Italy’s most beautiful mountain destinations

Nordic skiing in Val d'Aosta - image from scinordicovalledaosta.it

Nordic skiing in Val d'Aosta - image from scinordicovalledaosta.it

The Bel Paese boasts imposing mountains with picturesque villages and evocative landscapes, framed by cultural traditions, gastronomic delicacies and a plethora of activities that can be enjoyed by both leisure and corporate groups.

Up north, the Alps extend from west to east and are the largest mountain range in Europe. Among the most renowned ski resorts are Cortina, Madonna di Campiglio, Cervinia, Sestriere, Livigno, Bormio. But the area is full of little gems that are off the beaten track and that offer just as spectacular views and entertaining activities.

Chamois and La Magdeleine are an oasis of tranquility in Valle d’Aosta: they are nestled at the foot of Mt. Cervino, and spending time here is like living in a fairytale. The villages have about 200 inhabitants and make you feel at home, allowing you to immerge yourself in local traditions and in nature. 

Forni di Sopra is the pearl of the Dolomites, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in Friuli Venezia Giulia. The town is located in a sunny valley and is surrounded by beautiful woods and flowery fields. The surrounding historical-geographic area is known as Carnia, and is a geologic and environmental paradise. Gastronomy here is based upon local products like mushrooms and herbs, and features delicious cheeses and homemade beer.

Sunset on the Catinaccio mountain range, Dolomites - image from geolocation.ws

Sunset on the Catinaccio mountain range, Dolomites - image from geolocation.ws

Nova Levante is also located in the Dolomites, but in the region of Trentino Alto Adige, next to the dramatic ranges of Catinaccio and Latemar, famous worldwide for their incomparable beauty. At sunset, the Catinaccio lights up with gorgeous red shades and offers an awe-inspiring spectacle. You can admire the majestic Latemar and the colors of the rainbow in the waters of Lake Carezza, surrounded by a forest of red spruce pines used for creating violins. According to local tradition, this area is the kingdom of Laurino, king of the dwarves. It is a great destination for families with children, who can enjoy dedicated ski slopes as well as fairy-tale tours to discover local myths and legends.

For both leisure groups - such as families and friends - and corporate team building expeditions, the list of activities in the Alps is never ending: ski, alpine skiing, snowboarding, trekking, Nordic walking, mountain biking, ice skating, horseback riding…

The Apennines are the spine of Italy, running from Liguria all the way down to Calabria and Sicily. All along, rich watercourses and dense vegetation create wild landscapes of extreme beauty where a diversity of fauna thrives. The mountains here are not as tall as the Alpine peaks, but they host important ski resorts like Roccaraso, Campo Felice and Rivisondoli.

The holy & the profane mix during Christmas on Mount Amiata - image from justintoscana.com

The holy & the profane mix during Christmas on Mount Amiata - image from justintoscana.com

Famous spots apart, the list of off-the-radar gems on the Apennines is delightful. In Tuscany, the small medieval village of Abbadia San Salvatore is located on Mount Amiata. During Christmas, it offers a traditional festival that mixes the Holy with ancient profane rituals involving fire. On the night of 24th December, over 40 large wood piles - carefully crafted by the locals in the previous days - are lit on fire. The inhabitants sing Christmas carols and eat local seasonal delicacies around the bonfires, which also light up the surrounding valley creating a beautiful scenery.

The Apennine’s main and most renowned attraction for winter sports is the Gran Sasso in Abruzzo. All around it are charming little villages like the medieval gem of Opi, perched on a rocky spur on the wooded Fondillo Valley. Opi, which is included in the list of Italy’s Most Beautiful Villages, is a great destination for archaeology enthusiasts, and also hosts an interesting museum dedicated to the local Apennine chamois.

The Apennine chamois thrives in its pristine habitat - image from naturamediterraneo.com

The Apennine chamois thrives in its pristine habitat - image from naturamediterraneo.com

Moving south, the Nature Parks of Pollino, Sila and Aspromonte offer pristine nature and winter sports in the regions of Calabria and Basilicata. These are great for bird watching (watch out for the golden eagle) and for studying biodiversity in general. Foodies should also seriously consider southern Italy: the Parco della Sila, for example, hosts several century-old farms with specialized agricultural practices, ancient traditions and excellent products. Local delicacies include mushrooms and the Silana potato, which has the IGP (Protected Geographic Indication) certification.

Our journey through Italy’s mountains ends on the glorious Mount Etna, which is Europe’s tallest volcano as well as the highest peak in the Apennines at 3343 meters a.s.l. Just like in the rest of the mountain chain, you can practice winter sports like skiing, snowboarding, Nordic walking and ice skating. Thanks to Sicily’s mild winters, once you leave the mountain you can still enjoy other activities such as horse riding and visiting vineyards that grow on volcanic lands.

Sicily's contrasting colors - image from scoprirelasicilia.com

Sicily's contrasting colors - image from scoprirelasicilia.com

Are you planning a leisure special occasion or corporate event on Italy’s mesmerizing mountains? Make it unique and memorable by combining authentic activities and visits to attractions that are off the beaten track! Contact Italian Special Occasions for ideas and for a customized quotation

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Abruzzo: the perfect family winter destination in Italy

Abruzzo National Park - image from abruzzocitta.it

Abruzzo National Park - image from abruzzocitta.it

Abruzzo is not one of those regions that immediately pop to mind when thinking about travel destinations in Italy… yet, it is a striking land full of historic and artistic riches, and features a pristine, breathtaking nature. At Italian Special Occasions we believe that it is a fantastic destination for families who wish to explore places that are off the beaten track in an eco-friendly way, and who want to learn more about the local environment and history. Let us see why and how to enjoy this region with your loved ones!

Abruzzo is the "Greenest Region in Europe" thanks to its three national parks (Parco Nazionale D'Abruzzo, Parco Nazionale Della Majella, and Parco Nazionale Gran Sasso e Monti Della Laga), its regional nature park (Parco Regionale Sirente Velino), 18 reserves and 3 protected areas! In other words, one third of its territory is either a nature park or reserve.

This green paradise is ideal for the whole family to treat the lungs with some fresh and clear air, for children to learn about biodiversity, and for adults to relax and take a break from the hustle and bustle of daily life. Activities in the parks go from trekking and cycling during summer, to skiing and hiking with ciaspole (snow rackets) during winter.

The Apennine wolf

The Apennine wolf

The territory also allows for some authentic and unique initiatives for the family, such as an excursion with local experts in the Majella National Park along the tracks of the Apennine wolf, to learn about this rare and endangered species, and to observe how it hunts and survives in the woods, valleys and mountains of the park.

Snow tubing in Abruzzo - image from roccarasoturismo.it

Snow tubing in Abruzzo - image from roccarasoturismo.it

For those who prefer not to ski, snow tubing guarantees great fun even for the most unexperienced on the snow. While if your family group is looking for a good adrenaline rush, snowkiting (or kiteboarding) can be learned and practiced on the breathtaking mountains.

What better way to explore the local landscape and nature than riding a horse? This is an all-time favorite activity for both the young and the older generation, and Abruzzo offers the ideal setting. The ‘Ippovia del Gran Sasso’ is a 320-km horse trail that unfolds in the Gran Sasso e Monti Della Laga Park and crosses the provinces of L’Aquila, Pescara and Teramo. Therefore, it also allows you to appreciate the cultural, enogastronomic and artistic heritage of the region as you travel in harmony with nature.

Rocca Calascio Castle - Image from improntalaquila.org

Rocca Calascio Castle - Image from improntalaquila.org

Speaking of heritage, Abruzzo is home to an incredible number of historic castles and towers that dot its towns, mountains and valleys. One example is the mesmerizing Rocca Calascio, a mountaintop fortress at an elevation of 1,460 meters (4,790 ft), which makes it the highest fort in the Apennines. Dating as far back as the year 1000, it was built of stone and masonry for military purposes.

The fortress is located between the towns of Castel del Monte and Santo Stefano Di Sessanio, both of which are part of Italy’s Most Beautiful Villages Club along with 19 more charming hamlets across Abruzzo (as of October 2014). Families can enjoy the local arts, history and culture by visiting these picturesque towns, their local squares, rustic restaurants, and –above all– the spectacular network of local museums.

Maiolica ceiling in San Donato Church, Castelli - image by Patafisik

Maiolica ceiling in San Donato Church, Castelli - image by Patafisik

From great archeologic collections to classical art museums, from exhibitions of contemporary art to museums dedicated to local folklore, there is a museum for every aspect of history and lifestyle. Excellences include the Abruzzo National Museum, the National Archaeologic Museum, and the lavish Museo della Ceramica, showing hundreds of artistic majolica masterpieces produced in the tiny town of Castelli from the 1500s onwards.

Would you like to organize a family reunion in Italy? Let us know your plans and wishes: we can integrate them with original ideas and make your Italian family trip unforgettable and enriching! Contact us now for your customized quotation

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Winter team building & corporate meetings in Piedmont

"Le Langhe" in Piedmont - image from regioni-italiane.com

"Le Langhe" in Piedmont - image from regioni-italiane.com

Piedmont is a region of culinary excellences and famous wines, as well as unforgettable landscapes. Areas like the Langhe, Roero and Monferrato are dotted with ancient castles, towers and manor houses that are either open for tourist visits or that have become mesmerizing venues for business events, weddings and all sorts of special occasions. The surrounding nature offers rugged mountains, gentle hills and even damp rice paddles in the Padan Plain.

This combination of nature, history and eno-gastronomy provides a huge variety of corporate team building activities that are ideal for creating and strengthening group synergies. This is true not only for the summer months, but also and especially during the winter, when the little hamlets and the panoramic valleys have a distinctive feel and appearance.

On the snow, activities go from the predictable skiing, to fun walks on snow rackets (locally known as ciaspole) to exploring the woods, learning to recognize animal footprints and listening to the secrets of nature. Or, for something more alternative why not... build an igloo on the Alps? And some ski orienteering can definitely put the most adventurous teams to the test and motivate participants to challenge themselves.

On a wintery day with a sunny blue sky, participants will love to participate in a treasure hunt on the Langhe and Roero Hills – between the vineyards of the Barolo wine and local truffle scavengers! The competition challenges teams to find treasures according to quests involving local history and traditions, bringing them closer to the environmental, cultural and historic context in which they find themselves.

Wineries & cellars as a location for business meetings. Image from balbiano.com

Wineries & cellars as a location for business meetings. Image from balbiano.com

At least some teambuilding activities in Piedmont must involve “getting hands dirty” with the local eno-gastronomy! The region is one of Italy’s best options for organizing original business meetings in wineries and castles. Participants can learn about vineyards and how to experience a successful vendemmia (harvest). Indoors, an eno-challenge can be set up in a cantina (winery) where teams explore the processes behind wine production and enact the creation and promotion of their own wine label!

Wine has to be combined with the delicious local cuisine, so the next natural step for our corporate teambuilding participants is to enter a kitchen and meet an experienced chef from Piedmont. Teams can test their harmony and coordination skills while aproned members turn recipes into reality behind the cooker. At the end of the day, healthy competition turns into conviviality around the table as everybody enjoys the culinary creations for dinner.

Redabue Castle

Redabue Castle

Business in Piedmont is not only about teambuilding activities of course, there are many charming locations for corporate meetings where business can be discussed. One example? Redabue Castle in the Monferrato, with origins dating as far back as the XIII century: this historic residence belongs to the Doria Lamba family and offers several spaces that can be used for receptions, meetings, conferences and events. One of the most scenographic is the ancient cellar next to the Church designed by late-Baroque-style architect Filippo Juvarra.

Are you planning corporate meetings and team building activities in Piedmont? Let Italian Special Occasions make your planning a walk in the park! Contact us now for your customized quotation

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Fine dining in Florence? Sure, but also street food!

Food stand in the streets of Florence. Image from turismo.intoscana.it

Food stand in the streets of Florence. Image from turismo.intoscana.it

Florence in Tuscany boasts some of the finest dining in the world, but the city can also surprise you with delicious and informal on-the-go eats. Some of the locals’ favorite street delicacies include:


Trippa

Yes, it is exactly what you think: tripe. Traditionally, every piece of the beef is precious in Italy, including the stomach. Many foreigners are unsure about even trying tripe, but most of the brave souls are pleasantly surprised once they do! Tripe can be served in many different ways, but on Florence’s streets, you will often find it combined with tomato sauce.

Lampredotto

Whereas the trippa corresponds to the honeycomb tripe or second stomach, lampredotto is the fourth stomach of the bovine. It is more tender and thin. A panino (see below) stuffed with lampredotto is a must-try!

Panino con la porchetta. Photo from tastespotting.com

Panino con la porchetta. Photo from tastespotting.com

Porchetta

Although this delicacy is most famous in the area of the Castelli Romani, the streets of Florence allow you to delight yourself with some of this savory boneless pork roast of Italian culinary tradition. The body of the pig is deboned and arranged carefully with layers of stuffing, meat and fat before being roasted.

Panini

They are not the old, boring sandwiches. Italian panini are made with freshly baked, hot-pressed bread and filled with locally produced deli ingredients like salami, ham, cheese and mortadella. The word is plural for panino, which literally means small bread roll.

Gelato

There are many theories about the origins and history of gelato, many of which claim that it was invented in Florence! Even though there is no proof of this, one thing is certain: Florentines excel at homemade ice-creams. Indulge in the various tastes while you wonder through the city: it is the perfect way to discover its hidden treasures!

Here are these “Top 5 street foods of Florence” in a short video by Lonely Planet*

*Please note that you do not pronounce porchetta as in the video, the correct pronounciation is with a strong C as in cat (it sounds like porketta)

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Emilia Romagna: autumn events and "Art & Culture" video

Trilogia d'Autunno - Autumn Trilogy at Dante Alighieri Theater, Ravenna

Among the upcoming Autumn Events in the culturally and gastronomically rich region of Emilia Romagna, here are some that are definitely worth noting:

  • Trilogia D’autunno: a trilogy dedicated to dance with the ballet and orchestra of Saint Petersburg’s Mariinskij Theatre. It will take place at the Dante Alighieri Theatre in Ravenna between 2 and 10 October 2014.
  • International festival dedicated to digital art and electronic music at Palazzo Re Enzo and other venues around Bologna from 1 to 5 October 2014.
  • Market of crafts and second-hand items, held every second Sunday until 14 December 2014 in Stellata di Bondeno (Ferrara).
  • 28° Olive and Autumn Produce Fair, scheduled from 16 to 23 November 2014 in Coriano (Rimini)
  • Antiques market until 28 December 2014 in Modena’s Antiques Fair
  • Artistic handicraft street market in Borgo Sant'Eufemia and Carteria streets (Modena) until 20 December 2014

To entice you a bit more, here is a short but intense video with enchanting shots from around Emilia Romagna and its cultural riches: paintings, architecture, literature, music, artisanship, all the way to the vintage and modern Ferrari cars at the museum in Maranello. Enjoy!

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