WINTER WONDERLANDS – ITALIAN STYLE sepia memories of a magical trip

The travel destinations I have liked most have had two things in common; good food and drink, and dramatic landscape. For me, these are the two essentials that not only ensure an enjoyable trip, but also make me want to return again and again.

1 Cresta Yula
Cresta Yula

Thus far in my life, no country has consistently epitomised those two qualities more than Italy, and one trip there in particular stands out for me as an exemplar.

2 Setting off from Hel Brunner
Setting off on Hel Brunner

During the late 1970’s and early 1980’s I was fortunate enough to ski Christmas and New Year at the Italian Alpine resort of Courmayeur. And although the skiing itself was not particularly challenging, this was more than compensated for by Courmayeur’s spectacular location at the foot of Western Europe’s tallest mountain, Mont Blanc (Monte Bianco) and the hearty, local Valdostana cuisine. Days spent skiing through landscape straight out of a Martini commercial, followed by evenings dining on rich chamois stews washed down with copious amounts of black-red Nebbiolo wines made for exceedingly happy times.

3 Monte Bianco from Courmayeur
Mont Blanc (Monte Bianco) from Courmayeur

Then, in 1981, I had an Italian girlfriend from a village near Cremona, only a three-hour drive from Courmayeur, and so decided to take a few days off from skiing to visit her.

3 Garda Dusk
Girl and Garda Dusk

She, in turn took me to her family apartment on the shores of Lake Garda where we spent an idyllic 48 hours where, among other wonderful things, I had my first taste of genuine Italian home cooking. But even more special than the food was the fact that we had the magisterial lake, and its enchanting winter light all to ourselves.

4 Lake Garda
Lake Garda

Fortunately I had my camera with me for both parts of what transpired as a trip of two deeply contrasting parts. The pictures presented here are digitally enhanced, sepia-filtered examples of some of the photographs I took then, designed to emulate my memories of a special time…

6 Girl at Garda
Garda Dusk
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PADUA – Stone and Water

Padua is most famous in the anglophone world at least for being the setting for Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, but it’s true importance lies in it’s role as one of the oldest and most important university cities in the world.

Arguably, the home of modern western medicine – indisputably the cradle of modern pathology – with strong associations to the likes of Galileo and Copernicus it’s legacy as a historic center of scientific learning is only surpassed by Cambridge. (This is particularly interesting when one realises that Padua University emerged from Bologna University in a way very similar to the way Cambridge emerged from Oxford – at about the same time.)

However, as a warning to the prospective visitor to Padua, it should be noted that for all it’s academic glories (and a couple of fabulous artworks by Giotto and Donatello) it falls far short of most of it’s city neighbours so far as things like charm and gastronomy are concerned. Nevertheless, like all Italian towns, it finds a way to smile back when one points a camera at it.

Presented here are a series of enhanced photographic images through which I make an attempt to transmit the feeling of a stroll through Padua’s  cobbled streets and along her narrow waterways…

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REGGIO EMILIA – CITY OF ARCADES AND BICYCLES (and no tourists!!)

How often one hears a place enthusiastically recommended for being “non-touristy”. My own local city in southern Spain, Malaga is often described in  theses terms (by me, among many others), but until my recent visit to Reggio Emilia I hadn’t fully appreciated what “non-touristy” means. If I mention that during my  four days in the city I only saw three cameras produced in anger (including my own) and that I only heard English spoken on two occasions, you begin to get the picture. But “non-touristy” is an accolade for several reasons, and all of them cliches that Reggio lived up to more than any supposedly “non-touristy” city I had previously encountered. For example, everything, but everything, from hotel rooms, to dining, to shopping was at least 20% cheaper than say, in the neighbouring – and allegedly more glamourous – city of Parma, and up to 50% cheaper than the regional capital of Bologna. And in addition to not ripping you off, most of the people are genuine, and sincerely welcoming. Moreover, there’s all the culture one would expect in a medium-sized Italian city – art (ancient and modern), churches, museums and three (yes three) thriving theatres. And as for the quality of the all’aperto atmosphere, especially  in the leafy Piazza Fontanesi, of a spring evening, it was the equal of anything I have experienced.

Finally, I should also point out that Reggio Emilia’s hams and sausages are every bit as delicious as those produced in the aforementioned Parma, and as for its balsamic vinegar, it makes that brewed in nearby Modena seem thin and bland by comparison.

Reggio Emilia is famous though for two things: Being the birthplace of the national Italian flag – the Tricolore, and being a center of Lambrusco wine production, the less said about the latter, the better…well, nowhere’s perfect!