Top Tips for Italy Travel 2015 #2

Do you need ID when travelling in Italy?

Do you need ID when travelling in Italy?

We recently asked out wonderful tour guides for some more top tips for travel in Italy. This gem comes from our expert Florence tour guide, Corinna:

Always have photo ID on you when travelling in Italy!

When on holiday in Italy, it is quite tempting to leave most of your documents in the hotel safe.

It is however the law in Italy that you must carry photo ID on you at all times.

Aside from your passport needed to catch flights, other times when you might need to show ID on your Italy holiday include:

  • Registering at hotels
  • Retrieving museums tickets
  • At the security checks you must pass through to get into many major sites, such as the Vatican for example
  • To purchase reduced-priced tickets for children
  • To utilise the internet at some internet cafés
  • When registering for an Italian cell phone
  • When asked by the local police
  • If you receive a traffic fine
  • To collect pre-reserved train tickets
  • To collect rental cars (when a driver’s licence is required)
  • Sending parcels abroad at the post office or via courier

If you’re not so keen on carrying originals, you can just carry a clear photocopy of your ID most of the time. However, do be sure to check if this is acceptable. If you are crazy enough to drive in Italy, you will need your original driver’s license for example.

Driving in Italy?

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Top Tips for Italy Travel 2015 #1

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Planning a trip to Italy?

A little while back, we made a fun series of travel videos offering Top Travel Tips for Italy Trips.

Now, we are here to share some new tips for travelling in Italy, gathered from our expert tour guides and other locals.

And the first tip on the list for having a great time on your next travel to Italy is…

Lose yourself!

By which we mean, allocate a few hours or a full day to just wander around each Italian town and city you visit. Get totally lost and totally enjoy it!

Don’t worry if you have no idea where you are. It is in this way that you can stumble across the most charming streets, discover tiny artisan stores, visit locals markets and other gems off the beaten path.

You can pop into a local coffee shop or stop someone on the street if you need to ask for directions. Do be sure to carry a map with you though. And remember, you can always call a taxi* to take you back to your accommodation at the end of the day.

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* Bonus tip: Taxis don’t always stop when being flagged down on the street. You may have to go to an allocated taxi stand or call a taxi. Ask at your accommodation for the local number.

Off the tourist track in Italy.

Off the tourist track in Italy.

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All eyes on Artemisia: BBC Documentary with Michael Palin + conference in Florence

Judith Beheading Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi

Judith Beheading Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi

We at ArtViva have been all about Artemisia Gentileschi of late.

ArtViva has been working with the BBC on their production of a documentary featuring Michael Palin.

We are also proudly sponsoring a conference and its filming on this acclaimed Italian Baroque painter, as a gift from ArtViva to support world-class research on Artemisia Gentileschi.

Whilst you’ll have to stay tuned to the BBC to see the interesting documentary, we can share details of the conference in Florence.

On 6-7 May 2015 in Florence, Italy, the 3rd Annual Jane Fortune Conference will be held, titled “Artemisia Gentileschi: Interpreting New Evidence, Assessing New Attributions”.

Organised by the Medici Archive Project, the event will be hosted by the British Institute in Florence and Galleria Palatina at Palazzo Pitti.

Born in 1593, Artemisia Gentileschi was somewhat of a trailblazer, being the first females to be accepted into the Accademia di Arte del Disegno. It was in the Rome studio of her artist father, Orazio Gentileschi, that she learnt the skills of her artist trade before going on to live in Florence, Venice, Rome and Naples, where she ultimately retired and likely passed away in 1656.

Artemisia Gentileschi often featured women protagonists in her work. Occasionally they were depicted as heroes, occasionally villains or victims. Artemisia herself was said to have variously played some of these roles, having been raped before taking the then-uncommon step of naming her attacker publically and seeing him prosecuted. She then went on to become one of the greatest artists of all time.

Artworks by Artemisia Gentileschi can be found in various locations around Italy. In Florence, her works are in the Uffizi Gallery and Pitti Palace, in Rome at the Spada Gallery and in Naples in the Capodimonte Museum, to name but a few.

Her most famous artwork is “Judith Slaying Holofernes”, in which Holoferns meets his gruesome end being decapitated in a rather ghastly manner.

In light of new archival evidence about Artemisia Gentileschi that has recently come to light, there has been a great resurgence of interest in this intriguing Italian female artist.

The Artemisia Gentileschi conference in Florence will also focus on new works that have recently been attributed to her.

Attendance is free of charge, however there are limited places so it is recommended to reserve in advance. To do so, please contact Sofia Novello at the British Institute: snovello[at]britishinstitute[dot]it.


The Artemisia Gentileschi conference in Florence programme:

Wednesday, 6 May, 5:00-7:30pm

Location: Sala Bianca, Galleria Palatina, Palazzo Pitti

Inaugural remarks by Matteo Ceriana, Anna Bisceglia, Alessio Assonitis, and Jane Fortune.

Keynote Address by Mary D. Garrard, Professor Emerita, American University, Washington, DC – “Identifying Artemisia: The Archive and the Eye”


Thursday, 7 May, 9:00 am – 6:30 pm

Location: Sala Wanda Ferragamo in the Harold Acton Library, the British Institute

Opening remarks by Mark Roberts and Sheila Barker

Patricia Simons – “Artemisia’s Susanna and the Elders in Counter-Reformation Rome”

Julia Vicioso – “Artemisia Gentileschi and Costanza Francini in Rome”

Jesse Locker – “Reinventing Artemisia. The Formation of an Artist”

Laura Agoston – “Allegories of Inclination and Imitation at the Casa Buonarroti”

Sheila Barker – “All Investment at Risk. Artemisia’s Entrepreneurship in Florence”

Francesco Solinas – “Basta! Artemisia, Painter and Courtesan”

Consuelo Lollobrigida – “Women Artists in Casa Barberini: Virginia, Artemisia, Plautilla and Anna Maria”

Gianni Papi – “Artemisia: The Rediscovery of the Magdalene in Prayer, and New Reflections on a Vexed Problem of Attribution”

Christina Currie – “Mary Magdalen in Ecstasy: a Rediscovered Painting by Artemisia Gentileschi”

Riccardo Lattuada – “Unknown Paintings by Artemisia in Naples, and New Points Regarding Her Daily Life and Bottega”

Judith Mann – “Three Additions to Artemisia’s Oeuvre and How They Re-shape Our Understanding of Three Phases of Her Career”

Valerie Drummond – “Artemisia’s Missing British Portraits: A Case Study”

Eve Straussman-Pflanzer – “Artemisia’s Art Market: A Gendered Examination of Early Modern Value”

Roundtable Discussion. Moderator: Sheila ffolliott

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The best gelato in Florence?

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Where can you find the best gelato in Florence?

Right now, we are enamoured with the gelato of Marco Ottaviano from Il Gelato Gourmet.

In the last few months, we have been very happily working our way through the delicious flavours on offer in this gem of a gelateria in Florence.

Chatting with the owner and his lovely wife Cinzia one day, we were invited to have a private gelato lesson with Marco, an absolute gelato expert.

We were shown how, using only fresh and quality ingredients, Marco prepares the gelato base.

His first secret is to use only a few, top-quality ingredients that are carefully measured out to make the base of what may just be the best gelato in Florence.

Following ancient traditions, the gelato is made fresh each day in small quantities to avoid using artificial preservatives and other non-essential additives.

There are then various ways to add the flavour to the gelato.

To achieve a coffee-flavoured gelato for example, the coffee beans are soaked in the liquid base mixture. Their aroma is infused into the liquid before the beans are strained off and the liquid is churned to produce the best gelato al café we have ever tasted.

The Italian version of chocolate chip ice-cream is known as “stracciatella”, which means something more like “streaky”. Once a creamy basic gelato has been made, quality melted chocolate is stirred in to leave ‘streaks’ of chocolate throughout.

Similarly, for Philadelphia cheese gelato the base gelato is made before the cream cheese is stirred in using an immersion blender.

The end result is our favourite gelato in Florence!

Ask Marco about private gelato lessons. We also have a great range of hands-on cooking classes in Florence and Cooking Classes in a Tuscan Villa.

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World's Fair Milan 2015

Milan Expo 2015

The Milan Expo is set to open on 1st May 2015.

But what exactly is the World Expo?

Known also as the World Exposition, World Fair or Universal Exposition, it is a tradition that dates back to 1844 when Paris held a national fair, the French Industrial Exposition. This then grew into first a European and then international trend.

The International Exhibitions Bureau was established as the official Expo sanctioning body as of 1928.

The first World Expo was held in London, England, in 1851 with the name “Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations”. This Expo had a great impact on international trade and tourism, a good start for the world’s fair tradition indeed.

The first twenty or so World Expos kept the concept of industrialisation as their theme, until the New York World’s Fair of 1939 changed its focus to culture and cultural exchange.

The Expo ’88 held in Brisbane, Australia, saw a shift in focus of the Expo to national identity, seeing Expo becoming more a means to promote national identity through each country’s pavilion.

Today, the World Expo is still considered as a great platform for national promotion, however of late focus has also shifted back to innovation and culture.

For the 2015 Milan Expo, the theme is Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life. Its focus is on how tradition and technology mix with culture and creativity in the production of food for the world.

Subthemes of the Milan Expo 2015 include: Science for Food Safety, Security and Quality; Innovation in the Agro Food Supply Chain; Technology for Agriculture and Biodiversity; Dietary Education; Solidarity and Cooperation on Food; Food for Better Lifestyles; and, Food in the World’s Cultures and Ethnic Groups.

The 2015 Expo will be the second World’s Fair held in Milan, Italy. The first was in 1906 with the Milan International, also known as The Great Expo of Work (L’Esposizione Internazionale del Sempione) that attracted over 4 million visitors.

To visit the Milan Expo 2015, we have the Milan Expo in a Day, including private transfer from Milan’s central train station plus an Expo orientation, plus free time to explore the pavilions of the 144 countries participating, representing approximately 94% of the global population.

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Easter Foods in Italy

Photo kindly borrowed from

Traditional Italian Easter treat – La Colomba (Photo kindly borrowed from

Each holiday in Italy is marked by special foods enjoyed as part of the celebrations.

Easter in Italy is no different.

In the lead-up to Easter, the locals head to their local grocer, baker, butcher and the enotecca – wine shop – to find the best ingredients to go into their recipes… and their bellies.

At the grocer and the butcher store alike, there will be discussions about what dishes are being prepared before the grocer and butcher will caring select the best quality ingredients.

Asking for a kilo of, say, tomatoes in Italy will usually be met with a question about what dish you are preparing so that the perfect kind – or even the best blend – can be selected.

The traditional Easter recipe served on Easter Sunday is lamb. The butcher will similarly enquire about the dish to be made and the number of persons being catered for so as to cut the lamb in accordance with the traditional Italian recipe, often even throwing in a selection of fresh herbs.

Dessert is often a ‘Colomba’ – a sweet bread with candied fruits that is a typical sweet at Easter.

Aside from the wine consumed with lunch, Italians will usually cap off a big meal with an espresso coffee and possibly a liqueur like grappa or Limoncello, which are claimed to be ‘digestive’.

Our Italian Easter Menu

This year, our Easter menu in Tuscany will include a typical platter of delicious Tuscan cured meats including salami and prosciutto ham plus some scrumptious cheeses and plush olives grown and prepared by our neighbour.

Starters in Italy are typically pastas, risottos or soup dishes. Our Easter lunch will this year feature ricotta and spinach ravioli that we have made by hand.

The main will be a (hopefully) delicious lamb dish. We have a shoulder of lamb, to which we will add about 6-8 cloves of garlic, some fresh rosemary cut from the pots on the balcony plus some bay leaves pinched from the neighbour’s hedge (with permission), and about 600 grams of ripe tomatoes. A dash of red Chianti wine for the cook and for the pan, and we’ll be set!

First the lamb will be rubbed with extra virgin olive oil and salt. The meat will be placed in a roasting pan with a drizzle of olive oil on the base. Using a knife to make holes in the lamb, the garlic will be inserted into the slots together with some sprigs of rosemary. We then add the chopped tomatoes to the pan plus a splash of wine, before placing the pan into a pre-heated 180°C oven. The liquids should form a nice sauce as the meat cooks. It can take several hours just depending on the size of the cut of meat. One done, we’ll remove the garlic and rosemary before serving, with the remaining tomato in the pan spooned atop.

As it is traditional to serve lamb with a side of potatoes, we’ll also have roast spuds on the side sprinkled with a mix of salt and finely chopped sage and rosemary traditional of Tuscany.

For more traditional Tuscan recipes, join our hands-on cooking classes in Florence and Cooking Classes in a Tuscan Villa.

We also have a great range of Tuscany tours, including our great small-group Best of Tuscany tour.

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Easter in Italy

Easter in Rome, Italy

Easter in Italy

Easter in Italy is traditionally celebrated like most major holidays – with historic traditions, masses, and with delicious traditional foods.

If you’re visiting Italy over the Easter period, you may be interested in some of the great number of Easter events taking place around Italy to celebrate this special holiday in Italy including…

Easter Thursday in Italy:

At St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, holy oils are blessed throughout a mass held by the Pope both in the morning and again in the evening with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. During this service, the Pope washes the feet of twelve priests there to represent the acts of Christ at the last supper. Typically additional hosts will also be blessed for use during the Holy Friday mass at the Vatican.

Holy Friday in Italy:

Many parishes will put on a procession representing the Stations of the Cross – Via Crucis – around Holy Thursday and Holy Friday in Italy. These can be quite elaborate with costumes, horses and singing, particularly in the smaller towns and villages.

There is the ancient tradition that no mass be held on this day of mourning of Christ’s death. However one exception is a service that takes place at St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, Rome. After the mass, the Pope leads a Via Crucis procession around the Coliseum, also in honour of the martyrs who were said to have been killed there in during medieval times, likely referring to the Christians who were thrown to the lions for their faith. This procession has taken place since the 1700s.

Easter Saturday in Italy:

Known as on Black Saturday, many towns will illuminate the streets with torches or candles in red jars. Mass is typically held late in the evening, with new converts being officially received into the congregation throughout this service. Then at midnight, the church bells toll.

Scoppio del Carro in Florencefirenze

Easter Sunday in Italy:

Easter Sunday mass in Italy is celebratory in honour of Christ’s arising. There is much singing and merriment amongst the congregation.

Rome and of course Vatican City are packed with pilgrims at this time of year.

Easter in Florence rather is celebrated with the Scoppio del Carro (Explosion of the Cart), featuring a fantastic pyrotechnic display. A (nowadays mechanical) dove is released from the Florence Cathedral, Il Duomo, which is said to predict the quality of the upcoming crops, trade and the general well-being of the locals.

In the towns and cities of Italy, the air is filled with the sounds of merry church bells ringing. Many Italians will head to mass in the morning.

Although there is the charming saying in Italian, “Natale con i tuoi, pasqua con chi vuoi” (which translates to “Christmas with your family, Easter with who you choose”), most families will still gather for Easter Sunday lunch in Italy.

After lunch, Italians traditionally take a ‘passeggiata’ – a stroll around the town where they will stop to chat with their friends and neighbours, and work off a bit of the Easter feast!

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Heracles and Nessus restored in Florence, Italy



The statue of Ercole e Nesso in Florence's Uffizi Gallery

The statue of Ercole e Nesso in Florence’s Uffizi Gallery

In the late 1500s, Italian artist Giovanni Caccini completed his recreation of the Ercole e Nesso (Heracles and Nessus) statue. The artwork depicts the strong man of Greek mythology overpowering the centaur, not long before Heracles himself died from Nessus’ tainted blood.

Caccini’s statue was recreated from a possibly Roman certainly antique original, of which there remained just the feet. Although Caccini managed to recreate the statue from such a small starting point, scholars believe his recreation to be remarkably accurate.
This great work of art has recently been restored by the Friends of Uffizi Gallery group and can be seen in its home of the  Uffizi Gallery in Florence, where it welcomes visitors into one of Florence’s top museums.

The story behind the statue of Heracles and Nessus sees Heracles’ wife Deianeira being aided by Nessus to cross a river. Once on the banks, Nessus makes a move on Heracles’ lady. Heracles, seeing this pass from the opposite bank, fatally wounds Nessus with a poison arrow. His dying words are to Deianeira, telling him that his blood would make Heracles forever hers.

Not seeing the act of malice for what it was, she coats Nesso’s blood on Heracles’ robe which, once he adorned it, burned the Greek mythology hero to death. At this point, Heracles was taken to Mount Olympus where Zeus made him a god in thanks for his heroics.

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Michelangelo’s David in Florence, Italy

Michelangelo’s David is considered by many as the greatest artwork ever made.

Its creator, Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564), was pretty great too. Not only was he a sculptor, but also a painter (think, Sistine Chapel), architect (dome of St Peter’s Basilica), and even penned a few poems in his time.

Nearly a century prior to the creation of the David by Michelangelo, the Overseers of Florence’s Cathedral decided to commission a dozen sculptures representing Old Testament figures. The first was Joshua, made in terracotta by Donatelo in 1410.

After liking the results of Agostino di Duccio’s Hercules of 1463, the Overseers requested the artist make another statue, this time of David, to be carved in marble that was transported in from the famous Tuscan Carrara area.

Agostino made a start on the figure, however for some reason this project was abandoned, before being taken up again by Rossellino a decade later. However, even he did not complete the David statue and some 25 years passed before the Florentine powers that be decided to complete the statue so as not to waste the valuable marble.

In 1501, Michelangelo – at just 26 years of age – was commissioned to complete the statue of David. It took two years for him to complete the impressive figure of David. Towards its completion, it was decided to abandon the initial idea of placing the statue atop the Cathedral of Florence – not least because it weighed some 6 tons.

It was eventually decided to place Michelangelo’s David in front of Florence’s Town Hall building, Palazzo Vecchio, in the Piazza della Signora.

There it stood, exposed to the elements, from 1504 until 1873. At this time, the local government decided to move it to a specially-constructed room in the Accademia Gallery, Florence, where it stands to this day.

A replica was eventually placed in front of the Palazzo Vecchio in 1910.

Being quite a small exhibition space, the Accademia museum in Florence can be (and usually is) fairly crowded and entry queues quite long. Tickets cost approximately 11 euro each. Advance bookings (with an additional 4 euro) are highly recommended, either directly through the Firenze Musei or by booking our David – Accademia Tour.

What else is there to see in the Accademia besides the David? The Accademia also holds several other incomplete statues by Michelangelo, a cast of the Rape of the Sabine Woman by Giambologna, a small collection of Renaissance and Florentine Gothic paintings and a unique collection of Russian religious icons.

So how much time do you need to spend in the Accademia? Except the time you want to spend hanging out with ol’ Dave, you don’t really need much more than a half-hour or so.

Don’t forget to make use of the restrooms within the Accademia, as bathrooms can be hard to find in the Renaissance city.

We’re happy to share with you some photos of David that we took on a winter’s day when the museum was delightfully uncrowded.

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Fun times in Venice, Italy: Carnevale di Venezia

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Carnevale di Venezia is one of Venice, Italy’s most spectacular events.

Now held annually, the tradition of the Carnival of Venice dates back to 1162, when the Venice locals held massive celebrations after a victory in battle. In the Renaissance times, the anniversary of this military success grew into the Carnevale di Venezia.

Today, Carnevale in Venice concludes on the first day of the Christian Lent, acting as a big hoorah before six weeks of prayer and penance.

As if Venice itself doesn’t hold enough beauty and mystique, the Venice Carnival sees the locals don elaborate and ornate masks and fancy costumes to match, mostly harking back to the rich styles of the Renaissance.

During good times, this adornment of masks and costumes allowed locals to let themselves go, celebrating with anonymity that meant you were free to act without problems of social repercussions. During periods of hardship however, the festivities allowed the locals to forget their woes and be happy, if just for a short period.

From the start of the 1700s, the Carnival in Venice also helped put the city on the world map, bringing great fame and esteem to Venice.

However, in 1797, the ruling King of Austria banned Carnevale and the wearing of masks altogether. Despite several attempts to bring back the famous festival in Venice, it was only officially reinstated in 1979 as a governmental attempt to bring back cultural and historical traditions in Venice, Italy.

Today, around 3 million people flock to Venice during Carnevale.

One of our wonderful Venice tour guides took these photos around Venice during the Carnevale di Venezia to share with you!

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