Eolian Islands, the Baroque Towns of Southeast Sicily (Caltagirone, Militiello Val di Catania, Catania, Modica, Noto, Palazzolo, Ragusa, and Scicli), Syracuse and the Rocky Necropolis of Pantalica, and majestic Mt. Etna, the tallest most active volcano in Europe.

Many picture perfect places are waiting to be discovered: Ragusa, the tiny Island of Ortigia, the Kalsa Quarter of Palermo,  Cefalù on the island’s north coast, elegant Trapani with its wind mills and salt flats,  and fishing villages such as Caccamo, Savoca and Aci Trezza, only to name a few.

Opera season is upon us, and the recently restored Bellini Opera House in Catania and Teatro Massimo offer a rich and varied performance calendar and ticket prices will pleasantly surprise you!

Taormina offers a relaxing winter getaway of them with its intense winter colors and laid back atmosphere. If you have already visited Taormina in the summer, an off season holiday here will impress you with its tranquility.

On a sunny day during the Autumn or Spring, an excursion to the lower part of the only river-park in Sicily, the Parco Fluviale dell’Alcantara, makes for a great day out. The Alcantara River is one of the most important rivers of Sicily. The river was named by the Arabs Al Quantarah, meaning “bridge”. The towns situated within the park’s area preserve an important artistic heritage. Randazzo, with its unique architecture in black and white stone that epitomizes the area’s Etna-Baroque style, its three cathedrals and ancient town walls still intact.  Castiglione di Sicilia with its narrow, winding streets and medieval facades are worth a visit.  You can also visit the ruins of an Arab Castle, Francavilla di Sicilia, where the Monastery of the Minor Capuchin Friars, dating back to 1570, is located. The ancient refectory houses a small Ethno-Anthropological Museum where in the courtyard you will find a herbarium with local medicinal herbs. Last but not least perhaps visit the Calatabiano Castle before heading back to Taormina.

Hikers can go for a lovely walk along the river to the Cuba di Santa Domenica, an ancient Byzantine Church, and then further up the river valley. After the first 200 m on the lava basalt, a path on the left of the river leads to Cuba Bizantina. The path, characterized by the flat route and superb view, offers significant observation points in a stretch of the river characterized by the presence of a lava riverbed, gorges and waterfalls. Along the way there are information panels describing the site.

Should you prefer to meander, perhaps go down to the riverbank where you will find shade under the trees, discover wild flowers, and gaze upon wild cyclamens which are still flowering at the end of October. 

Come to Sicily! The mild spring like climate, uncrowded monuments and beaches, the snowy peak of Mount Etna, and hospitable locals are eagerly waiting to show you Siclia Bedda Mia Donna Franca style!

Buon Natale da Roma!

November 21, 2014

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.

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 8PM. Here are some other must-sees:

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 the Santa Maria Maggiore, the church where the first Christmas mass was held.  Stick around on January 31 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. 

Street Festivities

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

Christmas Trees

Though Christmas trees are a fairly new tradition in Italy (borrowed from the U.S.), they are becoming more popular and there are 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 glow of the Christmas lights.

Discover the Mystery of the Shroud

November 16, 2014

Travel in the footsteps of medieval Pilgrims to see the holy shroud of Turin

This spring travel to Turin, one of Italy’s most fascinating cities, for a rare view of an ancient cloth believed to have held the body Jesus Christ after his crucifixion. The Shroud of Turin- which drew over a million visitors at its last viewing in 2010- will be on display at the Cathedral of Turin from April 19- June 24. 2015.  Pope Francis is expected to visit the shroud on June 21 2015.

Long an object of fascination and debate among theologians and scientists, the linen cloth measures  14 by 4 and bears markings that some say correspond to the wounds of Jesus. The Vatican has not officially recognized the shroud as genuine, but neither has it discouraged popular devotion.

The 2015 exhibition also marks the bicentennial of John Bosco’s birth.  Bosco, a nineteenth century priest and educator, is revered for his work with troubled adolescents in Turin.  Those seeking spiritual inspiration may want to visit Bosco’s shrine, located 21 miles from Turin, or take a stroll down Via Francigena, home of monasteries, abbeys and churches that once were a stopping off point for medieval pilgrims on their way to Rome.

Turin, the headquarters of Fiat, also has much to offer in way of culinary and historical treasures. Visit the Piazza Castello, home to the royal palace that was once the seat of the House of Savoy, the royal dynasty who ruled in Italy from 1861 till the end of WWII; visit the imposing Egyptology Museum, experience exceptional wines at a local winery; or enjoy a meal at one of the many trattorie and restaurants of the city.  

While visits to the exhibit are free, reservations are mandatory to regulate the large crowds that are expected.  Donna Franca Tours will be happy to arrange for tickets to this venue in conjunction with any air and land package arrangement to Italy.  Early reservations are strongly recommended.

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