Best Beach Nearby? Italians Just Text

For the cost of an SMS, Italian sun worshippers can save gas and headaches by plugging into sea and sand ratings from environmental association Legambiente.

Roadtrippers send a text to 340 4399 439 indicating what area they’re in, a message comes back with best beaches nearby and other points of interest. My text message (see pic) for Marina di Grosseto (Tuscany) advised taking the sunblock and swim fins to Spiaggia delle MarzeBest beach nearby. A second text suggested a visit to the nearby 1792 watch tower.

The association’s “blue guide” for beaches uses 128 parameters to comb 243 coastal spots in a yearly quality test, again gave Southern Italy’s less frequented spots top marks.

Not all of Italy’s extensive coastline — 1,850 kilometers or circa 1,150 miles — makes the grade, but figures are improving.

Ratings also take into account natural beauty, contamination but also tourist structures, disabled access, noise levels and environment-friendly waste systems.

Just 12 beaches received full marks, or five out of five “sails.” Sandy spots with a four-sail rating (44 total) include: Sirolo (Marches), Orbetello (Tuscany), Lerici and (La Spezia).The guide is also available online, Italian only.

For the first time, disgruntled daytrippers can also text complaints or MMS to the same number improving updates for future editions of the guide.

The service, provided in partnership with Vodafone, costs the same as regular text messages according to carrier plan. It could go a long way to saving those disastrous impromptu beach outings.

Celebrating Puccini

Head to the maestro’s hometown in Tuscany, where a spanking new amphitheater will be unveiled at this year’s Puccini Festival to celebrate 150th birthday of Giacomo Puccini. The curtain rises June 15 (through August 23) in the tiny lakeside village of Torre del Lago, where the opera legend spent most of his adult life, and where he composed Madama Butterfly, La Boheme and Tosca (pictured). Puccini always wanted his operas to be enjoyed al fresco, and the new 3,200-seat facility was designed to afford views of the composer’s villa (now Villa Museo Puccini), set between Massaciuccoli Lake and the Tyrrhenian Sea.

Pilgrims to Puccini country can stay in nearby Lucca, at the recently restored 19th-century hunting lodge Albergo Villa Marta. You also get to eat like the composer, whose letters from Milan to la mamma while studying at the conservatory there contained entreaties to send hearty Tuscan fare to the homesick artist. One thing Puccini might not have bargained for: mosquitoes love balmy Italian breezes. Open-air opera acolytes should come slathered in repellent.
Full story on Globorati.

Venice Carnival, 2.0

Carnival: Masks in Venice

When the confetti starts a flying for Carnival in Venice today, organizers hope costumed party goers will make the folks at home jealous by posting photos, blog accounts and videos from the just-launched Wi-Fi network.

Getting that access, though, may be a typically Italian test of patience: buy a user ID in person (€5 euros daily access or €10 for10 days) from hotels (Luna Baglioni or Hotel Monaco e Gran Canal) or historic locales in Piazza San Marco (Caffè Florian, Caffè Quadri and Avena).

Once in La Serenissima’s Piazza San Marco, add your user ID and wait for an SMS password.

(The hassle can’t really be avoided, thanks to Italy’s terrorism laws). (To find Italian hotspots that may be without registration, try here or here).

Still, there may be another reason to sigh out of your Casanova mask: the best photos and videos (15 total) win Skype-compatible cell phones.

All (Virtual) Roads Lead to Rome

Virtual Rome

The Via Flaminia once brought nobles and notables to their pleasure palaces outside Rome. Today, though, it’s covered in palazzi and clogged with buses and scooters, a virtual version of the road can be visited thanks to researchers who digitalized 4.45 million acres of terrain.

Hosted at the Museum of the Diocletian Baths, the virtual museum lets four visitors at a time take on avatars (and 3D glasses) for a stroll through ancient Rome. Sights include Livia’s palace, the Milvian Bridge on the Tiber River and infamous farmhouse Malborghetto.

With a cost of over $1.1 million, the project employed team of 20 made up of archaeologists, architects and tech experts.
There isn’t much to see online, yet, but not to worry: a Second Life community is soon to come.

An Italian Pleasure Palace Rises Again

Venaria Reale About 300 years ago, the Venaria Reale was a vast pleasure estate, a jewel in the crown of opulent Savoy residences surrounding Turin.

The Baroque palace, stables, gardens and hunting reserve (235 acres), built by Duke Carlo Emanuele II of Savoy, were so magnificent that a local proverb claimed that leaving Turin without visiting Venaria was like “seeing the mother but not the daughter.”

For the last two centuries, though, the town of Venaria, seven and a half miles north of Turin, had witnessed the steady deterioration of the estate, which was erected in part as a demonstration of the power of the House of Savoy.

By the time the region of Piedmont embarked on an eight-year, $300 million restoration in 1999, the estate had been collecting dust for so long that even some Italians mispronounced the name (it’s ven-ah-REE-uh). Full story by zoomata’s Nicole Martinelli in The New York Times.

New Year’s Eve In Venice: One Big Kiss

VeniceThe canals and narrow streets of Venice have long been known to breed romance, but for the first time 60,000 people will seal the reputation of Italy’s most romantic city by kissing on New Year’s eve.

Called LoVe 2008 (the VE = stands for Venice), it’s the brainchild of Marco Balich, a Venetian known for a deft hand at video clips and as the executive producer for the 2006 Turin Olympics.

Casanova, La Serenissima’s poster child for the more debauched side of love, would probably sneer at the event. Organizers are casting for 100 camera-ready couples (a multi-ethnic assortment of the young, attractive and straight?) to be immortalized as they kiss at midnight.

Still, it does give people milling around in St. Mark’s square other to do than ogle each other and set off fireworks.

According to news reports, it’ll work like this: at 10:45 p.m. on December 31, 200 kissing couples will kick off the lip action. At 11 p.m., everyone does a practice lip-smack. At 11:45, another trial kiss (who said Italians don’t take romance seriously?) followed by a countdown accompanied by a “medley of love songs.” Twenty seconds into 2008, the collective kiss.

Just remember the Chapstick.

Italy’s Pilgrim Route on Foot: The Via Francigena

Via Francigena Pilgrim routeFellow reporter and friend Eric Sylvers is on a one-man trek to rehabilitate Italy’s forgotten
Via Francigena.

Unlike Spain’s Camino de Santiago, this major pilgrimage route to Rome during Medieval times has been all but abandoned by walking enthusiasts.

Hard to blame them: unlike the Spanish trail, this one is often unmarked and not set up for bare-bones pilgrim travels.

Eric hopes to change some of that.

Follow his progress in the blog account of the 560-mile walk from Switzerland to the Eternal city — blisters, swollen tendons and memorable meals included — it’s an addictive read.

Healthy Indulgence: Chocolate Vitamins

Choco-pillThe best giveaway at Milan’s recent tourism fair: dark chocolate enriched with Vitamin A & C for the guilty.

Called “Chocopirin-A,” (a play on “aspirina,” aspirin) the tabs were handed out to hungry visitors to promote the Eurochocolate fest in Perugia next fall. Meant to underline how chocolate has become more a part of our daily lives, hopefully some marketing genius will copy the idea and make them for real.

New Italy Logo: Not Bello

Here’s the thing: Italy is one of the most easily recognizable countries on the planet.
It is shaped like a boot.

Italy is also known for lots of big, easily recognizable monuments (the Coliseum, the leaning tower, Milan’s Duomo) so you’d think creative types would have it easy when it comes to creating a new logo.

But no: the image meant to promote Italian tourism in the world is a lowercase “i” with a sickly-looking green blob next to it. Continue reading

Free Trains to Italian hotels

Eco-friendly Italian hotels are offering free train transport until September 2007.

Hotel owners will reimburse guests round trip fare (second class but including fast Eurostar trains) from anywhere in Italy thanks to an agreement between environmental group Legambiente and Trenitalia.

Some 30 establishments throughout the Bel Paese Continue reading