Roman Castles: a princely corporate retreat near Rome

A view of the Pope's summer residence and Lake Albano, Castel Gandolfo. From ncronline.org

A view of the Pope's summer residence and Lake Albano, Castel Gandolfo. From ncronline.org

“For a lot of employees, corporate retreats are dreaded events. And for good reason: At a bad corporate retreat, you might end up singing Kumbaya in the woods with your boss or falling backwards into the arms of a coworker to “build trust.” But it doesn’t have to be that way.” - Oyster.com on Business Insider

Indeed, it does not have to be that way and we at Italian Special Occasions can prove how! In today’s post you will learn about one fantastic destination in Italy that really has everything a corporate meeting and team building trip could possibly need and wish.

The Roman Castles (Castelli Romani in Italian) consist of a set of small towns scattered on the Alban Hills, just 15 to 25 km away from Rome’s ring road. This area distinguishes itself for the green hilly landscape and beautiful lakes, for the delicious local food, and for its important and rich history.

The towns that form the Roman Castles are: Frascati, Ariccia, Castel Gandolfo, Grottaferrata, Monte Porzio Catone, Monte Compatri, Colonna, Rocca di Papa, Rocca Priora, Albano Laziale,  Lanuvio, Genzano di Roma and Nemi.

The ancient Roman noblemen chose the area as a summer destination because of its fresher climate, a tradition that the Popes continue still today (the village of Castel Gandolfo hosts the Pope’s summer residence). During Medieval and Renaissance times, many noble and princely families owned castles and villas there.

Villa Aldobrandini, Frascati. From italiainfoto.com

Villa Aldobrandini, Frascati. From italiainfoto.com

In fact, one of the most mesmerizing cultural activities that groups can enjoy in the Castelli Romani is to visit these villas and their beautiful gardens. Just to name a few: Villa Andobrandini, Villa Falconieri and Villa Lancellotti in Frascati; Villa Mondragone and Villa Taverna Borghese in Monteporzio Catone; Villa Grazioli and Villa Muti in Grottaferrata.

The area also hosts archeologic sites and ancient ruins. Among these are the Terme di Caracalla (also known as Cellomaio Baths), a Roman imperial bath complex that was later transformed into a stronghold during medieval times. Another interesting site is the Barco Borghese, which features a monumental tufa fountain, a Renaissance wall and panoramic views of the Roman countryside.

Paragliding in the countryside near Rome. From visitlazio.com

Paragliding in the countryside near Rome. From visitlazio.com

The nature and landscape that embraces the Castelli Romani are ideal for open-air sports, including trekking, cycling, horseback riding and paragliding. The volcanic Lakes of Albano and of Nemi allow for kayaking and sport fishing. And for a unique team-building activity, what about some golfing inside the crater of a volcano? That’s right! At Castelgandolfo Golf Club – designed by Robert Trent Jones Senior – there are 18 holes in what was once the crater of an active volcano and then a lake called Laghetto di Turno.

Ask any modern Roman what the main reason is for him or her to visit the Castelli Romani today. Most Romans will answer “per bere e mangiare” (to drink and eat)! In fact, the area is renowned for producing famous and quality wine labels as well as exquisite local products.

Foodie team-building activities include the exploration of the Wine Routes of the Roman Castles, which are itineraries dedicated to vineyards and wine production. With Italian Special Occasions, you can discover special gems that are off the beaten track. We can take your group to unique places such as Castel de Paolis, a wine estate located on the ruins of a medieval Roman fortress. What’s so authentic about it? The barrels with red wines for ageing are located in the ancient cistern from Roman times, where you can also enjoy wine tasting!

Wine-aging barrels in an ancient Roman cistern. From casteldepaolis.it

Wine-aging barrels in an ancient Roman cistern. From casteldepaolis.it

Local delicacies include the porchetta (roasted pork), fresh mozzarella and Lariano Bread (made with whole-wheat flour, 00 flour and natural yeast – and cooked in a wood oven with chestnut tree bundles). The best places to savor the local cuisine is in the rustic 'fraschette', where an informal and lively atmosphere will give you a taste of the Roman countryside and lifestyle!

The proximity to Rome makes the Castelli the ideal place for corporate trips: business meetings can be held in the Italian capital on one day, and on the next day you can be enjoying other corporate activities – sports, enogastornomy, history & culture – in the hilly area nearby. Contact us now and let us help you create the perfect itinerary for your corporate meeting!

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The timeless Vespa: an icon for you to travel in style across Italy

Audrey Hepburn and Grogory Peck on the Vespa

Have you ever watched Hollywood’s movie Roman Holiday (1953)? If you have, and even if you have not, you probably associate it with the iconic image of Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck exploring the Italian Capital while riding a Vespa.

The Vespa is an Italian brand of scooter, although – as its motto says and as its cult followers confirm – the Vespa is "not just a scooter, [it is] a way of life". Since their inception in 1946, these scooters have been known for their painted, pressed steel unibody, a single structural unit comprising a cowling for the engine, a flat floorboard that protects feet and legs, and a front fairing that blocks the wind.

The Vespa was conceived by Enrico Piaggio, who was the son of the founder of Piaggio, an Italian company that was initially involved in the production of locomotives (late 1880s) and aircraft (World Wars). Following WWII, Enrico decided to leave the aeronautical field in order to address Italy's urgent need for a modern and affordable mode of transportation for the masses.

The success was exponential: Piaggio sold some 2,500 Vespas in 1947, 20,000 in 1949, and over 60,000 in 1950. The unique and funky look also conquered Hollywood: John Wayne, Marlon Brando and Dean Martin are only some of the actors that owned or used the scooter following the Roman Holiday movie, resulting in one million sales worldwide by 1956! Vespa clubs opened across the world, and the scooters came to symbolize freedom and imagination.

Nowadays, the Vespa is still popular not only because of its compact size that makes it a great utilitarian vehicle in large urban areas, but also because of the sub-cultural following in northern America, Japan and some parts of Europe, where it is used as a recreational vintage vehicle.

Vespa fans can visit the Piaggio Museum in Pontedera (near Pisa, Tuscany), where the Piaggio Headquarters are located. The museum occupies 3,000 square meters of what used to be the company tool shop, and was designed by architect Andrea Bruno with the aim of preserving the historic memory of the important Italian company. The scooters on display are the most beautiful and the rarest of their kind, such as a model personally customized by Salvador Dalí in 1962.

If you are traveling to Italy with a group of friends, and are looking for a funky and unique way to explore the local landscapes, culture and lifestyle… a tour on a vintage Vespa is just the perfect way to do it! Get to savor freedom, sightseeing and time as the Italians do! To inspire you further, have a look at this vintage Vespa commercial from some decades ago…

OK, some things have changed and you will have to wear a helmet nowadays… but do not worry, we at Italian Special Occasions will be more than happy to find some cool retro helmets for you and your group of friends!

Contact us now to organize your special friend reunion in Italy, be it on Vespa scooters (by the way – the name means wasp in Italian!), vintage Fiat 500s or on fancy Ferrari cars!

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Open-air concerts and medieval cooking lessons in Tuscany

Sunrise concert in the Ghiaccio Forte Etruscan site. Photo from terrediscansanoclassicafestival.it

Sunrise concert in the Ghiaccio Forte Etruscan site. Photo from terrediscansanoclassicafestival.it

Spring and summer are fantastic periods of the year to visit Tuscany, with its blue sunny sky embracing the gentle hilly landscapes during the day, and the moon and the stars glittering on the sea at night. There are countless ways to enjoy the panorama through sightseeing and activities, but one unique way of contemplating the Tuscan territory, its traditions and history… is to add a soundtrack to it! How? By witnessing open-air concerts!

A number of concerts take place all around Tuscany during the warm season, and although watching an opera in a historic indoor theater is definitely breathtaking, open-air concerts offer an exciting and refreshing experience.

One of the most evocative is the concert at sunrise of Morellino Classica Festival, which takes place in the Etruscan site of Ghiaccio Forte (IV century b.C.). The gentle colors of dawn contrast with the archaeologic site and the surrounding Maremma hills, while the classical music played by the orchestra kicks off the day in an unforgettable way!

The Morellino Classica Festival is part of the Festival Internazionale di Scansano, and all its concerts take place in historically significant places around the wine town of Scansano, for example: Montepò Castle (ca 1300), Montorgiali Church (1540), Petreto Convent (1274) and Castagnoli Theater (1852)…

Estate Fiesolana: Italy's oldest open-air concert. Photo from bitconcerti.blogspot.it

Estate Fiesolana: Italy's oldest open-air concert. Photo from bitconcerti.blogspot.it

The most ancient open-air concert in Italy, dating back to 1911, is called Estate Fiesolana. It takes place around the panoramic city of Fiesole, near Florence, proposing classical music and jazz shows, as well as cinema and dance exhibitions. The main location for these events is the beautiful Roman Theater of Fiesole, built between the end of the I century b.C. and the beginning of the I century a.D. Concerts also take place in the gardens of the Vaglia Library within the Parco Mediceo of Pratolino, which hosts centuries-old trees and some rare plants too.

For a more intimate experience, some guesthouses around Tuscany also organize their own music events. The Nocini di Maremma is one example. This rustic, elegant country house enjoys panoramic views of the medieval village of Tatti, and during summer it hosts different concerts at sunset in its beautiful gardens. Others, like Fonte Bertusi – a family-owned farmhouse near Pienza – have created an art exhibition outdoors and the BazArt room within the bed and breakfast, for art and music lovers!

During summer, the medieval town of Magliano in Toscana becomes an international melting pot as it hosts the Vox Mundi Festival (voices of the world festival), which reunites sounds and musical cultures from all around the globe. International artists perform in Piazza del Popolo, just in front of the ancient olive oil mill, while spectators can sit and admire not only the show but also the Romanesque Church of San Martino.

A local gastronomic experience usually complements or follows most of these open-air concerts. During the Vox Mundi Festival, for example, there is a gazebo called ‘Assaggio di Maremma’ (a taste of Maremma), which offers wine tastings and local delicacies.

Lella at work in the kitchen. Photo courtesy of scuoladicucinadilella.net

Lella at work in the kitchen. Photo courtesy of scuoladicucinadilella.net

For a more active and authentic foodie experience, why not join a cooking class? And not just one of the dozens of standard cooking lessons: we mean something really cool and unique! Italian Special Occasions collaborates with the one and only Lella Cesari Ciampoli, owner of the first school of international cuisine in Siena. Lella teaches Italian, Tuscan and Medieval Cuisine, as well as pastry-making, natural leavening, health and nutrition! Spending time with her will enrich your Tuscan experience, and not only with regards to cooking. In fact, she relates everything with her beloved city, which means that you will learn about the Palio, the Contrade, the history and the secrets of Siena too!

Make your next visit to Tuscany with your family and friends truly different and authentic: witness the heavenly open-air concerts at dawn or dusk, get groovy at jazz and art shows in the most beautiful green landscapes, learn about medieval recipes and explore the most secret sides of Tuscan history!

If you have any particular wishes in mind, contact Italian Special Occasions now: we design travel experiences and special events according to your dreams and needs.

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Top locations for beach and boat weddings in Italy

How cool and refreshing would it be to organize an Italian ‘water wedding’? After all, water is the elixir of life, and tying the knot by the beach or on a lake is simply one of the most romantic and panoramic experiences that a couple can live!


Here is a selection of some of our favorite Italian wedding spots by the water!

Siora Veronica, ancient sailboat for weddings on Lake Garda

Siora Veronica, ancient sailboat for weddings on Lake Garda


Lake District (Lombardy, Veneto, Trenito Algo Adige)

The Italian Lake district has inspired a generation of poets: the lakes of Garda, Maggiore, Como, Lugano, Iseo, Orta, Varese and Monate are an all-time favorite and perfect location for romantic weddings.

In particular, Lake Garda is a jewel full of history and surprises: Salò and its charming bay, the medieval Scaliger Castle in Malcesine, the breathtaking Sirmione… Everywhere you turn, you find Roman and Longobard ruins, ancient walls, aristocratic villas, all of which give a magical feel to the area.

At Lake Garda you can choose a traditional lakeside wedding at a hotel. One of the local excellences is the Grand Hotel Gardone: its majestic architecture and quality services have attracted visitors since it opened in 1884, including personalities like Winston Churchill, Paul Heyse and Vladimir Nabokov. There is also the exclusive, superior 5-star Lefay Resort & SPA, located on Riviera dei Limoni inside 11 hectares of natural park. For a more ‘homely’ stay, Villa Fiordaliso is a family-owned hotel with refined and elegant interiors and a fantastic restaurant.

If you would rather think and act outside the box, why not organize your wedding on a boat right on the lake? And not just any boat. For example, you could choose a period sailing ship from the early 1920’s, which has survived two world wars and has been restored to its splendor in a stylish way!

Pellicano Hotel, wedding at Argentario

Pellicano Hotel, wedding at Argentario

Argentario (Tuscany)

Wild Mediterranean nature, dramatic cliffs and crystal-clear waters: the Argentario offers this scenery for your Italian seaside wedding. The most iconic hotel in the area, Il Pellicano, overlooks a secluded bay near Porto Ercole and is a hangout for many fashionistas and artists. If you are looking for a hip and chic location by the water, this is what you are looking for!

Russian millionaires and Italian TV stars have chosen the Argentario Promontory for their special day, organizing spectacular ceremonies at exclusive villas or in the ancient Spanish forts.

But the Argentario also offers a different panorama. Once an island, this promontory is today connected to the mainland through two 10-km long sand strips that have formed a lagoon. The local fauna includes pink flamingos and rare migratory birds, protected by a WWF Oasis. Inside the lagoon there is a charming little town called Orbetello. Picture your wedding at the local Tuscan-Gothic style Duomo, followed by a small cruise on the lagoon, during which your guests can savor local fish delicacies such as the famous Bottarga!

Wedding on a gondola, Venice

Wedding on a gondola, Venice

Venice (Veneto)

From an off-the-beaten-track lagoon in Tuscany, to the most famous one in the world. Venice could not miss our list of Italian water weddings! The city is rich in all its aspects - art, music, culture, food, traditions; and its landscape made of elegant period buildings, bridges and reflections in the canals, simply make it a fairytale wedding location.

Your wedding can take place between the sumptuous Venetian buildings and a special Gondola, embellished with hand-engraved gold decorations. Your gondolier will have the characteristic white and golden uniform that the “Gondolier de Casàda” (private sailors) used to wear when working for their noble masters.

View from the Ashbee Hote, Taormina

View from the Ashbee Hote, Taormina

Taormina and Northern Sicily

Simply breathtaking! Taormina features medieval architecture, an ancient Greek soul, Mediterranean vegetation and dramatic sea views. It is the perfect postcard.

To admire all of that from up above, San Domenico Palace offers a fantastic location for your Sicilian wedding. Nestled between the sea and the majestic Mount Etna, this 5-star hotel is set in an ancient Dominican monastery and features an exotic garden overlooking the panorama from the Greek Theater to the volcano. More amazing and dramatic sea views can be admired at the Ashbee Hotel, which oozes history and art: it was built in the early 1900s by famous English architect Charles Robert Ashbee, the most significant representative of the Arts and Crafts movement.

The northern coast of Sicily also offers breathtaking sea locations. For example, Mondello, Scopello and San Vito Lo Capo are surrounded by pristine nature reserves and overlook the exotic Gulfs of Castellamare, Bonagia and Macari. Just a stone throw’s away from charming Palermo, the town of Bagheria boasts an amazing villa called Palazzo Villa Rosa. It is set within a historic Baglio (classic Sicilian building where landowners used to live).

To enjoy Sicily from sea, you can have your wedding on a super chic yacht! The number of guests is not a problem: splendid movie-style ships can carry up to 200 passengers, including en-suite cabins and fancy common areas. The warm Sicilian weather allows for this kind of experience to be organized even during winter, complete with water sports for your guests!

Wedding in the "White City", Ostuni

Wedding in the "White City", Ostuni

Salento (Apulia)

The beautiful Salento area in southern Apulia made it to the international headlines when pop star Justin Timberlake and actress Jessica Biel tied the knot in one of our favorite wedding locations: Borgo Egnazia. This exclusive retreat features typical whitewashed walls that contrast with the green fairways of the on-site golf course and the intense blue sea just across it.

For a wedding by the water full of history and character, choose Ostuni: this hilltop citadel is regarded as an architectural jewel for its typically white-painted buildings (hence its alternative name “The White Town”), its baroque-style churches and fortified ancient walls. The sea views from up here are mesmerizing!

For a feet-in-the-sand wedding, many stylish beach clubs along the coast provide an exotic, Hawaii-style setting. And if you want something more authentic, more typically Apulian, just a few minutes away from the sea you can celebrate your big day in a traditional Trullo, a conical dry stone hut full of history that will definitely make your wedding a memorable event!


Would you like to plan a wedding in Italy? Do you need any help and ideas in finding the perfect location for your special day? Contact Italian Special Occasions now!

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The Great Dames of the Sea: sailing show in the Maremma Tuscany

Images above by Guido Contini/Panerai

Have you ever witnessed a sailing race? You must know how thrilling a spectacle it is! But we are not talking about just any boat competition… imagine majestic, vintage yachts sprinting across the crystal-clear waters along the most exotic coastline that Tuscany has to offer!

The Maremma, one of our favorite secret destinations in southern Tuscany, has just hosted the 15th ‘Argentario Sailing Week’, a prestigious event within the Mediterranean Circuit of the Panerai Classic Yachts Challenge.

[For more on the Maremma, have a look at some of our dedicated articles, such as: “Visiting the Heart of Italy’s Maremma: 10 Sightseeing Attractions Not to Miss on Your Vacation”, “Exploring Tuscany's wine routes: the Maremma Hills” and “Fam Trip in the Maremma Tuscany: cultural, bicycle and gastronomic itineraries”.]

A fleet of 45 beautiful yachts gathered in the harbor of Porto Santo Stefano, a charming fishing village in the Argentario Promontory, protagonist of the historic Palio Marinaro regatta. The “Great Dames of the Sea” competed between June 19th and 22nd, 2014, divided into 5 categories: Classic, Vintage, Big Boats, Spirit of Tradition, Metre Classes and One Designs.

The sunny weather and the shifty winds allowed the fleet to enjoy three long coastal and windward-leeward races, delivering an extraordinary show for the sail enthusiasts and curious visitors that flocked to Porto Santo Stefano for the event. Need proof? Have a look at this exciting video (and keep an eye out for the dolphins too!)

The Panerai Classic Yachts Challenge debuted in 2005, but the union between the Florentine luxury sports watchmaker and the sea dates back to the beginning of the 1900s, when the Italian Military Navy asked the company to supply watches and precision instruments. Today, the PCYC includes ten of the world’s most prestigious classic yacht regattas, divided into two circuits – Mediterranean and North American.

The Argentario Sailing Week is a great example of a prestigious, unique event that could enhance a special occasion in Italy, making it even more authentic and unforgettable. Imagine how thrilled your wedding guests or your business executives would be if you were organizing a wedding or a corporate event in southern Tuscany!

If you are planning a special occasion in Italy and would like to combine it with local traditions or fancy events like the Yachts Challenge, contact us now!

Let us share our experiences and knowledge on Italy with you: we offer flexibility, professionalism and truly personalized services.

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