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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Team building: thinking outside the box, Italian style

Corporate outings should be a great opportunity that facilitate the bonding between your team members, a fun and productive occasion to grow at a personal and group level. However, unfortunately, the activities that are organized often turn out to be lame, and do not thrill or inspire the participants.

Italy offers such a variety of places to visit and things to do, all year round, that make it the perfect destination for rewarding and engaging team-building trips. Here are some ideas for activities to be enjoyed in destinations that are off the beaten track, for some authentic outside-the-box corporate outings!

Yoga in Valle d'Aosta, photo from naturaaosta.it

Yoga in Valle d'Aosta, photo from naturaaosta.it

Up in northern Italy, the tiny region of Valle d’Aosta is huge when it comes to things to see and do. We already wrote an article on “Winter corporate parties and entertainment in Valle d'Aosta”, so now we will focus on what can be done in the off-peak summer season.

Valle d’Aosta offers spectacular and pristine mountain sceneries that can be enjoyed without disturbing nature in a number of ways. Imagine what it would be like to practice yoga with your bare feet on the soft grass, overlooking the panoramic valleys of the Gran Paradiso at 1900 meters above sea level! Or horse riding across fields and streams, to appreciate and observe the landscape and the details of nature. For adventurous team-building groups, there are activities such as rafting, kayaking and hydrospeeding (or riverboarding). For those who prefer to challenge the heights, mountain climbing, paragliding and hiking offer unforgettable views and adrenaline rushes.

"Villa Emo", a Palladian villa in Veneto, photo by Erich Schmid

"Villa Emo", a Palladian villa in Veneto, photo by Erich Schmid

Off to the eastern side of northern Italy, the region of Veneto is not all about Venice. Among the local attractions to be discovered are the Palladian Villas, country houses built in the mid-1500s by architect Andrea Palladio, many of which are now UNESCO World Heritage Sites. To combine history and local eno-gastronomy, groups can enjoy prosecco and wine tasting in one of these beautiful villas. Excellences such as DOCG Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore and the reds DOC Colli Conegliano can be combined with delicious, traditional meals at typical restaurants.

The majestic entrance at Il Borro, Tuscany

The majestic entrance at Il Borro, Tuscany

Moving towards the center of the boot, Tuscany is one of the most sought-after destinations. One beautiful location where groups can taste and experience this corner of Italy, is the medieval village of Il Borro. This estate includes a farmhouse, restaurants, cellars, horse stables and a spa, all surrounded by the idyllic countryside landscape. The Medici dynasty, the Savoia family, and now the Ferragamo family have preserved this oasis, located in an area rich in art and culture between Arezzo, Florence and Siena. Among the many ‘rural’ activities that groups can enjoy on site, is a visit to the cellars to understand the art and history of winemaking.

Truffle hunting with the experts in Umbria. Photo from conipiediperterra.com

Truffle hunting with the experts in Umbria. Photo from conipiediperterra.com

In the heart of Italy, Umbria’s woods are ideal for harvesting truffles and mushrooms with local experts, who share some of the secrets of the activities that their families have been carrying out for generations. The region is dotted with beautiful castles full of history and fairy-tale charms. Castello di Petrata in Assisi started as a medieval manor in the 1300s, and was subsequently turned into a fortress, a country estate and, in the 1990s, into a hotel that also organizes cooking courses in its stone and wood-vaulted restaurant. After the culinary experience with aprons and wooden spoons, the ultimate way of putting teamwork to the test is with “orienteering”, where participants must use their navigational skills to move around the unfamiliar terrains in the Sibylline Mountains National Park!

Il Volo dell'Angelo in Basilicata

Il Volo dell'Angelo in Basilicata

Basilicata, in the south of Italy, is a little known region that really deserves to be explored. One of the top local attractions is the Flight of the Angel zip line, which offers unparalleled views as you fly between two mountain peaks over a stunning valley. There are no shortage of bicycle itineraries in and around the Lucanian Apennines and the Pollino National Park. The region also bursts with cultural and historic riches, such as: Matera, the magic city of the Sassi; archaeologic sites like the excavations of Grumentum (130 BC); and unexpected towns like San Costantino Albanese, where you will find a large and historic Albanian community. For more, see the article “Basilicata: bicycle itineraries and the Flight of the Angel”.

The scenery from Villa Aranjaya up to Mount Etna, Sicily

The scenery from Villa Aranjaya up to Mount Etna, Sicily

Reaching the southernmost part of Italy, the tropical island of Sicily is a well of surprises. Groups can enjoy history-drenched excursions through local castles and delicious foodie tours to explore and taste traditional dishes and street cuisine. To experience the essence of Sicily from one single location, our hidden treasure trove is Villa Aranjaya, surrounded by lush gardens and orange groves between Mount Etna and the sea. The setting is perfect for group courses such as watercolor painting, photography, gardening and Mediterranean horticulture. Most of the cultivations here are high quality organic varieties of citrus, which are used for not only commercial purposes but are also integrated in on-site cooking lessons.

All team building activities and corporate travel initiatives by Italian Special Occasions are designed to put the company members in contact with local nature, history and lifestyle, offering a different perspective of the destination. This not only enriches the participants from a personal point of view, it also allows the company to think about new ways of being innovative. Let our professional team at Italian Special Occasions help you in the planning, organization and execution of your next corporate travel initiative. Contact us now for your custom quotation.

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