See below for stories about Murano and Burano and San Gimignano.
Murano and Burano
Islands of Glass, Lace, and Brightly Colored Houses
By Scott Kendall
When you hear the word Murano, you immediately think of glass. Artfully blown glass consisting of a rainbow of colors in whimsical shapes of fish, horses, chickens, unicorns and other creatures. Everyday items like bowls and mugs and plates come alive with images and designs you have never seen or even imagined. Jewelry of every taste continue to bedazzle you in the many shops of Murano and Burano.
As you pass through the various shops and factories, you will not only see the creations, but also the creators. Keep your eyes open and you will see craftsmen in the large factories or in small mom and pop stores, plying their craft with blowtorches and the nimble touch needed to create the many delicate pieces of art. You can see many examples of the Murano glass in Venice, but there is something special about being on the small island of Murano where much of the art is actually created and displayed. In addition, you avoid the high markup of the more expensive Venice vendors.
We caught an early morning vaporetto around 8:30 on our last day in Venice to visit the islands of Murano and Burano. As we mentioned, Murano is known for its glass, and Burano is best known for its lace and brightly colored houses. Note that the vaporettos that visit Murano, Burano and Torcello (another popular island we did not visit) are different than those that service Venice proper. Therefore, you may need to take a vaporetto to the north side of the main islands (to the Fundamenta Nuve stop), disembark, and then get on another vaporetto (number 12, for example) to continue on to Murano and Burano. Since we were staying in a small B&B in the middle of Cannaregio, we had a 10 minute walk northeast to our vaporetto stop on the north shore of Venice. By water, Murano is about 20 minutes from Venice, and Burano is about another 25 minutes. As we left the Nuve stop we saw an island on our right, full of trees, a few buildings, and, we were told, many bodies. Yes, it is a giant cemetery, and there are vaporettos that stop there (but not number 12) if you are so inclined. We did not stop, but we had a good view from the vaporetto and took several pictures of the intriguing cemetery.
We arrived in Murano at the Faro stop around 9:00 am. The town was just waking up. A few shops and cafes were already open, but many others were still asleep from the night before. We strolled through one large glass factory store, and saw some very interesting pieces. The owner showed us several beautifully crafted works of art, and assured us we could “inexpensively” ship anything we bought to the states.
Since we had not eaten, we decided to find a place for a bite. On a charming little canal around the corner from the glass factory, we found a little cafe just opening up. In fact, as I walked through the open front door, I saw one of the workers removing a dozen freshly baked croissants out of the oven. Man, they smelled good! We ordered croissants and cappuccinos, and sat down at a small outside table, and leisurely enjoyed our breakfast while watching boats float down the canal lined with shops, churches, and other old buildings. After eating our croissant, we set out for the bell tower we could see from the café. As we got closer, we were intrigued by a large blue structure at the base of the tower. The closer we got, the cooler it became, a starburst of light and dark blues glistening in the sun. We found out that this was Simone Cenedese’s “Comet Glass Star”, located in the middle of Santo Stephano square.
Now mid morning, the area had perked up with shops opening and more tourists checking out their wares. Window shopping was fun, exploring shop after shop, and buying a few trinkets to take home. My wife found one particular jewelry shop that she really liked, and found some earrings and other jewelry for friends and family – and, of course, a little bit for herself!
After spending a wonderful morning in Murano, we boarded the vaporetto for Burano. As we approached the island, we noticed the much publicized colored houses of Burano, with multiple hues of reds, blues, yellows, greens and others. Approaching noon, we walked along a canal in Burano, admiring the colored houses, the lace, glass and other merchandise in the shops. Several restaurants caught our eye, and we decided to eat at an inviting café on the canal, decorated with a festival of brightly colored umbrellas and flowers. We enjoyed our pizza and grilled vegetables, and sipped on bright orange colored aperol spritzes (a tasty concoction of proseco, aperol and seltzer) as we relaxed and enjoyed the scenery.
With fond memories, we made our way to the vaporetto to head back to Venice. We were thankful we had that extra day to enjoy Murano and Burano – a nice respite from the larger crowds, hustle and bustle of Venice.
A fairytale medieval town with tall towers, cobblestone streets, unbelievable views of the Tuscan countryside, and the friendly little winery of Sovestro in Poggio
By Scott Kendall
Ask anyone famiiar with the Tuscan wine country and everyone of them will identify San Gimignano as one of the “must see” villages. After spending a couple of days there, I can definitely see why. We were lucky to find a great little bed-and-breakfast at booking.com, Il Fossi, which was located just outside the walls of San Gimignano. Il Fossi has free parking right in front of the bed-and-breakfast, which also had a quaint pizzeria on the first floor. Across the street was the walled city of San Gimignano, and the city center was a short five minute walk from our bedroom. All for just 94 euros per night.
We actually ate there twice, and were very impressed with their friendly service and a very tasty gargonzola-apple-walnut-feta pizza. This was also the restaurant where I had my first taste of grappa, the very highly concentrated (60% alcohol) drink distilled from the remains of grape skins and juices leftover in the wine making process. It smells terrible and tastes even worse, but is supposed to be great for the digestion!
Looking for a mid afternoon snack on the main square of San Gimignano, we had our choice of two world champion gelaterias. We chose Gelateria Dondoli, and indeed it was wonderful – I thoroughly enjoyed my stracciatella and mint chocolate chip, relaxing by the travertine cistern in the center of Piazza della Cisterna, wondering what spirits might be roaming the Torre del Diavolo (the Devil’s Tower). We enjoyed the old church and the charming shops, and followed a sign down a narrow alley that advertised “Vista Panoramica”(panoramic views). Upon turning the corner we found ourselves walking on a pathway on the perimeter of the old town, with breathtaking views. Several couples were sitting at an outdoor café enjoying their Aperol Spritz along with the view.
One of the highlights of our Italian vacation was definitely our visit to the quaint little winery of Sovestro in Poggio. A five minute car ride or a 15 minute walk from San Gimignano, this small family winery is nestled in the hills overlooking the town of San Gimignano and the surrounding vineyards and landscape Tuscany is world famous for. We joined a small group of 18 visitors for a tour and tasting. For only €28 per person, this was a great deal. First we went on about a one hour tour through the vineyards, the beautiful grounds, the olive trees, and the wing of the building where they explained how the grapes were brought in for the fermentation process.
Our tour leader was Fausto, one of the owners of the winery, who was very personable, pleasant, funny and accommodating. He explained about the wines and grapes in the region, and in particular their wines at Sovestro in Poggio. He answered many questions with patience and insight, and said of his winery, “… our small family winery, it makes me very proud.” He has a lot to be proud of.
After our brief tour, we all gathered under the shade on a homey terrace overlooking the beautiful countryside. We were served a wonderful lunch with three different wines topped off by tasty biscotti and a nice sweet dessert wine. Lunch consisted of rubilatti, local salami, pancetta, cheeses, bruchetta with fresh tomatoes and olive oil, and a local honey, pure and sweet. The wines and olive oils served were wonderful, and of course we had to order some to have shipped back to Texas so we could enjoy more when we arrived home.
Our compliments to Fausto, his family and staff at Sovestro in Poggio. They provided us with a wonderful afternoon of fun, delicious food and wines, beautiful scenery, and memories of Tuscany we will never forget.
Cinque Terre: A Scenic Hike from Monterosso to Vernazza
The Cinque Terre (5 lands) is a beautiful area on the northwest coast of Italy with five small villages spread across a short has become one of the most popular places to visit in Italy. The views are amazing, the landscape beautiful, and the architecture and buildings awe inspiring. Cinque Terre was definitely one of the highlights of our 2 week summer vacation.
Many of the sites are best experienced by hiking along the coastline on foot, but they can also be enjoyed by taking the train. If you choose to walk the paths, do be aware that there are parts of the walk that have many very steep hills to climb, especially in between Monterosso and Vernazza. Even for the physically fit and adventurous, the trails along the coastline may be a challenge, but those steep climbs are rewarded by magnificent views. The total length of the Blue Path, which connects the five villages, is about 7.5 miles long. However, even if you are not the type that loves to hike, you can easily take a train to each of the five villages and still get a good taste of what they have to offer.
We chose to spend the night in La Spezia, a lively town about a 15 minute train ride from our first stop in CT at Monterosso, which is the furthest village just northwest of La Spezia. Upon arrival in Monterosso around 9:00 in the morning, we left the train station, had a cappuccino at a small waterfront café, and then explored the hilltops of Monterosso. We immediately climbed the first of many steps that day, a winding five minute journey up to an unexpected little church and a cemetery, where hundreds of Italians had made their final resting spot The views were spectacular, and the church, graves and crypts were fascinating.
After exploring Monterosso, we headed south east on the Blue Path towards the coastal village of Vernazza. About a two hour hike, the trail from Monterosso to Vernazza is one of the longest and most difficult of the trips between villages. We did not mind the physicality of the walk and climb. In fact it was a welcome respite to stop every so often to rest and admire the wonderful view down below us. The ocean and trees and vineyards in the villages below were a sight to see.
The trail was full of surprises. Hiding around each turn was a small stream, an old bridge, a beautiful hydrangea bush or lemon tree as we made our way up.
A quick word about the Cinque Terre Trail. It is a public park, and there is a 7.5 Euro per adult charge. We actually bought the Cinque Terre Train Multi-Service Card, which includes use of the walking trails and unlimited use of regional trains from La Spezia, which cost us 16 Euros each. It is definitely worth considering if you plan on taking the train often.
Then about halfway through the trail, we began to hear the faint sound of music. We went a little further and to our surprise an older gentleman was playing lively accordion music smack dab in the middle of nowhere. I filmed a short video, put a few euro in his cup, and thanked him for brightening our day.
Reaching the top
After a seemingly endless ascent, the path finally stopped going up and began to go down. We smiled at each other knowing we had reached the top and that going down would be a bit easier. Every step was a new photo opportunity. I took pictures of the coastline the ocean and the beach. I took pictures of living trees and hydrangeas growing in the middle of the mountains. Finally towards the end of our first leg, we saw the village of Vernazza down on the coastline perched on the rocky peninsula below. We had worked up quite an appetite during our hike, I was looking forward to a nice meal and Carranza. There were many seaside restaurants to choose from. He ended up eating at a small restaurant. I ordered gnocchi with shrimp. The gnocchi with excellent. Kind of like potato dumplings which were very tasty, and an excellent pairing with the shrimp. The shrimp were served with all of the shell intact, so it’s a bit of a chore to get to the meat – kind of like us Texans eating crawfish :-). But the effort was worth it, as the shrimp was excellent and complemented the gnocchi beautifully.
Tired out from our two hour hike from Monterosso to Vernazza, we decided to take the train to Cornelia. That part of the trip was easy. However, once we got to Corniglia, we realized the only way to get to the town was by – well, of course, by climbing more steps – but this time, ‘just’ 350 steps to the top of the cliff.
This walk was not too terribly hard, and it was worth it to get to the top and again see many wonderful views, the town center and another old church. We even found a small market where we grabbed a cold Coca-Cola to refresh ourselves.
Next we took the train to Manarola. It was also a beautiful little city. Not as many steps straight up but still a lot of winding paths and roads that had a steep incline. We were pretty worn out so we shopped a little bit and then decided to take the train back to La Spezia to enjoy a restful evening.
We had found a beautiful bed and breakfast on Airbnb tucked in a nice quiet residential area near the center of town, just down the street from a music conservatory.
We were only minutes away from a park on the water, which made for a lovely evening stroll. The bed-and-breakfast had a beautiful garden with a small table and two chairs and an umbrella. My wife and I bought a bottle of wine at the local supermarket and relaxed for an hour, chatting, drinking our wine, and reminiscing about our wonderful day in Cinque Terre.