A gem in an authentic Italian hamlet

“Italy is a dream that keeps returning for the rest of your life” – Anna Akhmatova

Choosing a favourite part of Italy is almost impossible

How could you separate the northern lakes of Lombardy; the north-eastern glories of Venice; awesome Tuscany and Florence; the southern Amalfi Coast; the Italian Riviera or ancient Rome – to name just a few.

Each is a treasure in its own right.

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Courtyard view

However, one of our favourites is Tramonti, a collection of 13 hamlets scattered among the rugged hills above the Amalfi Coast.

These hamlets largely retain a traditional Italian way of life. Here you’ll find vineyards, chestnut woods, olive trees, grazing sheep and scented lemon groves, set in a stunning landscape just eight kilometers from the sea.

Tramonti’s communities offer a buffer from the crowded Amalfi Coast and a glimpse of rural life just a short distance from hectic tourist resorts.

Regional products like Limonchello, the area’s famous liqueur; home-made cheeses, jams and pastries and other specialty foods are still produced there.

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Church Paterno Sant’Arcangelo

In one of the hilltop hamlets, we were introduced to Casa Cavo 15, a 200-year-old olive farm.

Perched on a steep mountainside, this charming house – the word Casa means ‘at home’ in Italian – is an ideal way to immerse yourself in traditional atmosphere largely untouched by today’s mass tourism.

We love the authentic Italian experience – and now you can too.

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Traditional terraced Italian gardens

Casa Cavo 15 is located in Paterno Sant’Arcangelo, a quiet and unpretentious hamlet, where gardens stagger up the hillsides, bursting with vegetables and citrus trees.

Traditional in every sense of the word, Paterno Sant’Archangelo is like a step back in time, with a clutch of narrow streets, the scent of flowers and plants and terraced hillsides.

And all around is the breath-taking majesty of the Lattari Mountains.

There is a small grocery shop in the hamlet – and only seven kilometres away through the mountains is the coastal town of Maiori with its retail facilities.

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Authentic Italian lifestyle

Casa Cavo 15 has been renovated to provide you with today’s conveniences.

On the top floor, the house has two standard double bedrooms – one with air conditioning – and a third room where mattresses can be placed on the floor if needed.

The authentic Italian feel continues down the stone steps to the ground floor where there is a big dining kitchen with an old fireplace and a table capable of seating about 12 people.

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The kitchen

Modern facilities to allow self-sufficiency include a cooker, oven, kettle, dishwasher, crockery and cutlery, utensils, drying rack and washing machine.

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The library

We were able to can relax on the sofa and watch TV, browse the Internet on the free wifi or take in the panoramic mountain views from the cosy courtyard under its spreading lemon trees.

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Relaxing and rustic courtyard

This courtyard is a wonderful space; shady and comfortable with an awe-inspiring view over the hamlet, gardens and across the mountains.

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Stunning mountain view

Studio flat

As an added attraction, the top floor of Casa Cavo 15 can be configured to offer a self-contained studio flat, with its own entrance from the garden; a kitchenette; bathroom and incorporating one of the bedrooms.

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A double bed

Behind the house, there are sweeping terraced areas and walking trails where you can either explore or just relax beneath the trees.

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Second room with a double bed

Casa Cavo 15’s location in a traditional mountain hamlet with narrow streets means that only tiny vehicles can drive to the front door.

Most guests park on the ancient street and then walk about 50 metres – including a section of very steep stone steps. For this reason, there is no real disabled access.

Exploring the mountain hamlets and coastal resorts requires a car. For example, the nearest supermarket is on the coast at Maiori, where there are also restaurants, beaches, playgrounds and other shops.

Maiori has been a coastal resort since ancient Roman times and boasts the longest stretch of beach on the Amalfi Coast

The house is also about 50 kilometres from the city of Naples and its airport.

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Room with a view ….. but most have!

Annette, the delightful Danish owner of Casa Cavo 15, lives only about 30 minutes from the house and couldn’t have been more helpful.

With her guidance, we were able to feel part of the community when we attended celebrations to mark the Feast Day of the village patron, Saint Michael the Archangel.

Enjoying Italian life

And, judging by the comments of previous visitors in the Guest Book, we certainly weren’t the first to enjoy the Italian way of living; Annette’s friendly hospitality and crucial advice; and revel in the more traditional values and lifestyle of the mountain hamlets – while within easy reach of the Amalfi Coast.

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Grand entrance

Casa Cavo 15 is normally let for holidays during the summer months between May and November. The rent is 2,500 Danish kroner (about 335 Euros depending on exchange rates) a week, plus an 80 Euro cleaning fee.

Annette is prepared to talk to prospective tenants during other months, but even in such a beautiful part of the planet, winter tends to dampen spirits.

If you are interested, Annette can be contacted by email at casacavo@ohl.dk.

Travel review: Rocky mountain high at Delphi

I had no idea why I was going to Delphi.

To be honest, it just seemed to me like something everyone did when they visited Greece.

But, now that Scoot Airlines had opened a new, cost-effective service between Australia and Athens, a trip to all the wonders of ancient Greece – including Delphi – suddenly became a reality.

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In retrospect, I’m pleased we made the effort to take a bus 180 kilometres from Athens to the foot of Mount Parnassos.

And I understand why Delphi sanctuary and stadium are the second most popular attractions in Greece – behind the Acropolis.

For a start, the location is awesome – a modern town, the ancient ruins and a museum overlooking the Gulf of Corinth and the Phocis valley of olive groves.

The ruins hug the mountainside so tightly that they appear to have been carved into the earth.

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In ancient times, Delphi was considered the centre of the known world; the place where heaven and earth met.

According to mythology, Zeus sent out two eagles from the ends of the universe. The eagles met at Delphi, which therefore became the navel of the world.

As we walked through the sanctuary, the monuments included columns of the ruined Temple of Apollo, where the Oracle of Delphi resided.

This priestess was the most famous fortune-teller of ancient Greece, even though many now say that she was high as a kite on fumes rising from a crack in the earth.

Our path through the ruins wound on past a large theatre, the Athenian Treasury, Sibyl Rock and the Stoa of the Athenians – to name a few of the highlights.

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At the peak of the ruins, there is an ancient stadium, where the Pythian Games were held every four years. These Games were one of four precursors of the modern Olympics.

Male athletes at ancient Greek Games competed naked with their bodies oiled – and I suspect that Sue wanted to check that none had been left behind.

But the rocky path to the stadium had been worn smooth by footsteps over the Centuries – and, after several near-slips, we decided to call it quits and head for the museum.

After lunch and a beer at the nearby tavern, we headed about half a kilometre away to see probably the most photographed of the ruins of Delphi, the Tholos. This is a circular building that was constructed between 360 and 380 BC.

Then it was back to Athens, with a greater understanding of the Pan-Hellenic sanctuary of Delphi, and its significance.

Note: The writer was flown to Athens courtesy of Scoot Airlines.

Travel review: Piran’s unusual history

In Slovenia, there’s a local joke that nothing is more than one hour away.

In a compact country that borders Austria, Croatia, Hungary and Italy and has only 43 kilometres of coastline, it’s fairly easy to move from centre to centre and one geographical feature to another.

In one direction, you’ll encounter stunning snow-capped alps and beautiful Lake Bled; in another is the striking capital city of Ljubljana; Italy is one hour away in yet another direction; or some of the world’s biggest limestone caves.

And, in the country’s south-west is the charming medieval walled town of Piran, on the Adriatic Coast.

Long regarded as a hidden jewell by travellers in the know and the source of acclaimed world class salt, Fleur de Sel, Piran is a remarkably attractive and photogenic old port town with a complex history.  These days, visitors flock to the town to enjoy community events, the culinary offerings and natural attractions

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We travelled to Piran because we’d heard so much about its astonishing mixture of architecture that reflects an unusual history – to say the least!

For example:

  • by the 7th Century, Piran was under Byzantine rule
  • in about 952 AD, it became part of the Holy Roman Empire.
  • from 1283 to 1797, Piran was in the Republic of Venice
  • in 1797, it was annexed to the Austrian Empire
  • between 1806 and 1814, it was ceded to the Napoleonic Empire
  • at the end of the 19th Century and the start of the 20th Century, Piran was Austro-Hungarian
  • after the First World War, the town was ceded to Italy.
  • in 1954, Piran was annexed to Yugoslavia – and much of its population chose to move to Italy or abroard.
  • since 1991, the town has been part of Slovenia.

If that isn’t confusing enough, the town is bilingual, with both Slovene and Italian listed as official languages.

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And, its municipality borders Croatia to the south and faces Italy across the Gulf of Trieste and the Adriatic Sea.

This melting pot of history gives Piran a distinctive and attractive appearance.

The Venetian influence is strong, with an imposing town square and sweep of red rooftops.

The remains of the town wall have a Roman look, although in reality they have been altered several times through the years.

There are three walls, dating to the 7th Century and a total of seven gates or entrances to the town.

And the medieval feel is also pronounced, with a lot of narrow streets and compact houses.

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And through its complex history, Piran flourished largely because of its salt pans, which were established in 804 AD. 

We walked to the remains of the third town wall and nearby St George’s Church which dominates the main hill above the town .

Then we strolled along the breakwall to the tip of Piran peninsula, watching young swimmers braving the cold waters of the Adriatic.

After a coffee in one of the many cafes and seafood restaurants along the waterfront, we returned to Tartini Square, named after one of the towns most famous residents – the 17th Century violinist, Giuseppe Tartini

It may be only an hour away from everywhere in Slovenia, but medieval Piran is a stunning Adriatic coastal resort that is a ‘must see’ when visiting Slovenia.

Note: The writer was flown to Europe courtesy of Scoot Airlines

Destination review: See the lost city

If you’re planning to visit Athens, don’t miss the ancient city beneath the ancient city.

Remains of streets, houses, bathhouses and workshops from about the 7th to the 9th centuries AD can be seen below the Acropolis museum in the Makriyianni area of the Greek capital.

The ruins of the ancient settlement were uncovered during initial construction of the museum, which opened in mid-2007 within walking distance of the iconic Acropolis.

 

In what was initially considered a controversial move, the museum was constructed above the ruins in a way that allows visitors to look at the ancient Roman and early Byzantine foundations.

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We’d already been to the Acropolis, the symbol of ancient Greek civilisation and one of the most visited places in the world – and we then walked down the southeast side of the hill.

We turned off Dionysiou Areopagitou Street onto the glass walkway that leads to the museum entrance.

Looking down through the glass, we could see the start of excavations of an ancient urban settlement.

Then we came to a large viewing hole cut in the walkway to better display well-preserved remains from the 7th century AD.

These included a large circulat foundation of a Byzantiine tower, into which people were throwing coins like a wishing well.

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The Acropolis Museum, Athens
The glass floor continues into the museum proper to allow visitors to view even more of the excavations.

We checked with staff and were told that, by sitting the museum on pillars, the contemporary building deliberately floated above the Makriyianni foundations.

When excavations are finished, it’s hoped that museum visitors will be able to learn about the history and religious significance of the Acropolis at the same time as understanding the daily lives of people who lived in the shadow of the temples.

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The Acropolis
The museum itself displays more than four-thousand objects from the Acropolis, covering periods from the Bronze Age to Roman and Byzantine Greece.

It is a well-designed modern museum, with an easy ‘flow’ of exhibits, plenty of seating and a video area on the top floor. The interior escalators make the building particularly assessible and the large windows offer an excellent views of the Acropolis.

Because the museum is so centrally-located, it is close to most of the main attractions in Athens and is easy to find.

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That area of Athens is named after Ioannis Makrygiannis, a general in the Greek War of Independence, who once owned a house and land nearby.

Note: The writer flew to Greece from Australia courtesy of Scoot Airlines, on its Sydney-Singapore-Athens service.

Review: can modern planes really prevent jet lag

Courtesy of Scoot Airlines, we recently tested whether its Sydney-Athens services offered a viable gateway to Europe – especially for senior travellers.

Scoot opened its doors and allowed us to frankly and objectively experience the service – and report our findings.

FullSizeRender 2.jpgThe results in details are here but, in short, we found that it was a particularly cost-effective and time-effective way of getting from Australia to the capitals of Europe.

Like all flights from Australia, it is a long way but the well priced ScootBiz premium service is so comfortable that the airline really comes into its own – at a cost comparable to the gruelling Economy experiences of other long-haul carriers.

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There was one key aspect that we didn’t report on at the time.

The 787 Boeing Dreamliner aircraft are also said to prevent the dry-throat and jet lag that usually accompany such a long flight. We waited a see how we pulled up after the flight before we commented on our experience.

Well… we found that, amazingly, the Scoot Dreamliner ‘s additional humidity certainly prevented flight dry-throat.

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And, frankly, we were nowhere near as jet lagged as usual after returning from Europe.

For a few days, we still woke up in the middle of the night and felt like sleeping in the morning.

But we didn’t experience that woozy ‘drunken’ feeling, or the slight ache in the pit of the stomach.

We’re unsure whether the Scoot Dreamliner’s continual lighting system was the reason ……. but there was a definite difference which, as senior travellers, we really appreciated.

Peskesi: tastes and aromas of Crete

Where shall I find you, how shall I see you, what gift shall I bring you to make you remember Crete, to make you raise from the dead?

We stumbled into Peskesi Restaurant by mistake – but it was one of the best errors imaginable.

During a visit to the wonderful island of Crete, we were looking for somewhere that served traditional food in Heraklion.

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We’d heard of Peskesi – widely touted as one of the best, if not the the finest restaurant in Crete – but we were having trouble finding it.

After doing a couple of laps of the city centre, we shrugged and decided to look look for another place to sample the legendary Cretan cuisine.

We walked into a lovely old building in the heart of Heraklion (and there are many) and asked if we needed a reservation to eat.

To our amazement, we had found Peskesi Restaurant without realising it. Some things are just meant to be!

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The restaurant is in a traditional ‘Cretan House’, set up in the restored historic mansion of Captain Polyxigkis, a prominent Cretan freedom fighter from the 1860’s.

This setting has resulted in Peskesi being ranked among the 80 best designed bar-restaurants in the world and the top 10 in Europe.

As we sat down, a Canadian couple nearby whispered how fortunate we were to be admitted without a reservation.

Apparently, the waiting list can be daunting.

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And one taste of Peskesi’s home-made breads and Cretan salad told us why.

It was awesome: an explosion of tastes from the fresh produce grown at the restaurant’s own farm, where more than 25 kinds of fruit and vegetables are cultivated.

This was followed by slices of meat served on hooks standing over a bed of smoking herbs – washed down by a small glass of Cretan Raki/Tsikoudia and honey.

As we booked a reservation for the following night, I asked about the name ‘Peskesi”. The waiter politely referred me to the restaurant’s website.

This is what I found:

The inspiration for our name came from our great writer and philosopher, Nikos Kazantzakis, and his book “Report to Greco”, a fictional autobiography, where he addresses his Cretan “grandfather”, Domenikos Theotokopoulos, with the following excerpt: “: “But you had turned into a flame. Where shall I find you, how shall I see you, what gift shall I bring you to make you remember Crete, to make you raise from the dead? Only the flame can be at your mercy; oh, if only I could become a flame to meet you”.

Peskesi is located in Heraklion, Crete.

The writer flew to Greece courtesy of Scoot Airlines.


 

An encounter with a brazen lady

Naples: the skin tingles.

Description: chaotic but edgy and sensual.

Question: How could we have avoided her for so long?

Answer: In past visits, we’d stuck to the well-worn tourist trails leading to Italy’s Sorrentine peninsula, Capri and the Amalfi Coast.

Result: I was always curious about Napoli and its reputation for being exactly the opposite of elegant Florence, tendy Milan and stately Rome.

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My curiousity increased with tales of cruise ship tourists refusing to disembark there, apparently rattled by fears of pickpockets, mafia and drug wars.

This city intrigued me. Like that often quoted saying ‘See Naples and Die’. What exactly did that mean? Were tourists wise to be spooked?

Sorrento and the Amalfi, I was told, were like the southern belles of Italy – alluring in their pastel colours and genteel manners. Naples flirted openly – suggestive and gritty.

Yet, intriguing or not, we never found our way to the city under Mount Vesuvius until Gert’s car GPS experienced problems on the way from the ruins of Herculaneum.

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Suddenly, we were tangled in the urban canyons of suburban Naples – and my senses were on overload.

Street drama

The area was the very epicentre of Neopolitan life played out on crowded and dilapidated streets, with just a hint of danger.

It was in-your-face and overwhelmingly loud – a warren of narrow roads and lanes, confusing street signs, poverty, drying laundry and graffiti.

Men in sweaty singlets, trucks overladen with fresh fruit, kamikaze motorcyclists, women in tight shorts and heels, traffic signals that no one seemed to obey – all wrapped in the smells of coffee and pizza.

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How, I wondered, could anyone be indifferent to this raucous streetscape. Surely, it was either appalling or captivating!

Either way, it was a remarkable experience and, unlike those cruise ship tourists, I was excited by the intense, heaving humanity around me – and keen to see more.

Later, we sat in a quiet hillside coffee shop where a shrine to the Madonna looked down on us from a roadside tree and the city spread out below – from the Bay of Naples to Vesuvius and the Lattari Mountains.

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I made a mental note to return if possible and to truly experience the streets and life of Naples.

Note: the writer was flown to Europe by Scoot Airlines