Trieste, (Italy)

“Pre-Roman Tergeste”, “Roman Tergestum”, “Former Austro-Hungarian Empire city”

Trieste, Italy, April 2018

Once again it’s Italy! Yet never ever tired for coming to this fascinating country. It must be together with my mother land Spain, the most visited for sure. And even so that I’ve been to so many cities, from large to medium and small villages, there are still plenty more to enjoy and keep returning. I don’t mind even for repeating at some coming the case, there are always many corners not seen, Rome, Milan and Naples being the most renown cases. In this case, Trieste although not a new place, I can strongly feel and say as if it would be the first time.

It was back in March 2010 when after not having a positive experience in neighboring Slovenia, we decided to come to Trieste for dinner from Ljubljana. As you can imagine it was night hence not much we could do other than, you guessed it, having one of the most delicious pizza we did ever have back then, and a proper ice-cream. The mere fact of crossing the border from the rather boring and almost no life outside of Ljubljana to thriving Italy even at its tiny villages near Trieste, was already enough to enjoy the trip.

So finally here I am writing a guide for this beautiful city after the very well deserved visit. Very often bypassed by tourists who head towards the larger cities of Milan and Venice, or nearby neighboring Ljubljana, capital of Slovenia; it is in the other hand an incredibly beautiful city with impressive architecture. It is one of the rare examples with plenty of Autrian Empire architecture, hence its elegance and resemble to the avenues you see in in Vienna or Budapest, coupled with a priceless addition, the Mediterranean Sea at the backdrop. (more…)

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San Gimignano, (Italy)

“The Town of Fine Towers”, “Medieval Skyscraper City”

San Gimignano, Italy, March 2018

Finally the city I wanted to reach 2 years ago but could not fir running out of time visiting Cinque Terre for the first time and repeating Siena where I did not return since 2001. In this occasion, the trip was planned having as main consideration San Gimignano, and of course taking the chance for revisiting Florence, the third time in that city, however, never enough. Flying to Pisa and making the base over there was all pointing to be the perfect decision, and not only because of flying there is a fraction of the cost than getting into Florence, but also saving half the cost in a hotel there, and as last, the commuting from Pisa is easier, better and faster than if coming to San Gimignano from Florence instead.

As you’ve might have read at the heading of this guide, one of the nicknames is the “Medieval Skyscraper City”, or the “Medieval New York City”. Once you are there it is easy to know why, the many tall stone and brick towers spread across, yet believe it or not, once upon a time there were 72! Now it’s a very reduced number to “just” 14, although it is still the only city in the world with such a large collection. But why building such towers? It was all about a display of family wealthiness. The larger and higher, the wealthier the family was, like a competition. Nevertheless the past, it is today a fascinating and unique sight to see, hence its protection in being listed an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The city is way more that its towers. A wide playground for the arts and culture with impressive buildings, palaces and churches complete with beautifully preserved paintings dating as old as the 13th century. Small town that’s for sure, easy and straightforward to visit where a half day is well enough. Careful in not overestimating your time as there is no need for that, and if you are a first timer in Pisa, let me tell tell you it is then possible to enjoy both cities without rush in one same day.

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Florence, (Italy)

“Birthplace of the Italian Renaissance”, “Athens of the Middle Ages”, “Roman Fluentia”

Florence, Italy, March 2018

Returning for a 3rd time in my life to one of the most wonderful cities in the world: Florence. It was year 2001 with my school for a cultural trip through Italy where we would spend 3 days in Florence, then in 2009 as a quick day trip from London where I would return to both Pisa and Florence, and back at night to London; and now, a well deserved return with some more time to revisit this beautiful city. Flying to Pisa does always work well, and this occasion was no exception. It is the perfect base to visit numerous other cities and places around as are Cinque Terre, Siena, San Gimignano, and of course, Florence, barely an hour away by train. For sure it won’t be the last in any case, but for now, it will be good enough for creating a well deserve guide for it.

After Rome, this is the next most visited city in Italy and by far, one of the most emblematic, acclaimed and visited cities in the world; while once upon a time, the most important city in Europe for the course of over 250 years. It Ranked by Forbes as one of the most beautiful cities in the world and it’s inscribed as you could imagine, in the UNESCO World Heritage list due to its artistic, architectural and cultural heritage.

Florence is the birthplace of Opera, the Renaissance and neoclassical architecture. The cathedral’s Brunelleschi’s dome is the largest built in brick and mortar in the world, and third largest Christian church in the world. With so much rich history and the hundreds of sights it is guaranteed you will have a great time in the city. Plan at least two full days to enjoy the most, never a day trip unless you’ve already been here before. It is the fact that even a 2 full days will still be too short time if you consider on visiting the many museums and galleries, which some of them you cannot simply give a miss to be honest. (more…)

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Lecce, (Italy)

“Florence of the South”, “A Baroque City”

Lecce, Italy, March 2018

Reaching our second destination for today, and the highlight of the day without any doubt after spending the morning in Brindisi, we arrive to the farthest south we’ve ever been in Italy: Lecce. A small city yet packed with sights on every corner, a Baroque masterpiece hence its well deserved nickname, the Florence of the south. To be honest I was not expecting to enjoy so much this place, nor I knew there was that many great sights and places to visit all over the city. Should I’ve known this beforehand, I would have planned a little bit better around by cutting extra time from Brindisi which after all, it was nothing special, and give it instead more to Lecce. This is another of the reasons why I’ve split Brindisi and Lecce into two separate guides, as my original plan were both in the same.

Anyway, the city is quite small and of course a day is more than enough. Any longer than this and you would not know where else to go unless other cities nearby. Its historic old town is so compact that it’s a matter of minutes from one to the other end, although that won’t be the case for a tourist, since visiting around means getting lost through the narrow streets and squares admiring the architecture and history at every turn.

The major landmarks are next to each others. starting with the remains of the Roman coliseum where an entire quarter is excavated and implemented in one of the largest squares, still being used for performances; and through a street from here leading towards the Cathedral Square, the next of the unmissable highlights.

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Brindisi, (Italy)

“Greek Greek Brentesion”, “Roman Brundisium

Brindisi, Italy, March 2018

Continuing on the second part for this weekend after visiting Matera, Alberobello and Fasano the day before, we set off to the streets of Brindisi, the city that we actually flew into, and later in the day to spend the afternoon in nearby Lecce before returning for the flight back to London. Another great day ahead of us with plenty of sights and lots of history, beautiful corners and a nice weather considering it was March. And so, the usual “suspects” adding to the good times: coffee, ice cream, baba cake and of course, a stone baked pizza.

While at the beginning I was going to combine both cities in the same travel guide, it is after visiting Lecce that I decided it would be better to split it into separate guides. Basically, Lecce is quite an unique and truly worth it city, with lots of sights hence the best way was to have a guide alone. Brindisi in the other hand, is a small port city, very important since antiquity for the trade links with Greece and Africa across the Aegean Sea, but something very strong as of today. Linking it to the capital of the former Roman Empire is the Via Appia, the city being the southern terminus which you can see marked by the monumental Roman column still standing in place at over 2000 years since its creation. Although there were originally two such columns, the second fell to pieces in the 16th century, then taken to the city of Lecce and rebuilt to hold the statue of Saint Oronzo, patron of that city.

There’s not much to see in this city hence it won’t take you long to visit, that’s the reason why you should include Lecce as we did, or other nearby destination. After all, it’s also nice to sometimes travel to smaller cities and not “kill” your feet walking for many kilometres or rushing in an attempt to visit as much as possible. All the contrary here.

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Matera, Alberobello and Fasano (Italy)

“Most intact troglodyte settlement in the Mediterranean”, “Drywall constructions”

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Finally the time we’ve managed to come to this region, although for a very short time and a larger than average program to visit as much as we could. So while our point of arrival was Brindisi that city together with Lecce would be scheduled for the following day while today instead, driving towards two UNESCO World Heritage Sites: The Sassi and the Park of the Rupestrian Churches of Matera, and the Trulli di Alberobello; ending up in the small city of Fasano towards the evening for a nice dinner before returning to the base for the night, Brindisi. Incredible we managed to do this all in a day, considering it was literally right after landing from the very early flight from London, hence tired and sleepy without much rest from the short night before. Quite unfortunate there were no other more suitable flights!

Glad we found these flights anyway, during the low season avoiding the hordes or tourists and high prices for everything, especially accommodation, and good to know how nice all this region in the southeast of Italy is. Definitely worth for returning in the near future, possibly with a flight to Bari instead and continue to enjoy up north from there. Our less visited part of Italy in the other hand.

So as you’ve guessed, the UNESCO sites collectors that we are, this was our plan and main aim for the trip. Matera, home to the most outstanding, intact example of a troglodyte settlement in the Mediterranean region, fully dotted with caves and rock churches with invaluable painting works or art covering the walls and ceilings; and on the other hand something unique legacy from prehistoric techniques still in use today, the trulli constructions found in the southern region of Puglia, being the most remarkable the ones at Alberobello. These are limestone dwellings built drywall (mortarless) in the general form or cones. Really fascinating and impressive to see, and honestly nothing I could compare it to. (more…)

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Agrigento, (Italy)

“Ancient Greek Akragas”, “The Valley of the Temples”

Agrigento, Italy, December 2017

Approaching the end of the year, however not the end of the trips for this year yet. Still some more to come even though it’s just days before the Christmas time, and exciting for another great trip to come over New Year’s Eve and the first two weeks of January escaping the freezing and ugly weather in Europe for some beached in the Caribbean and an amazing cultural heritage everywhere in Cuba! For now, this is way another incredible trip whatsoever. No need to travel very far to reach some of the most unique and incredible places on earth from one of the once most fascinating and developed ancient civilization, the Greek. Agrigento was back then, Akragas; one of the leading cities of Magna Graecia. Sicily is Italy, that’s for sure, however over the past millennia this has not been the case and before the Romans, the Greek were here, among other past civilizations.

Reaching this place becomes a rush of excitement since it’s one of this key destinations for any ancient civilization lover. It is, and it will be, as when I finally get to reach Persepolis or the Machu Picchu, or when I walked past the siq into the “Treasury” building in Petra. Here you will find some of the most elaborate, large and best preserved Greek temples from this civilization, comparable to these of another former Magna Graecia jewels, Paestum (southern Italy).

A magnificent city founded around 580 BC, it developed prosperously being one of the richest and most important cities of the Greek Colony, once of the oldest democracies in the world until the Carthaginians in 406 BC overthrew it to never recover. Thereafter disputed between the Carthaginians and the Romans during both Punic Wars, it fully became part of Rome in 210 BC who renamed it Agrigentum. Both Greek and Latin were the official languages for many centuries afterwards until the fall of Rome changing hands to the Vandalic and Ostrogothic kingdoms before the Byzantine Empire. Lastly the Normans during the entire medieval period until the unification of Italy in 1860 leaded by Giuseppe Garibaldi. (more…)

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Trapani, (Italy)

“Ancient Greek Drepanon”

Segesta and Trapani, Italy, December 2017

Once again returning to Palermo in Sicily however with a different objective. A year ago this was for properly visiting this incredible city; yet in this occasion the main points were reaching Trapani right after arriving into Palermo’s airport, and the following day for one of the most spectacular cities from the ancient Greek civilization, Agrigento with its Valley of the Temples. All in all, another busy weekend ahead, but no matter how tired I get this all is well worth it and will keep doing it on and on for as long as I can. Also, returning to Palermo will be a reality for sure, with so much more to see west of the island and in the city itself, it’s the perfect gateway.

Often bypassed by tourists, the city has a lot to see and do. Much more that I did originally think and expected. And when saying this, I am also including the nearby mountain top village of Erice which is linked to Trapani by cable car and you can consider another district of the city, and if time permitting, it’s way worth it visit the ancient Greek city of Segesta with its marvelous Doric temple so incredibly well preserved. It’s matter of minutes by train or bus from downtown Trapani, hence as if it would be another city’s district.

The historic city centre in the other hand, is small and easy to navigate, that’s the good news hence why this is a perfect day trip from larger Palermo at the northeast, or Agrigento at the south of the island where tourists prefer to make their main base; myself among them of course by staying in Palermo. (more…)

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