10 reasons why you should visit Lake Maggiore

Lake Maggiore & its islands, image from isolelagomaggiore.com

Lake Maggiore & its islands, image from isolelagomaggiore.com

Set along the southern banks of the Alps between Lombardy and Piedmont, Lake Maggiore is Italy’s second-largest lake and, according to Travel + Leisure Magazine, “is the busiest and most untamed”. Its beautiful scenery has been a source of inspiration for a number of internationally acclaimed writers, including Hemingway and Dickens.

The area is still extremely popular with tourists and visitors who want to organize special occasions such as weddings, corporate events, gourmet trips and family & friend reunions. Why is that? Here are our Top 10 reasons why Lake Maggiore is an irresistible magnet for anyone who wants to enjoy some quality time in Italy!

1. Breathtaking nature & gardens

Even though a popular destination, Lake Maggiore is one of the greenest areas in Italy. It includes the nation’s largest wilderness area - the Val Grande National Park - as well as other nature parks and reserves such as Alpe Veglia, Devero, Macugnaga, Fondotoce and the WWF-protected area of Pian dei Sali, among others.

Immersed in this lush vegetation by the lakeshores are some outstanding aristocratic mansion houses surrounded by awe-inspiring gardens. One example is Villa Angeli De Frua, encircled by magnificent old trees in Laveno Mombello (Lombardy’s shore of Lake Maggiore). You should also not miss the marvelous Botanical Gardens of Villa Taranto in Verbania, and the spectacular gardens on Isola Bella and Isola Madre.

Botanic gardens of Villa Taranto on Lake Maggiore, image from viaggiare.dimoredepoca.it

Botanic gardens of Villa Taranto on Lake Maggiore, image from viaggiare.dimoredepoca.it

Isola Bella is one of the Borromean Islands of Lago Maggiore, situated in the Borromean Gulf 400 metres from the lakeside town of Stresa. It is divided between the Palace, a small fishing village and its Italian garden (Giardino all'italiana), which is influenced by French and English historic gardens and stylistically based on symmetry, axial geometry and on the principle of imposing order over nature.

Isola Madre is also part of the Isole Borromee archipelago, and is especially well known for its gardens that are like no other, famous for the rare vegetable essences hailing from all over the world.

2. Picturesque villages

The giant statue of Cardinal San Carlo Borromeo, a Colossus 23.40 metres high, stands above the town of Arona. From here you can admire a breathtaking view of the Lombard and Piedmontese shores of the lake. The little towns of Baveno and Stresa are given an atmosphere of luxury and elegance by the many aristocratic mansions in their territory. Romantic and sophisticated, every year these gems of the lake attract thousands of tourists from all over the world.

Spectacular views are also offered by the towns of Cannobio, Cannero, Oggebbio and Ghiffa, which enjoy incomparable panoramas of the Swiss, the Lombard and the Piedmontese shores of the Lake. In towns such as Castelletto Ticino you will find treasures like the Torriani-Visconti Castle, a medieval fortress with a massive square keep. Cannero Riviera, on the road to Switzerland, boasts a marvelous view of the Malpaga castles, the so-called “Castles of Cannero”, picturesque ruins occupying two little islands near the shore.

3. Art & Museums

Each community along Lake Maggiore has its own history and traditions. When visiting the area, you should not miss unusual places like the Hat Museum on Ghiffa and the Umbrella Museum in Gignese.

Umbrella Museum since 1939 in Gignese, photo by Marco Ferrari.

Umbrella Museum since 1939 in Gignese, photo by Marco Ferrari.

To admire Lake Maggiore’s beauty through the centuries and through art, the Landscape Museum in Verbania Pallanza contains a large collection of paintings, sculptures and objects of archaeological interest. In Santa Maria Maggiore in the Vigezzo Valley, known as the “Painters’ Valley”, the Rossetti Valentini Museum has a fine collection of works by the many excellent artists who have worked in the valley.

Just nearby, west of Lake Maggiore is another beautiful water body, Lake Orta. Here you will find the two modern Museum of Design and the Museum of Taps. While ancient traditions and customs are on display in the Museum of the Mountains in Macugnaga and the Museum of Woodworking in the Strona Valley.

4. Sports

Lake Maggiore is heaven for those who love trekking and cycling immersed in nature, the list of eco-trails is never ending! The area is also ideal for golf lovers: Alpino, Pian di Sole, Bogogno and Varese are some of the Golf Clubs that will allow you to practice your swing in some of Italy’s most characteristic and natural spots.

Since we are exploring a lake, there are obviously a number of water sports you can enjoy here too, including canoeing, kayaking, rafting, sailing, water skiing and scuba diving. An important sailing date is the Verbania Vela Festival in June, with regattas, concerts and food and wine events taking place along the shores of the lake.

Traveling to Lake Maggiore during winter? No worries! There are fantastic ski centers in the Formazza Valley with facilities for downhill and cross-country skiing; snowboarding rides in the Antigorio Valley; easy ski itineraries in the Antrona Valley and expert runs on the slopes of Monte Moro in the Anzasca Valley.

5. Folklore & traditional events

One of the main features of Lake Maggiore is a mix of cultures and peoples: the Walser from nearby Switzerland, for example, have settled in the Anzasca and Formazza Valleys.

Folklore traditions are celebrated with feasts dedicated to religious festivities, local costumes and food. Among them, the San Bernardo Fair in Macugnaga (a traditional local fair with wood sculptors' competitions); the Raduno degli Spazzacamini (chimney sweepers’ day) in Santa Maria Maggiore; and the Underwater Nativity Scene in Laveno Mombello (a traditional Christmas Nativity Scene visible on the lake bottom thanks to 42 statues on 5 metal platforms2-3 feet below the water surface).

Underwater Nativity Scene, image from presepesommerso.it

Underwater Nativity Scene, image from presepesommerso.it

6. Music & Literature events

We began this post by mentioning how Lake Maggiore was mentioned by important writers in their masterpieces. Nowadays, the connection with writers continues in the many literary events held annually, including: the Stresa prize for Fiction; the Editoria & Giardini garden-themed book festival; and the Fabbrica di Carta book fair.

Classical music events include the Settimane Musicali of Stresa from May to September, and the “Classicamente” series of concerts held in Verbania in May and June. Arona hosts the International Organ Festival “Sonata Organi” in June and July. The Acoustic Guitar Festival “Un paese a sei corde” is held on Lake Orta from June to September, while the city of Novara usually hosts the Gospel Festival every September.

7. Spirituality & Churches

UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Lake Maggiore include the Sacred Mountain of Ghiffa, a Roman Catholic devotional complex overlooking the mesmerizing water body.

Sacro Monte di Ghiffa, image from illagomaggiore.com

Sacro Monte di Ghiffa, image from illagomaggiore.com

Spirituality, mysticism and art come together in the wealth of beautiful churches and cathedrals found everywhere in the Lake Maggiore area.  Some not to be missed are the ancient church in the village of Carmine Superiore near Cannobio, high on a cliff looking directly over Lake Maggiore; the Walser church in Macugnaga near the seven-hundred year old Lime Tree; the beautiful church of Saints Gervasio and Protasio in Domodossola, built on the ruins of an earlier Romanesque Church; and the parish church of Ghemme in the Novara hills area with its splendid Baroque facade.

8. Wine

The vineyards around Lake Maggiore produce some full-bodied, fragrant wines such as the Ghemme DOCG, the Nebbiolo DOC, the Barbera DOC and the Vespolina DOC.

If you are looking for more tastes to explore with you palate, the terraced hillsides of the Ossola Valley offer the Prünent, Neuv Bruschett and Cà d’ Matè.

9. Food

The abovementioned wines will complement traditional dishes of the area to perfection. Classic local cheeses are the Ossolano d’Alpe, the Bettelmatt with limited production, and Mottarone. But the most famous product is the Gorgonzola, made made in the Varese and Novara areas and in the surrounding hills.

Just as famous are cured meats like the the mortadella of the Ossola, the raw ham and violini di capra (cured goat’s leg) of the Vigezzo Valley, and the gourmet salamis such as Salam della Duja and Fidighin Pat, both made with prime pork meat.

For over 500 years rice has been the “king crop” of the Novara area, characterising its agricultural economy and defining its landscape. A wide range of varieties of rice are grown here, including classics such as Arborio, Roma, Sant’Andrea.

10. Authentic properties for special occasions

Finally, if you are looking for the perfect location for a destination wedding, corporate event, gourmet trip and family-or-friend reunion, Lake Maggiore has a rich list of authentic places for your special Italian occasion.

Meina is an attractive holiday resort on Lake Maggiore with several superb 19th century villas: Villa Eden, Villa Faraggiana, Villa Pasta "La Favorita", Palazzo Bedone, Villa Bonomi and Villa Faraone.

Villa Pallavicino di Stresa, image from distrettolaghi.it

Villa Pallavicino di Stresa, image from distrettolaghi.it

Outstanding among the villas – especially for unique weddings – is Villa Faraggiana. An elegant building separated from the street by a great gate guarded by two crouching marble lions, it was built in 1855 as the summer residence of the aristocratic Faraggiana family from Novara. The Neoclassical-style façade is ornamented with high reliefs depicting the allegorical Roman divinity of Fame; five medallions with the portraits of Dante, Boccaccio, Petrarch, Ariosto and Tasso;  and eleven busts of other illustrious Italian figures.

The area also boasts a long tradition in the meeting and convention hosting sector with many excellent venues and services, and unrivalled hospitality facilities: 394 hotels and 494 convention meeting rooms, with a total capacity of 49,551 seats.

Are you organizing a special event on or near Lake Maggiore? Contact Italian Special Occasions for more ideas and to organize a special occasion with flawless logistics in Italy.

Add to Flipboard Magazine.

 Subscribe in a reader

Foodie alert: 10 Sicilian dishes that you cannot miss!

Sicilian cuisine is an expression of the culinary art that has developed in the island since ancient times, closely tied to Sicily’s historic, religious and cultural traditions and facts. The local gastronomic culture shows clear signs of the different peoples that inhabited the area throughout the centuries, with the addition of new tastes and new dishes that have been handed down from one generation to the next.

Complex and articulated, Sicily’s is often considered as the most rich and ‘visual’ cuisine in Italy. The list of regional dishes is quite long, counting at least 80 different delicacies, but we have a Top 10 chart of the most iconic and irresistible dishes that you must try at least once in your life!

Arancini: These characteristic stuffed rice balls are coated with breadcrumbs and fried. Although the fillings can vary, arancini (also called arancine) are usually filled with meat sauce, tomato sauce, mozzarella and/or peas. The shape is usually round, although in eastern Sicily it is more conical.

Bavette with sea urchin, image from mondopalermo.it

Bavette with sea urchin, image from mondopalermo.it

Bavette with sea urchin: “A dish as easy to prepare as hard to forget especially for sea lovers” -foodie writer Giuliana Cardillo. The bavette pasta (a narrower version of tagliatelle) and the ingredients of the recipe allow you to taste the sea and the simple but rich flavors of the Mediterranean cuisine. The dish is prepared with sea urchins, garlic, parsley, extra virgin olive oil and red pepper.

Le Sarde a Beccafico: This is a classic piatto povero, or poor-man's dish, that transmits the perfect mix between sea and land. Baked sardine rolls are filled with pine nuts, breadcrumbs, raisins, and drizzled with orange or lemon juice. An interesting note about the origins of the name, according to tradition: in the past, rich Sicilians used to have a similar dish made with the beccafico bird; but since poor people could not afford such birds, they created their own version with the cheaper sardines.

Cartocciata Catanese: This is a delicious deli that is typical from Catania and the area around Mount Etna. It is similar to a calzone, usually stuffed with mozzarella and tomato sauce, and additional ingredients of your choice like ham, fried aubergine, wurstel…

Panelle: The panelle are triangular pancakes made with chickpea flour, and apparently they have been around since the Middle Ages! They are a popular street food in Palermo and are often eaten between bread or on a roll, like a sandwich. (For more on Sicilian street food, have a look at “Street cuisine in Sicily: traditional dishes from the island”)

Parmigiana di Melanzane: Even though the origins are contended by Sicily, Apulia and Calabria, this dish is typical from southern Italy and Sicilians can surely offer you an irresistible dish! The ingredients of this delicious veggie bake are: aubergines, onions, Parmigiano reggiano, caciocavallo cheese, tomatoes and basil.

And now… the desserts!

Granita con panna e brioche con il tuppo: What a combination this is! A fruity ‘granita’ slush topped with cream, served with a peculiar pastry with the ‘tuppo’ (Sicilian word for chignon or toupet). A summer must!

Sicilian cassata cake, image from giallozafferano.it

Sicilian cassata cake, image from giallozafferano.it

Cassata Siciliana: This dessert is typical of the areas of Palermo and Messina, and consists of a round spongy cake with fruit juices or liqueur, with layers of ricotta cheese, candied peel and chocolate or vanilla filling. It is covered with a shell of marzipan, pink and green pastel colored icing, and decorative designs. The curvy and “heavy” decoration is clearly influenced by the baroque style of the 1600’s which is well represented in Sicily!

Pastry with almond dough: The “Pasticcini con pasta di mandorle” are not just regular cookies made of almond dough. The secret to their particular taste and consistency is in the candied orange peel that is added as a cream.

Cannolo con la ricotta: This is probably the best-known Sicilian pastry, and some will say that we have saved the best for last! Cannoli consist of tube-shaped shells of fried pastry dough, filled with a sweet, creamy filling usually containing ricotta. They range in size from "cannulicchi", no bigger than a finger, to the fist-sized proportions typically foundin Piana degli Albanesi (south of Palermo).

Beyond taste: farm visit, market tour & cooking class

The best way to appreciate not only the flavors of Sicilian gastronomy, but to understand the secrets and traditions behind the local dishes, is to witness what happens ‘backstage’ from the farm to the table.

Organic lemons' harvest, image from siciliafan.it

Organic lemons' harvest, image from siciliafan.it

You can visit beautiful organic farms that produce bio-food such as vegetables, fruits and DOP Valdemone extra virgin olive oil (for more on the subject read “Wine, castles and organic farms off the beaten track in Sicily”). And you can also witness how fishermen use traditional techniques to catch fish in the sea.

Where do these fresh products go next? In the picturesque and colorful markets around Sicily! This is where you can get the ingredients for your culinary creation under the expert guidance of a Sicilian chef, who will help you to carefully select the best products, and perhaps teach you some market bargaining techniques too!

Finally, it is time to do the “hard” work and get busy in the kitchen. The Chef will share some secrets of the trade with you, enlightening you on how to make the perfect dough, get that ‘tuppo’ right on your brioche, how to fry food and still get a light and healthy meal, even how to garnish a plate for maximum visual impact.

This is an unforgettable “A to Z foodie experience” that any food lover must experience at least once, whether in Sicily or elsewhere in Italy!

Are you organizing a foodie event in Italy? Or are you looking for inspiration and creative ideas for a gourmet trip with your family and friends? Contact Italian Special Occasions now for your customized quotation

Add to Flipboard Magazine.

 Subscribe in a reader

Treasure hunting in the artistic cities of the Marche

Interest in the Marche region is on the rise – and this is no surprise. A combination for history, influence, nature and experience makes the Marche one of the most culturally interesting regions in Italy. Just to mention a few figures: there are approximately 100 cities of art, about 500 squares, more than 1000 monuments, 37 fortresses, 106 castles, thousands of Churches (200 of which in Romanesque style), 96 well-preserved abbeys, 183 sanctuaries, 34 archeological sites and 72 historically important theaters. And if these are not enough, it has the highest density of museums and art galleries in Italy! [Official data from the Marche region].

Thanks to such a prestigious heritage, the Marche is the ideal region for a number of special events, and today we want to explore the idea of Corporate Team Building through an artistic treasure hunt!

A scavenger hunt is not only fun, it also allows team members to communicate, create strategies and bond. The essential ingredients are: a mission, a period of time during which to achieve the goals, clues and... the playing field! In a beautiful and rich region like the Marche, participants would have to follow clues in order to solve puzzles regarding the architecture and historic protagonists that shaped the surroundings.

The itinerary of the team-building adventure includes some the most iconic cities of art in central Italy, although they are still relatively unknown abroad.

Il Lazzaretto, Ancona - image from ilmarchigianodoc.com

Il Lazzaretto, Ancona - image from ilmarchigianodoc.com

The treasure hunt can start under the amazing sunrise or sunset lights of the seaside town of Ancona, which is the capital city of the region. It was founded by the Dorians in the 4th century BC. Among its most important monuments are the Cathedral of St. Cyriacus - an extraordinary Romanesque monument that soars over the harbor; the Arch of Trajan; and the Lazzaretto, an 18th-century lighthouse designed by architect Luigi Vanvitelli on an artificial island as quarantine station for people with leprosy.

Urbino, image from marchetravelling.com

Urbino, image from marchetravelling.com

Next, we move on to charming Urbino, where the cultures of Humanism and the Renaissance combine. It became the privileged place of the refined society of the 16th century, described by Baldassarre Castiglione in “The Book of the Courtier”. This walled city is a World Heritage Site for its remarkable historical legacy, especially under the patronage of Federico da Montefeltro, duke of Urbino in the 1400s. It hosts the University of Urbino, founded in 1506, and features the majestic Ducal Palace, home to the National Gallery of the Marche offering some of the most important collections of Renaissance art in the world.

Pesaro, image by Florian Prischl

Pesaro, image by Florian Prischl

Nearby is Pesaro, where the treasure hunt follows the musical notes of its most illustrious citizen, composer Gioachino Rossini. During the Renaissance, the town was ruled by the houses of Malatesta, Sforza and Della Rovere. Under the latter family, Pesaro saw its most flourishing age, with the construction of numerous palaces and the erection of a new line of walls (the Mura Roveresche). The city hots the annual Rossini opera Festival and the International Festival of the New Cinema.

Eneide Hall, Macerata - image from musei.marche.it

Eneide Hall, Macerata - image from musei.marche.it

Another popular festival – the Sferisterio Opera Festival – takes place in Macerata, a town surrounded by its sixteenth-century bastions. The old city center features a number of striking places, including the Loggia dei Mercanti with its two-tier arcades from the Renaissance, and Palazzo Ricci and its modern art gallery. The treasure hunt will take participants to the amazing Eneide Hall (Palazzo Buonaccorsi) with paintings and frescoes from the 18th century. The itinerary would not be complete without a visit to the Carriages Museum and to the Neoclassical-style Cathedral.

Teatro dell'Aquila, Fermo - image by Stefano Caporilli

Teatro dell'Aquila, Fermo - image by Stefano Caporilli

From the top of Girfalco hill in the town of Fermo, you can enjoy spectacular views stretching from the sea to the peaks of the Sibillini Mountains. The medieval town, once an ancient Roman Colony, hosts a historic library and civic gallery in Piazza del Popolo. It is also home to Teatro dell’Aquila, one of the most beautiful – among the about 70 – historical theatres in The Marche.

The towers of Ascoli Piceno - image by bashi13  on Panoramio

The towers of Ascoli Piceno - image by bashi13  on Panoramio

Finally, we reach the southern part of the Marche. Bordering Abruzzo is Ascoli Piceno – or the city of the hundred towers: according to traditional accounts, it was home to more than two hundred towers in the Middle Ages, while today there are about 50 to be seen. The old city center is built in Travertino marble, a grey-hued stone extracted from the surrounding mountains. Its central Renaissance square, Piazza del Popolo is considered one of the most beautiful in Italy, and stands between superb examples of Romanesque and Gothic styles.

Are you planning a corporate retreat and team-building trip in Italy? Contact Italian Special Occasions now for a customized quotation!

Add to Flipboard Magazine.

 Subscribe in a reader

A journey through the land of Prosecco: Conegliano Valdobbiadene

Vineyard in the Conegliano Valdobbiadene area - photo by Francesco Galifi

Vineyard in the Conegliano Valdobbiadene area - photo by Francesco Galifi

It might be a difficult name to pronounce, but it is one to be remembered for its famous product of the highest quality, as well as its idyllic landscape and charming hamlets. Conegliano Valdobbiadene is a small hilly area between Venice and the Dolomites in Veneto, home to the Prosecco Superiore since 1876.

Prosecco is a dry white wine made from the grape of the same name. This type of wine produced in Conegliano Valdobbiadene is also known as Prosecco Superiore. Since April 2010, it has become part of Italy’s premium wine category with the DOCG quality label, in an effort to safeguard and celebrate this precious treasure created by man and nature.

Conegliano Valdobbiadene’s Prosecco Superiore is the product of a particular terroir, a mild climate and the skills of men who have passed down the art of their handcrafted labor throughout generations. The area is adorned by vineyards that gently descend on the steep slopes of the hills, and has been nominated to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Meschio River in Serravalle, Conegliano - image from "Visit Conegliano Valdobbiadene" booklet

Meschio River in Serravalle, Conegliano - image from "Visit Conegliano Valdobbiadene" booklet

A unique itinerary between wine, tradition and landscapes

To understand the wine history of this land, you must pay a visit to the School of Wine, which is one of just eleven institutes that study oenology in Italy. In fact, the long wine-making tradition of Conegliano Valdobbiadene begun in 1876 with the foundation of Italy’s oldest and most prestigious wine school – the School of Oenology in the town of Conegliano. The area is also home to the Experimental Viticulture Institute, where several Italian grape varieties have been bred and even saved from extinction.

Prosecco Wine Zone map, from italiaoutdoors.com

Prosecco Wine Zone map, from italiaoutdoors.com

Next, it is time to explore the taste and looks of Conegliano Valdobbiadene, and the best way to do that is to enjoy prosecco tasting in the 15 towns that compose the DOCG district: Conegliano, Susegana, San Vendemiano, Colle Umberto, Vittorio Veneto, Tarzo, Cison di Valmarino, Follina, Miane, San Pietro di Feletto, Refrontolo, Pieve di Soligo, Farra di Soligo, Vidor e Valdobbiadene. Uniting these villages is the Road for Prosecco and the Wines of Conegliano Valdobbiadene Hills.

Imagine yourself tasting Prosecco Superiore as well as other local products, such as roasted ‘marroni’ chestnuts (IGP label) or the ‘formajo inbriago’ (translated as drunk cheese) that matures in the grape pomace from Prosecco or from other local red and white wines. The location for such tastings? Lovely bars in the historic city squares or alleys to interact with the locals, but also prestigious and mesmerizing locations, such as in Villa dei Cedri. This neo-classical style mansion was built in 1890 in Valdobbiadene, and is surrounded by a large park with many Lebanese cedars.

Prosecco tasting at Castello di San Salvatore - image by Roberta De Min

Prosecco tasting at Castello di San Salvatore - image by Roberta De Min

The area is also dotted by majestic castles, such as the 14th-century Castle of San Salvatore in Susegana. It is owned by the Counts of Collalto and is considered to be one of the largest fortified hamlets in Italy. Every year it hosts “Vino in Villa”, one of the most important events in the local wine tourism calendar. Another beautiful landmark is the medieval castle of Conegliano: from its terrace located on the tower, the views are simply awe-inspiring, spanning across the vineyards of San Pietro di Feletto, the hills of the Veneto Prealps and – on a clear day – even Venice’s Lagoon!

To witness some locals in action reenacting the history of their territory, in September you can head to the castle of Vidor, where the surrounding villages compete in the Palio. This event commemorates the historic assault of the barbarians on the castle that took place around 1200. During this spectacular competition, participants must carry a wooden ladder from the St. Bona Abbazia to the slopes of the hill on which the castle sits, and then from here they continue carrying a heavy battering ram to the summit.

There are a number of other events in the Conegliano Valdobbiadene area, usually involving historic aspects or wine & food. For example, every June local people dressed up in Renaissance costumes take part of a checkers game called Dama Castellana (Conegliano). In September, instead, different corners around town become the protagonists of Enodama, a checkers tournament during which white and red wine glasses are used instead of pawns!

Dama Castellana living checkers match - image by Associazione Dama Castellana

Dama Castellana living checkers match - image by Associazione Dama Castellana

While the area is mostly known for Prosecco Superiore, it also produces many other types of delicious, quality wines. The Colli di Conegliano (DOCG) are white and red wines created by blending the most noble grape varieties of the Conegliano Hills. The sweetish Refrontolo Passito (DOCG) was lauded by Mozart in his masterpiece “Don Giovanni”. The Torchiato di Fregona (DOCG) is a so-called ‘meditation wine’ for its rich and warming flavor. And finally, the Verdiso (IGT) is created with a centuries-old grape variety, indigenous to the Alta Marca Trevigiana, with limited production.

The magical area of Conegliano Valdobbiadene is ideal for foodie trips, for corporate retreats and team building activities, and for fairytale weddings surrounded by vineyards. Let us make your Italian special event a walk in the park. Contact Italian Special Occasions now!

Add to Flipboard Magazine.

 Subscribe in a reader

A different side of Venice: painting, music and gondola makers

Venice, Italy

Imagine yourself wandering in Venice with your family or friends: the elegant buildings reflect in the water, posters around the lagoon city promote cultural events and theater shows, the gondola boats peacefully float by the canals. You have a unique opportunity to appreciate the beauty of the city, and to discover its secrets, its essence and its tradition through authentic lenses – and not like a mass tourist. How? Here are some ‘treasure trove’ ideas by Italian Special Occasions, whose aim is to discover the real soul of the most famous cities, creating unforgettable memories through the historic and hidden gems that are often shamefully forgotten.

Art: colors & shapes

When you stroll through Venice, you might notice that it has a very particular architecture. Thanks to its strategic position, the city was part of an important trading route with other major centers of the past: Byzantine Constantinople and Islamic Cairo. The result is that Venice’s architectural style is a fusion of both Byzantine and Islamic forms overlaying a Latin Christian foundation.

The first signs of Venetian figurative art can be seen in the Cathedral of Torcello, Santa Maria Assunta, where the mosaics in the chapel’s vault are dated back to the 9th century. Between the 10th and 12th century, the Byzantine and the Christian traditions influenced Venetian art, as you can admire in the decorations of St Mark's Basilica (Byzantine) and the Mosaic of The Last Judgment in the Cathedral of Torcello (Christian).

Trittico dei Frari by Giovanni Bellini

Trittico dei Frari by Giovanni Bellini

Even painters produced works of art that distinguished themselves for merging traditions and cultures. The first truly Venetian artist who made a name for himself was Paolo Veneziano, mixing Gothic, Byzantine and modern elegant styles (early 1300s). Later, the Venetian school was characterized by a great fantasy in decoration with brilliant golds and bright colors. It gained importance with great international artists who lived in Venice, such as Gentile da Fabriano, Michelino da Besozzo and Antonio Pisanello.

Giovanni Bellini is hailed as the "Patriarch" of Venetian painting. His masterpieces can be found in the Churches of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, San Giobbe, San Zaccaria and San Giovanni Crisostomo. His brother, Gentile Bellini, was sent to Istanbul by the Serenissima Republic in response to the request made by Sultan Mohammed II to have a great portrait painter: his portrait now hangs in London’s National Gallery! Tiepolo was the most important Venetian painter in the 18th century, which was also the age of local landscape artists such as Canaletto, Marieschi and Bellotto, among others.

Music, the voice of the soul

Something not many tourists know is that Venice has played an important role in the development of music in Italy, to the point that the medieval Maritime Republic of Venice was often popularly called the "Republic of Music".

During the 16th century, Venice became one of the most important musical centers of Europe, marked by the Venetian school and it characteristic style of composition, as well as the development of the Venetian “polychoral” style under composers such as Flemish Adrian Willaert.

By the end of the 1500s, the splendor of Venice’s music was renowned all across Europe. An example of this ‘colossal style music’ is the music arranged by composers Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli, who used multiple choruses and instrumental groups.

During the Baroque period, Venice was also home to many famous composers such as Antonio Vivaldi, Ippolito Ciera, Giovanni Picchi and Girolamo Dalla Casa. They had a fundamental impact in the development of Opera in Venice and the opening of many historic theaters, such as Teatro Tron (the first opera house ever opened to the public), Teatro di SS. Giovanni e Paolo and Teatro San Moisè.

Music is a very particular aspect of Venice’s history that is definitely worth exploring when visiting the lagoon town. A special musical itinerary designed by Italian Special Occasions is guaranteed to give you goose bumps and to fill your soul with emotions through the following experiences and visits:

  • Museum of Music, located in San Maurizio Church, featuring a splendid collection of musical instruments and handmade violin masterpieces from the 18th century
  • Confraternity of Saint Rocco, a famous building featuring the work of Tintoretto
  • Peggy Guggenheim Collection, the most important museum in Italy for 20th-century European and American art
  • the sixteen churches of the Chorus, which house the largest collection of sacred masterpieces by Tiepolo, Veronese, and Tiziano
  • Fondazione Querini Stampalia, a noble Venetian residence where ancient and contemporary meet)
  • the concert season of the Interpreti Veneziani, internationally-acclaimed artists who bring the art of Vivaldi to life.

Uncovering the secrets of the gondola

Have you ever wondered how Venice’s traditional rowing boat is created? And what is the history behind it? This iconic means of transport is handmade by experts in the squero, which is a boatyard where gondole are created and repaired. (Just one quick note: gondola is singular, while gondole is plural… The term ‘gondolas’ does not exist in Italian). Few of such places still exist, but it is possible to visit them, including the most famous one – Squero di San Trovaso, established in the 1600s. The squero also produces other types of boats that are part of the Venetian lagoon tradition and are less known to tourists, such as pupparini, sandoli and sciopòni.

The earliest recorded use of gondole in Venice dates back to the 11th century. In the past, they were colored in different ways, until a law from the 16th century forced the boats to be painted black, in an effort to stop a competition for the most flamboyant colours and ornamentation among the nobility. 

Even though gondole are made by hand, they are highly uniform: they all weigh 700kg, have 280 component pieces and use eight types of wood – oak, elm, lime, larch, fir, cherry, walnut and mahogany. While squeraroli and carpenters are in charge of building the main structure of the boat, artisans create other parts in workshops and laboratories. For example, the specialist remeri create the oars and the forcola (the typical Venetian rowlock) with great skill and ability.

This animated video by TED-Ed offers an entertaining and colorful insight into the history of the gondola, including how they became the local trademark transportation.

Special events in Venice

Are you planning a special occasion in Venice? Make it unforgettable by offering your wedding guests or corporate clients a trip with authentic activities and a unique way of experiencing local traditions and history…. Have Venetian music artists be part of your event; join an expert artisan in the creation of typical handmade Carnival masks; let us help your imagination in the creation of your dream occasion! Contact Italian Special Occasions now for your customized quotation

Add to Flipboard Magazine.

 Subscribe in a reader