Beauty and a feast
In the concluding part of a two-part feature, the Bucks Advertiser’s Max Hall visits Florence and Rome during his rail tour of Italy
“DA Vinci said the Mona Lisa was his most important painting but we cannot say she is beautiful,” explained Walks of Italy guide Bernardo.
“It is only because Da Vinci said this that we believe the Mona Lisa is important. She is ugly. David is beautiful, he is the standard for male beauty and always will be. He is iconic, David is the most famous statue in the world, it is him on the barbecue aprons, it is him on the postcards, it is David on tourist boxer shorts and it is David that Calvin Klein and Levis use on adverts around the world.”
Bernardo’s passion for Michelangelo’s most famous sculpture, which draws more than 3.5 million visitors to Florence’s Accademia every year, is obvious. His tour of the cultural highlights of this city festooned with Renaissance masterpieces revolves around David, and his story of the statue’s eventful creation and life is vividly entertaining as he throws himself into poses and gesticulates with gusto.
Florence is a city synonymous with the Renaissance and the confluence of wealthy moneylending families vying for prestige through artistic patronage with the presence of geniuses such as Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raffaelo and various other ninja turtles, bequeathed the former city state an unrivalled selection of famous works. With stunning statuary on every corner of a medieval city that boasts famous landmarks such as the Ponte Vecchio over the languidly flowing River Arno, and panoramic views from the Piazzale Michelangelo, it is worth braving the flood of American tourists that throng the most famous streets with the arrival of a sweltering Italian summer.
For less high-brow experiences, visitors may be lucky enough to time their arrival with a Sunday night home fixture for the city’s famous football club club, Fiorentina Fiorentina, where they can experience the raucous passion, colour and din created by the tifosi of ‘Viola’ who swarm back into the beautiful city on hundreds of vespe, arms raised in triumph, horns honking and bringing other traffic to a standstill.
After the contemporary art delights of Venezia’s Biennale and the Renaissance mecca of Florence it can be hard to believe any city could top those experiences for culture but the power of Rome to reduce visitors to reverent silence endures.
It is easy to be cynical about The Eternal City which, as with Paris and London, seems so much part of the modern cultural conscience to millions of people who have never set foot near its seven hills, but the first sight of the Colosseum stays long in the memory. Its towering grandeur bestrides all in the city and makes tourists feel insignificant standing next to its majestic, crumbling bulk. It is impossible not to hear the roar of the crowd whipped into a fever at the atrocities committed within its towering walls. With the magnificent Roman Forum archaeological site next door, via Constantine’s arch, and the Circus Maximus a short hop away by chariot, it is easy to see why so many millions of tourists brave the enervating heat of an Italian summer to visit.
In addition to the traditional city tours, Walks of Italy offers two food-based trips from Rome, an option that will always bring rich rewards in Italy. The farmhouse experience whisks visitors away from the rising mercury of the capital and into the gloriously cool surrounds of the Umbrian hills to the agriturismo run by Lucia and Alina Pinelli. After a crash course on the importance of buying Italian olive oil – “you must look the producer in the eye and see if you can trust him”, explains Alina – it is time to make ribbons of pasta under the watchful eye of mum and daughter Pinelli, who are ready with helpful advice, sometimes amusingly at cross-purposes in the bucolic idyll. The part everyone looks forward to, of course, is eating the end result with a bottle of wine from the Pinelli vineyard.
The food tour of Rome itself features the chance to sample the finest locally-produced olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salami and cheese available, not to mention the pesto, which would require a separate article to do it justice.
Finally there is the chance to make – and eat – your own pizza, Neapolitan-style, before washing everything down with a glass of wine and an aromatic espresso. It is the culinary equivalent of gazing upon Michelangelo’s masterpiece and, like everything else experienced in Italy, almost impossible to convey in words.
Cooking, art, beguiling street scenes and views compete to wow visitors in Italy’s cities