Postcards from Italy
THE BLOG OF CIU TRAVEL

Meet Our Guides: An Inside Look at Sicily with Italo

This year has perhaps been the longest stretch of time we’ve spent away from Italy since we first fell in love with the Bel Paese decades ago. We miss the food and wine of course, as well as the dazzling views, world-class culture, and slower “la dolce vita” pace of life. What we miss most, however, are the people, including old friends and neighbors, trusted shopkeepers and restaurant owners, and our network of outstanding local guides in cities and rural villages across the country.

To feel a bit closer to Italy, we began reaching out to our favorite guides last month and sharing short interviews on our blog about their journeys to becoming licensed guides in Italy (a famously difficult profession to break into), the highlights and downsides of their cities or areas, and insights into the top things to see and taste. These conversations have uncovered delightful surprises to seek out on our next trip and moving memories of past tours - some with our own clients!

If you haven’t been following our “Meet Our Guides” series, take some time to delve in and visit destinations like Florence with Elvira, Pompeii with Antonio, Bologna with Nathalie, Rome with Alessandro, and Tuscany with Roberta. We guarantee that you’ll come away with a deeper understanding of their areas and a bit of inspiration for future trips!

Italo - Sicily Guide

This week we continue our series by heading across the Strait of Messina to the island of Sicily for an interview with Italo Giordano, one of our favorite Sicilian guides. Specialized in archaeology, Italo is our go-to local expert for unpacking the millennia of history behind many of Sicily’s most fascinating ancient sites. Here’s what he had to say about his career and island:

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Staff Inspiration: Maria Gabriella’s Dream Trip

Over the past few weeks, we have shared our dream trips through Italy and Switzerland to inform and inspire future jaunts to Europe. This week, we continue our series with Maria Gabriella, owner of CIU Travel together with her partner and husband, Brian.

For years I’ve thought about taking a trip with my sister, just the two of us—no husbands, kids (she has one), or cats (I have two). For a couple of big reasons, this year seems like a great time to finally make a plan, even if we can’t go just yet.

Maria and Renee(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

First, as you may have noted a couple of weeks ago, Brian dumped me for Mike Tucker for his own Dream Trip. That’s fine (and understandable, as Mike is much more fun than I am!), so now I can plan my own itinerary guilt-free. Veering sharply to a more serious note, the second reason is that my mother died in March, just as the Corona Crisis was hitting the U.S. At the time, we believed that she passed away in her sleep from a heart attack and that her death wasn’t Corona related. She lived out her final years in a nursing home, which, at the time of her death, had no recorded Covid-19 cases, but a few weeks later had a couple of dozen. Mom was a smoker for decades and had other comorbidities which would have made her an easy mark for the Coronavirus, so, just as she was in life, she may have been a trailblazer in death, and been the first one to succumb at her nursing home. We’ll never know. We’re just grateful that she passed quickly and peacefully and we had all been in touch with her the very day that was her last. Commenting on the Covid restrictions that banned my sister to the nursing home window in the parking lot and me to the telephone, my mother said on that last day, “I’ll be glad when this is all over.” We are now attributing deeper meaning to her comment.

Out of the depths of despair comes…a trip to Rome and Sicily! Read More…

Sicily’s Alcantara Gorge

By far the most striking natural feature along Sicily’s Ionian coast is the towering volcanic peak of Mt. Etna Which spews ash and steam more or less continuously from its crater. The mountain and its roughly 570,000 years of activity have left an indelible impression on the surrounding landscape, beginning with the mountain slopes and valleys blanketed with rich volcanic soil that today produce excellent wines, Sicily’s most prestigious pistachios, blood oranges, and a number of other specialties.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_8b09(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

Another impressive consequence of Etna’s millennia of activity are the the Alcantara Gorges—or Gole dell’Alcantara in Italian—that sit at the foot of the mountain’s northern slope. This network of vertiginous gorges cutting through the volcanic rock were formed by the Alcantara River, which runs from the Nebrodi Mountains to the coast near Giardini Naxos. The rushing river waters follow the path of an ancient lava flow, carving dramatic open-air ravines and underground passages through the hardened lava stone along the way.

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Palermo: Italy's Cultural Capital 2018

Each year, the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism appoints a panel of seven experts to select the next Italian Cultural Capital, a small city highlighted for 12 months to promote its cultural heritage and artistic treasures through special events, itineraries, and services. Cultural Capitals in past years have included Mantua, Pistoia and Matera; for 2018, the spotlight has turned on one of the most fascinating cities on the island of Sicily, a bustling metropolis with a richly variegated history that is reflected in everything from its architecture to its cuisine: Palermo.

P7310310(Photo by Patrik Tschudin via Flickr)

Many cities in Italy have long histories of successive conquests and rulers, but Palermo is unique in that every new wave over the millennia has left a lasting mark. The original Phoenician colony's strategic military and trading position attracted invaders beginning with the Carthaginians and moving through the Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Swabians, and French and Spanish Bourbons. Each impacted the city's art and architecture, language, and cuisine, leaving behind a historic center that is a fascinating patchwork of styles and a local cultural that is uniquely multiethnic. Famous for everything from its Byzantine mosaics to its modern streetfood, Palermo is an unforgettable city to explore and discover, layer by layer.
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The “Mountain of Fire”: Mount Etna

Mount Vesuvius may be Italy's most famous volcano, its place in the annals of history guaranteed with the destruction—and, more importantly, preservation—of the Roman town of Pompeii in 79 A.D. Vesuvius looms over one of the most densely populated stretches of coastline near Naples, and is generally viewed as a benign giant, quietly venting steam and smoke and ultimately fated to erupt again. The King of the Bay of Naples is your neighbor who keeps a friendly but unpredictable watch dog chained in his yard.

mt-etna-cr-ciutravel(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

Mount Etna, on the other hand, is your neighbor who has a pack of snarling, howling beasts roaming the streets, terrorizing the neighborhood and posing a constant threat of death and destruction. This lively volcano on the east coast of Sicily between the cities of Catania and Messina is the largest in Europe, and one of the most active in the world, a hulking yet dramatically beautiful mountain in a constant state of eruption. From belches of gas, bursts of steam, to full-on lava flows, Etna makes no bones about its danger to the millions of residents who live at its foot and the thousands of tourists who visit the hissing craters at its summit each year.

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