Frances Mayes, author of Under the Tuscan Sun
100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Goby Susan Van Allen
Imagine creating your Italian dream vacation with a fun-loving savvy traveler girlfriend whispering in your ear. Go along with writer Susan Van Allen on a femme-friendly ride up and down the boot, to explore this extraordinarily enchanting country where Venus (Vixen Goddess of Love and Beauty) and The Madonna (Nurturing Mother of Compassion) reign side-by-side. With humor, passion, and practical details, this uniquely anecdotal guidebook will enrich your Italian days.
Enjoy masterpieces of art that glorify womanly curves, join a cooking class taught by revered grandmas, shop for ceramics, ski in the Dolomites, or paint a Tuscan landscape. Make your vacation a string of Golden Days, by pairing your experience with the very best restaurant nearby, so sensual pleasures harmonize and you simply bask in the glow of bell’Italia.
Whatever your mood or budget, whether it’s your first or your twenty-first visit, with 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go, Italy opens her heart to you.
Frances Mayes, author of Under the Tuscan Sun
Read an Excerpt
Chapter 15. The Barberini Palace
(Galleria Nazionale), via delle Quattro Fontane, 13
In Roman Holiday, Princess Audrey escaped from this palace to end up on a romantic adventure with reporter Gregory Peck. It’s divine to play Audrey’s moves backwards and escape inside The Barberini to peacefully take in Renaissance masterpieces.
The palace originated as the digs of Maffei Barberini, when he became Pope Urban VIII in 1623. He went all out to make it splendido, calling in the best artists of the day, Bernini and his rival Borromini. You’ll get a dizzying hit of Maffei’s family pride looking up at the Grand Salone ceiling in Rome’s biggest ballroom, where Pietro Da Cortona’s “Triumph of Providence” fresco features a swarm of golden bees (the Barberini family emblem) ascending to the heavens.
The palace was sold to the State in 1949 and became the National Gallery of Art. But apparently, the family worked out a deal to hold on to some of the rooms, and Arturo, the current Barberini family patriarch, still lives there, though I’ve never run into him on my visits.
In the galleries, you’ll see beautiful women immortalized by masters, including:
Fornarina, (Raphael’s Girlfriend)
The subject of Raphael’s most famous portrait is his longtime lover, Margherita Luti, who he called “Fornarina,” which translates to little oven. The dark haired, bare breasted beauty was a baker’s daughter and wears a bracelet with Raphael’s signature on it, as if they were going steady.
The Turbaned Lady (Who Murdered her Daddy)
With those legendary huge eyes and innocent over-the-shoulder look, it’s hard to imagine that this 16 year old (who most agree is Beatrice Cenci), bludgeoned her father to death. That is until you hear the story of the man’s atrocious cruelty to his whole family, who joined Beatrice in the murder. The painting, said to have been completed the night before Beatrice’s public execution, was first credited to Guido Reni, but now Elisabetta Sirani, a female artist, is believed to be the one who painted it.
Judith Beheading Holofernes (Bible’s Gutsiest Widow)
Master painter Caravaggio captures a gory biblical moment here. It’s Judith, chopping off the head of General Hortense, complete with spurting blood and her maid eagerly standing by.
Judith was a widow who got fed up with her Israeli countrymen in their fight against the Assyrians, so she took matters into her own hands, got all dolled up and went to visit the enemy’s General Holofernes. Clever woman that she was, Judith promised him sexual favors and helpful information, which she never made good on. The general went ga-ga for Judith, and threw a banquet where he became “sodden with wine,” expecting some nooky afterwards. Imagine his surprise when Judith snuck into his tent, found Holofernes sprawled out drunk as a skunk, and lopped his head off.
You also should wander up to the second floor suite of rooms that were redecorated in 1728 when Cornelia, a Barberini heiress, married into the noble Roman Colonna family. You’ll see their wedding invitation and bedroom, all painted in gorgeous pale blue and gold, with those Barberini bees decorating Cornelia’s tiny prayer cubicle and their canopied bed.
Golden Day: Morning at the Palace, Lunch at Colline Emiliane (Via degli Avignonesi, 22, 06/4817538), for specialties of the Emilia-Romagna region, like tortelli di zucca (tiny doughnut shaped pasta stuffed with pumpkin).
Sleep either at:
Modigliani Hotel, run by a couple of Italian artists, OR
Villa Spalletti Trivelli, where you’ll get the total principessa treatment in a luxurious villa run by descendants of a noble Italian family.
The Families Who Made Rome: A History and Guide by Anthony Majanlati
Beatrice’s Spell: The Enduring Legacy of Beatrice Cenci by Belinda Jack
Chapter 28. FRAGRANCES
Italy smells great. Not only the food, gardens, forests and sea. There’s the perfume they make.
The whole perfume-making in Italy deal started with monks in the middle ages who gathered flowers and herbs from the countryside and turned them into health and beauty potions. Their secret recipes are still used and you can get in on the alchemy at these shops:
Corso Rinascimento 72
Near the Piazza Navona, this cozy, simple shop that’s been run by the Nardi family since 1894, began as a place that sold medicines made by Benedictine monks. Now its dark wood polished shelves are stocked with all kinds of monk-made beauty products, along with chocolates, honey, liquors and marmalades that come from abbeys all over Italy.
Favorites from their fragrance selections are Antica Acqua di Colonia perfume, a bergamot and musk blend that was created for the 1900 world exhibition, and bars of soap scented with the violets of Parma.
Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella
Via della Scala 16
Right near the church of Santa Maria Novella, you’ll find this sacred shop that was once a Gothic chapel. Gorgeous frescoes, sculpted arches, stained glass windows and a staff dressed in chic black suits pumps up this shopping experience to a mystical level.
This was a fourteenth century church of the Dominican friars, which was turned into a farmacia to sell their potions in 1612. Today the monk’s recipes are reproduced in a nearby lab by scent scientists, shipped all over the world and even available by mail order. Even though you can now buy Santa Maria Novella products in Beverly Hills or Soho, nothing beats getting to the source.
Their famous potpourri, a blend of 10 different herbs and flowers from the surrounding hills, comes in monogrammed satin pouches, and makes a perfect gift. The top perfume choice is Acqua di Colonia, a citrus and bergamot blend that was created for Catherine de Medici when she went off to Paris to marry Henry II. There’s also Acqua di Santa Maria Novella (aka anti-hysteria water), which was created in the days when tight-corset wearing gals needed relief from the vapors, and now comes in handy as a digestive relief.
Factory store: Via Federico Serena, 28 or Showroom: Via Camerelle, 10
This pretty shop embodies the elegant, bewitching purity of Capri, with light polished wood floors and white archways, staffed by beautiful salespeople in lab coats.
The legend goes that back in 1380 a Carthusian monk got caught off guard by the arrival of Queen Giovanna D’Angio’ of Naples, and ran off to gather flowers all over the island for her. Three days after she left, he smelled the water in the vases, found it delightful and went to an alchemist to figure out how to reproduce it.
But it wasn’t until 1948 that a monastery prior discovered the monk’s recipe, and got the Pope’s blessing to reproduce it in a lab, that the production of Carthusia’s perfumes began.
Everything here is made exclusively from Capri’s flowers, such as Fiori di Capri, a combo of wild carnation, lily of the valley and oak. And the current award-winning nose of Italy, Laura Tonotto, has stepped into the Carthusia picture, creating Ligea La Sirena, a light perfume scented with wild white rose and mandarins. It was inspired by the legend of a mermaid who tried to lure Ulysses to Capri’s shore.
Golden Day: Stroll the Gardens of Augustus, continue on the path up to Carthusia, have an apertivo in the Piazza Umberto, a meal (I’d recommend seafood risotto) at Ristorante Villa Brunella, Via Tragara 24A (081 8370122) and stay there at Villa Brunella, a beautiful hotel with a fantastic view.
Chapter 42. ARIENZO BEACH, POSITANO
The legend goes that thanks to Pasitea, an irresistible nymph who lured in Poseidon, Positano was discovered. It’s one of the most popular Amalfi Coast destinations, with six beaches to choose from.
When Melody, an American who’s lived there for years told me, “Arienzo beach is famous all over Positano for Ada’s gnocchi,” it was a no brainer for me to head over there on a warm day in October.
Arienzo is a little tricky to get to. In high season, (June September), for a few euros, you can catch a small boat from Positano’s Spiaggia Grande. Or you can go by land, taking the Amalfi Drive towards Praiano, and reach the path to the beach by walking from Positano centro (about fifteen minutes), driving (parking is easy), or taking the bus to the Arienzo stop. There’s a Spiaggia di Arienzo sign right there that directs you to the zig-zag of about 250 stairs that takes you down, passing pretty gardens and bougainvillea-covered villas.
You’ll arrive at a smallish cove bordered with giant rocks and views of fishing boats bobbing along the horizon, ferries headed for Capri and the Le Galli islands in the distance. Compared to the two bigger beaches in town, here you get a sense of discovering your own peaceful hideaway.
I’m not talking great sand. It’s volcanic and coarse with lots of black pebbles. But like almost everything you touch around here, Positano’s black pebbles have a story behind them. If you find one with a hole in it, it means the Madonna has passed through it, and it’s blessed. I’ve yet to find one, but you’ll see many Positanese wearing these black pebbles on chains around their necks.
The sand situation means you should bring along beach shoes and rent an umbrella and lounge chair to get totally comfy, lie back and get lulled by the lapping of the calm water.
When you get there, you’ll see to your left a walk-in closet sized kitchen where Ada, a 50-something year old signora with a radiant smile, bustles away making her gnocchi.
The beach snack bar is set up on stilts, looking like something Thurston Howell III would have built on Gilligan’s Island, perched perfectly to take in the view with about eight inviting tables. A blackboard lists the specials of the day, which along with the gnocchi, can include spaghetti with clams, Caprese salad, fish caught that morning, and of course granitas flavored ices made from Positano lemons and whatever other fruit is in season.
Around noon, locals start arriving from the cliff path or pulling up on little boats to enjoy Ada’s lunch. Just like Melody said, the gnocchi is divine light and beautifully textured, served with a delicate tomato sauce. The house red is rich and lively.
I tried to explain to Ada that back home when we think of a beach lunch, corn dogs on a stick comes to mind. And how much I loved her gnocchi. She laughed and brought me over a plate of ripe figs picked from a nearby tree, then poured me a glass of her homemade limoncello.
Even if you don’t find a pebble with a hole blown through it, at Arienzo Beach you’ll feel blessed.
Golden Day: Arienzo beach and Ada’s gnocchi for lunch, Stay at Maliosa di Arienzo, a bed and breakfast up from the beach, with your private sea view terrace. The B&B can arrange complimentary car service to take you to Il Mediterraneo ristorante in Positano, where fantastic seafood specialties are served and a strolling Neapolitan guitarist strums classics like “O Sole Mio.”
Meet the Author
Susan Van Allen has written about Italian travel for NPR and national publications. When she’s not traveling in Italy, she lives in Los Angeles with her husband.
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In this trim- sized (5.5 X 7.5 in.), relatively compact, uniquely- anecdotal, informative guide book intended for women, but also appropriate for men, who are traveling to Italy for the first or twenty-first time, Van Allen (author writing about Italian travel for over twenty-five media outlets including National Public Radio, Town & Country, Student Traveler, the Chicago Daily Herald, and CNN.com; author of monthly Letters from Italy column on the Divine Caroline website; former staffer for the Emmy winning sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond; based in Los Angeles; www.susanvanallen.com), an Italian-American who has been journeying to Italy since 1976 to visit relatives and explore the country, writes about her personal experiences as well as those of her friends. With passion and humor that clearly evidence her love for Italy, its cultures, and peoples, the author culls the overwhelming amount of information on Italian travel into a reasonably- sized publication consisting of thirteen sections, one hundred chapters, and at least two appendices covering all types of Italian adventures and experiences. With women predominately in mind, Van Allen describes and recommends museums, palaces, gardens, beaches, beauty treatments, spas, caffés, restaurants, winebars, shopping, biking, hiking, skiing, boating, yoga, cooking classes, Italian crafts, fine arts, language courses, entertainment, and more. She also includes many practical details and helpful tips in relatively short, concise chapters, each of which is supplemented by "golden days" or daily itineraries, lists of websites, and recommended readings. While this publication is not available as an ebook and lacks reference maps, photographs, an Italian-English glossary, and tear-out pages, all of which would have been helpful, value-added features, it does contain much useful, insightful, nuts-and-bolts information for women travelers and others visiting Italy. Sufficiently- documented, nicely-presented, and well- organized, this delightful, easy-to-read book is highly recommended for chick-lit readers as well as general audiences. It belongs in many public library collections as an additional travel resource.
This cornucopia of Italian delights titillates the senses and entices the imagination. Occasionally fringing on the irreverent (who else but Susan van Allen would dream of calling the Blessed Virgin Mary the BVM, for instance - only kidding, grrll!), and bordering on the erotic (as in Susan's description of The Capitoline Venus attempting to cover her "Cupid's cloister"), Susan's selective guide to Italian beauty and beauties scampers through both urban and rural landscape with exuberant glee. Ranging from the divine to the decadent, Susan's romp through the Italian past and present has one hankering for more. The Divine: Goddesses, Saints, and the Blessed Virgin Mary takes one from the Campidoglio, Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill to the Temple of Segesta in Sicily, by way of the artistic splendors of Florence, Tuscany, Venice, Padua, Naples, Campania and Palermo. In each, she focuses on the female, the envisioned and the immortal, as portrayed in key works of art. Instructive and elucidating, she entices one with succulent morsels of information about the work and the artist involved. Suggesting the best times at which to visit all the museums and galleries that she recommends, Susan also gives handy tips on how to plan one's jaunts for the day, including visits to nearby parks and restaurants. She even manages to sneak in extra tidbits of recommended reading, not to mention a novice's guide to mythology and Mary's rites of passage. A little bit of history, a little bit of art. The second section of Susan's 100 Places romps through the spacious ville, palazzo and an apartment, starting once more in Rome and ending in Sicily - an added bonus to her racy pace is the systematic way in which she unravels the labyrinthine. Her sense of enthrallment with her surroundings is intoxicating, as she seduces us into imagining the scenes of revelry and mayhem that permeated the past. Susan van Allen appears not only to appreciate the intimacy of the boudoir, but also the graceful and cultivated structuring of the outdoors. Finding la dolce vita in the harmonious blend of greenery, sculpture, and fountains that typifies the finest in Italian landscape gardening, she explores gardens originating in the Renaissance and Baroque periods - not without a timely reminder that most gardens close down November to March, so best check ahead to avoid disappointment. 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go concludes with handy tips for Italian travel (though the entire work churns with such ideas.) and packing, a calendar (or should I say colander?) of holy days, and a detailed index. By this stage, if you are not fully replete and with your dates for your next Italian jaunt at least penciled in on your schedule, may the BVM come to your aid, sister.
Wonderful resource to compliment your itinerary. I took several of the suggestions from this book and uncovered many treasures of Italy that were right in front of me but would have easily been passed by. The prescribed itineraries are a challenge to follow, but take the pearls from each of the suggested forays and you'll be delighted with the special gems you'll find.
This book would truly be a treasure in your library, virtual library, or even in your life via iPhone app. Whether you want to find a cooking course, spa, religious retreat, great beach, or just some fabulous shopping, Susan has it covered - in every corner of the Bel Paese. When I first received this book, I thought it would be something I'd flip through every now and again when the mood struck; instead I found myself reading chapters straight through, imagining myself visiting all of the wonderful places Susan describes so well. The tone is friendly and the advice sincere, so you really do feel like you have a knowledgeable girlfriend by your side with the inside scoop on where you should go on your next Italian vacation. I probably don't need to tell you this book would make a *fabulous* gift for your favorite Italophile who also happens to be a lady, either.
The one place that I want to see before I die, is Italy. I've always been fascinated with the beauty of Italy. It's such a gorgeous place and I adore Italian food. I know for a fact that the first place I would visit would have to be Rome. I want to see the Pieta at Saint Peter's Basilica. Then I would move on to Florence to see the Costume Gallery. Of course I would have to visit Florence. After reading this book, I want to go more than I ever imagined possible. The details included brought Italy to life for me. I hope I get to take a trip soon.