For this trip we arrived in Rome by air from Vancouver, but on different days. We met in the Rome Airport, picked up our car and then headed towards La Riserva Montebello, located near Bolsena - located 138 km from Rome.

We have found that a drive of about an hour and a half or so if quite workable, even after a trans-atlantic flight. Why stay in an airport near the hotel, or take on the expense of going into a large city like Rome, when you can say an hour or so away and really start the vacation on a high note.


We will start in Bolsena and a couple of nights at the La Riserva Montbello, an argiturismo located not far from Bolsena It has half-pension and the meals were good.

There are two separate houses with apartments. The first house, the main building, is on the lower level. This is where the breakfast and dinners are served.

MontebelloThe second house is high in the hills and we had our rooms up in that building. We found the upper building to be more peaceful and the evening breeze off the lake was most enjoyable. Of course, the down-side is that everything is a major hike or a car ride to make it from the eating areas to the upper building.

We had our our pool and grounds so once up, why go down?

The town of Bolsena is about a 50 minute walk or a short drive. It is an interesting town and has a great feel in the early hours of the morning.

A medieval town, located in the basin of Lake Bolsena. The old centre of the town is the piazza Matteotti. The 13C church of S. Francesco is on the piazza and is noted for its Gothic door and the remnants of frescos inside the church.

A red stone gate, next to the church, leads into the medieval quarter of the town. The Romanesque church of Saint Cristina is from the 11th Century. the doors are decorated with Della Robbina lunettes. The interior has numerous frescos and contains the Capella del Miracolo -- the miracle of the eucharistic blood took place in 1263.

Overlooking the town of Bolsena is at 13-14th Century castle complete with tours.



FarenesseWe also traveled to the town of Caprarolo, on the south east slopes of the Cimini hills - a densely wooded area on old volcanic hills, to see the Villa Farnese. Visits to the Villa or the grounds are with an guide and there are different times to see either the inside, the gardens or both. The thing with trips is you got to do what you can when you are there.

Plan your time accordingly. The last posted time we say were for 9 am to 4 pm with some evenings open till 7 pm. Closed Monday. So plan a morning visit to be safe.

The Villa is built on the site of a fort that was originally built by Cardinal Alessandro Farnese (1559 - 75), a grandson of Pope Paul III, and it is considered one of the most important buildings of the 16th Century.

The villa is impressive both inside and out, as depicted by the shot to the left.

FarenesseThe Farnese Family became unpopular with the next Pope, Julius III, so they planned to leave the vatican and settle in their own place - taking over the town of Caprarola.

The Farnese history is interesting. Alessandro Farnese was a member of what could be said to be an obscure Lazio noble family. He set his sister, Giulia, to be a mistress to Pope Alexander VI and from that time, his "fortune was made". He later became Pope Paul III, who turned out to be a good and bad Pope. He was responsible for much of the rebuilding of Rome but also recommenced the Inquisition. In time, the Farnese family ruled Parma, Piacenza and most of northern Latium. His grand son, Alessandro built the current Villa.

Most of the palace is empty. The family lost everything.

The magnificent round colonnaded courtyard is very impressive and you are able to walk through parts of it.

Inside the famous royal staircase - scala regia - leads up to the apartments that are decorated with stucco and frescoes. They illustrate the accomplishments of the Farnese family.

Villa FarneseSo, we were able to take a tour of the inside of the Villa. Because of the dry summer the fountains and waterways would have been less impressive as opposed to the interiors.Good history to the place. Alessandro Farnese, set up his sister Giulia up as mistress to Pope Alexander VI and his path to a secure lifestyle was established. We walked throughout the various rooms. All impressive. Two rooms really stood out. One was the Map Room which has huge maps and astrological charts on the walls and ceiling. Interesting to see the perspective on the world at that time. They had Italy pretty well nailed down correctly, however other parts of the world were not as exact.

One of the rooms is known for its acoustics. If you stand in one corner, facing the corner and whisper you are heard as clear as a bell in by someone at the opposite corner. Others do not hear you.

Just image the conversations that went on in that room while others remained unknowing!

After the Villa, on our drive back we stopped at the town of Vitterbo, however, timing is everything on an visit to Italy. Not much going on in the 2-4 pm time slot.


OrvietoOrvieto is about 20 minutes away and became one of our favorite stops in the area. Located 121 km from Rome, Orvieto stands on a flat-topped block of volcanic tufa (a type of stone) in the middle of the Paglia Valley. It is very impressive to approach it from the west. As we did we just had to stop and appreciate the stunning view.

After a number of trips to the area Orvieto has become one our most enjoyable places to stay when in Umbria and also touring through Tuscany.

It was timely that we visited Bolsena on this trip, and the two towns are linked. It was around 1263 that a Bohemian priest was returning from a pilgrimage Rome, and he stopped in Bolsena. There was saw blood drip out of the communion wafers and soak the cloth below.

Pope Urban IV had the cloth brought to Orvieto. To mark the miracle the sacred holiday of Corpus Domini was established.

OrvietoAt that time, the cathedral of Orvieto was more of an old dilapidated building, and not of the stature to hold such a relic.

After some sixty years the Popes convinced the people of Orvieto to sponsor the construction of a new cathedral.

In 1290 the cornerstone was laid and the old basilica began to take on a new gothic appearance blending Byzantine and northern elements into what is called Italian Gothic style. Who was the architect? It is not really known. Some hold that it was a monk named Fra' Bevignate da Perugia. Others say it was the great Florentine architect Arnolfo di Cambio. Whoever was the architect, this is one impressive cathedral.

OrvietoThe first site is the impressive cathedral. The cathedral has numerous frescoes dating back to the 13th and 15th centuries. There is also very good shopping and the town just gives off a great feel. The shopping is so great that Karen and Glenn bought an entire set of dishes at KYATHOS, Ceramiche di Marcella; via dei Duomo, 74 not far from the Duomo. We'll report back when they arrive.

We were fortunate enough to be there when an opera was taking place. So after shopping it was back to the Reserva for an afternoon by the pool, open a bottle of champagne to start the evening off right, then on to the impressive Mancinelli Theatre for a memorable night at the opera.

OrvietoThe theatre was build in 1864 and while it was incredibly hot inside, the acoustics were great and the opera very impressive. In addition to the seats on the ground floor there are tiers of box seats five floors up along the sides and back. We enjoyed Un Ballo in Mascherra. The costumes were colorful, the singers put out a punch and the show moved along at a good clip. We did not even miss the absence of the translation being projected above the stage!


PertosaIt was then time to start the drive south. The August vacation period was ending and we would be able to get accommodations along the coast.



PertosaOn our route we stopped at the Grottes di Pertosa located in the Alburni Mountains.

The tour of the grottoes start with a boat to cross the Negro, an underground river. We next walk a series of paths that take us by various rock formations.

Grotte PertosaWhile these were not as impressive as the Grotte des Demoiselles in the south of France we explored on last year's trip, they were impressive.



Grotte PertosaThe origins of the caves go back some 35 million years. The caves themselves were discovered in the 18th century.




Agriturismo La Fonte

A FontThat evening we stayed at the Agriturismo La Fonte, a truly enjoyable experience. We have found the booking of argriturismo to be a a key part of great travel planning.

Michela and his wife Maria made us feel like royalty - offering us their homemade jams and wine! This was to be our base to travel down and see the Certosa di San Lorenzo. Maria and Michela run La Fonte. You will instantly feel welcome as they take you into their very clean and well furnished argriturismo.



Certosa di San Lorenzo

Near Padula is a Certosa of note - Certosa di San Lorenzo. It is the second largest certosa in Italy. Only Parma has a larger complex. The cloisters were impressive.

The certosa was founded by Tommaso San Severino in 1306. It has been continuously expanded and rebuilt over some 400 years. It has a bit of Baroque as well as more traditional "certosa" architecture. There is: an impressive cloister, great frescoes, stucco figures in and around the numerous chapels. There is no feeling of poverty in this place.

In the main outside courtyard there was a large iron contraption. Later we would read that when Emperor Charles V visited the certosa the monks made an omlette with over 1,000 eggs. That must have been the pan. Certosa Lorenzo  
Certosa Lorenzo Padula  
We were impressive with the massive kitchens where the meals were prepared. Certosa Lorenzo  
  Certosa Lorenzo  

Along the way we stopped in the town of Pizzo. Now here is a place that is worth a second visit.


TropeaOur next stop is Capo Vaticano on the Calbrian coast. It is located just outside of Tropea. We are now over 600 km from Rome on our way to Sicily.

The beach along this coast is one of the best in Italy. Well, there are many "best beaches" but this ranks up there. Spaggia Eden offered good sand and the water was clear and a rich blue-green.

Tropea is built on the edge of the cliff overlooking the sea. We arrived for the evening walk about and agree to meet back at a central location around 8 for dinner. Well, weren't we all surprised when Chris returned with his capri pants.. right into the style of an Italian summer.

We stayed at the hotel La Bussola. While the hotel was not small and right on the beach -- everyone's dream hotel -- it did serve some of the best pasta we had on the trip.

Tropea Chris Grant  



We rise early in the morning and make the dash down to the town of San Giovanni to catch a ferry to Sicily. We cross the Stretto di Messina, about 3km, in just under a half hour. No line-ups. We basically drive onto the boat and it leaves. Return ticket was 35 Euro. We drive along the Tyrrhenian Coast towards the town of Cefalù.


CefaluCefalú is located 70 km from Palermo - and a whopping 839 km from Rome. The first year we drove down from Rome we were surprised at the time it took to make the drive. But this year, the stop in Tropea it made the trip more enjoyable.






CefaluThe town sits on a rocky spur and juts out along the north coast of Sicily.

The town' name comes from the Greek work "cephale" which means head, and this refers to the large rock above the town.

The cathedral, seen on the left, is the most Norman and Romanesque of the churches in Sicily. Built in 1131 by King Roger II. He had been caught in a storm at sea and vowed to establish a cathedral in Cefalù. The Byzantine mosaic dates from 1148.

Here we make the mistake of driving our car into a maze. The alleys keep getting narrower and narrower. Meant for horses and people we soon find ourselves jammed into a corner. We think it is impossible to move forward or back.

A fellow sitting on a stool on the side of the road helps us out. With his fingers he points and jesters. Just look at me, with hand gestures we move the car an inch at a time forward, backward etc. and within minutes we are free.


The drive to Palermo was tense. Our goal, make it to the city before the 4:40 explosion of activity and slip into the inner core where we have a hotel. Well we did not quite "slip in" and after many times around the block on various one-way streets we did find out hotel and then the car park to leave the car.

The name Palermo comes from the Greek work for "all port" and in ancient times the port went further inland than it does today. The city was held by a range that included the Carthaginians, the Romans, the Vandals, Byzantines and Arabs who held the city for some 240 years. There are some fine examples of the Arabian influence in architecture in the city. See the Church of San Giovanni degli Eremiti with is five red domes.

In 1072 Roger II took the city from the Moors, and then the Spanish and the Bourbons came and in the 17th and 18th Century turned the city in one of Baroque architecture. So, this all lays the foundation for impressive architecture.

Our hotel well situated in a good location -- right next door to the Cartoleria Perna, a great pen store in the city. Other than than. Enough said.

PalermoThe cathedral has a complex history. There were numerous constructions to the exterior of the building.




PalermoThe inside is considered Neoclassical and holds the imperial and royal tombs of Henry VI, Frederick II, Constance and Roger II. Check out the rooms of treasure. The Diocesan Museum, located in the Arch-Episcopal Palace is only open for students. A guide will accompany visitors to the 12th Century crypt.

Sicily is famous for its brioche buns filled with ice cream. Now this is the life!

The Palace of the Normans was originally built by the Arabs and then in the 12th Century changed in appearance to be the Royal Palace for King Roger II.

PalemoWell worth your walk to visit. On the second floor the Palatine Chapel is one of the best examples of the composite architecture that flourished in Sicily under the Normans. There are limited hours the Palatine Chapel is open (9 to 1, 3 -5) so plan your time accordingly.

We ate at a trattoria nearby: Il Proverbio
Discesa dei Giudici, 24. Well worth a visit for good basic food.

PalermoA visit to the cloisters at San Giovanni degli Eremiti is worth fitting into your day. It was actually King Roger II who wanted the church to look like it does and it is an example of how strong the Arabic influence was in Palermo.

We enjoyed a great, albeit expensive (118 €) meal at:

Ristorante Santandrea
Piazza Sant' Andrea, 4

I think Chris summed it up the best. At the end of the meal we walked out, looked back, and the small outdoor restaurant, with its white umbrellas, nestled in a small piazza in front of an old church.."this is the stuff you see on the cover of Gourmet."


The villa at Bolesena

La Riserva Montebello

La Riserva Montebello

Pleasant grounds.

Villa Farnese

Villa Farnese





Certosa Lorenzo

Certosa Lorenzo


Glenn in Palermo having one of the famous briochhe filled with ice cream.