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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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