The Other Tuscany part2 — Asciano

by Mario 18-Aug 2010

Using the Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore as our centerpiece (see part 1) let's explore of one of Tuscany's most alluring regions. To those of you who already know this area, we invite you to join us in sharing your favorite memories and places...

The hill town of Asciano, a 15 minute drive north from the abbey, basks in the astonishing landscape of Le Crete Senesi — the Sienese clay hills. The gently winding drives are spectacular. In winter when the valleys are submerged in the early morning mist, the hilltops and their solitary tufts of pine or cypress seem to float on cushions of air.

By early March the hills have turned a vivid emerald green in anticipation of spring. As summer yields to fall, a honey colored glaze spreads across the land turning everything into pure gold. No matter what time of year you go, drive. You won't regret or ever forget Le Crete. Asciano has dominated this landscape since Etruscan times. A collection of its oldest artifacts await you in its Museo Etrusco, as do major pieces of medieval art housed in the Museo d'Arte Sacra.

If you can, time your visit to coincide with the 2nd Sunday of any month — that's when heaven comes to town.The Mercatino delle Crete is a two-fold event. The local olive oil, truffles, wine, cheese and a host of other delicacies presented at this outdoor market are all 100% organic — not the insipid slogan-only stuff we are accustomed to. The Italian word for organic is biologico. You will find it everywhere you shop and you will marvel at the depth of aromas and flavors. The flip side of this monthly fair is a showcase of the best hand made pottery, wrought iron, copper and brass artifacts produced by the Garbati Ascianesi (the well mannered people of Asciano), as they have been called for centuries.

Which leads me to why I love this town. To be known as "well mannered" one must begin somewhere. Take a look at the youngest of Asciano's 7000 souls as you stroll in view of the city's ancient bell tower and Romanesque churches. In this modern age of virtual reality and hand held devices young Ascianesi welcome technology all the while reinforcing a tradition of healthy living and character shaping team spirit.

Asciano is divided into seven neighborhoods whose youth annually compete in the Corsa the Ciuchi. This simple donkey race held on the 2nd Sunday of September has the power to focus and mold this city's youth all year long. Dinners, events, outings, vacations and eventually weddings and families spring from the meaningful associations these admirable young people make in the course of keeping their city's most historic tradition alive.

Only one neighborhood (contrada or rione) will take home the coveted palio (banner) each year. The six other hopefuls must wait for another chance. The competition is fierce but friendly and the camaraderie lasts a lifetime. Maybe, its that mysterious vortex beneath the abbey that generates all this positive energy? Frankly, I don't think so.

Stay tuned for more unique places surrounding l'Abbazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore.

The Other Tuscany — The Mysterious Abbey at Monte Oliveto Maggiore

by Mario 15-Jul 2010

Ley lines, earth energy vortices and power centers are not often associated with Italy. These terms are usually linked to places such as Sedona, the Pyramids and Stonehenge. Nonetheless, a secluded medieval abbey in southern Tuscany seems to rest on exactly such a spot.

According to locals and expats living in the Tuscan region of Le Crete, the area surrounding the Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore abounds with inexplicable positive energy. Inhabitants appear to live longer than the average, enjoy excellent health and everything that either grazes or grows is similarly improved. It is not uncommon to see centenarians, still in good health with all original parts, including teeth, nonchalantly tending fields. Back in the 80s studies corroborated, at least in part, this high level of good health and longevity enjoyed by the inhabitants. The olive oil does taste better and the ground yields a bit more of whatever is planted.

Abbey monks, in accordance with age-old recipes continue to transform simple herbs and berries into quite enjoyable liqueurs that seemingly restore ailing kidneys, digestive systems, urinary tracts and colons. If magic potions are not your cup of tea, you may be tempted to freely taste some of their organic wines, extra virgin olive oil, spelt, honey or Sambuca. The Olivetan monks, a separate branch of the Benedictine Order, have lived here since 1319. Not the same monks mind you. No one lives that long nowadays no matter how much elixir they imbibe.

Aside from the lure of longevity, the Abbey at Monte Oliveto Maggiore is a fascinating day trip. As you venture across the drawbridge into this monastic enclave the past embraces you. A wide avenue beyond the gatehouse leads to the impressive Gothic façade of the church. The route is marked by botanical gardens on one side and tall whispering Tuscan cypresses on the other. The tower, library, apothecary, cloisters and church are adorned by works of many Renaissance masters including: della Robbia, Signorelli and Sodoma. You may sample some of their art work here — click on the links at the bottom of the page for more.

Visitors are welcome to tour the abbey compound. It is open daily from 9:15 am to noon and from 3:15 pm to 5 pm in winter or 6 pm during summer. The luckiest visitors are those that can get me to the church on time. Each morning at 7 am the Mass is celebrated with Gregorian chants. At at 6:15 pm the monks are singing their vespers and the rosary. Try to get here early or stay on to enjoy another magical mystical tour at the monastery of Sant'Antimo. This part of Tuscany is filled with enchantment, remains uncluttered by mass tourism and makes a great base for exploring much of central Italy. My next post will reveal some of the interesting hill towns that surround these abbeys.

In the meantime... Cent'anni (a common Italian toast wishing you 100 years of life)

Restaurant Review — Vegetarian Paradise in Milan

by Mario 15-Jun 2010

One of my favorite restaurants in Milan I discovered thanks to an Alitalia flight crew. Consider this: Italians know how to eat; Alitalia crews travel all over the planet seeking the best for less; befriend these crews on your next outing and one may share a jealously guarded restaurant recommendation for your next destination.

La Vecchia Latteria is a tiny, vegetarian only, lunchtime gem hidden right before your very eyes. It sits on Via dell'Unione, 6 — literally steps from Milan's famous Duomo. Mom cooks, debonair dad serves and entertains and their daughter, a freshly minted psychologist, conducts evening relationship building sessions over mom's scrumptious parmigianas, souffles and croquettes. There are even vegan choices on the menu. What's more, the prices are ridiculously low — especially for being in the heart of Milan.

Tiny means tiny. Not only is the place small, the tables and seats are tinier still and packed together. I guess vegetarians don't take up much room. The portions on the other hand are generous and incredibly delicious. Truly, I had no idea the place was "vegetarian only" until I got into a conversation with Giorgio Notari, the owner, about his volunteering to keep the restaurant open a few nights a month to kick start his daughter's practice. I was finding it hard to marry a dish of linguine with olives and capers to a dose of group therapy. In Italy one can always expect the unexpected.

Everything is fresh, nothing is frozen, dessert is magnificent and the menu changes daily. La Vecchia Latteria is closed on Sundays and only open until 5 pm the rest of the week — unless of course, there happens to be a group session on how to control binge eating. Good luck.

The closest I could come to a Web site was their menu in Italian.

To my Alitalia friends, I apologize for passing on one of your secret haunts. After all, a man has got to eat and Giorgio and his wife Teresa deserve all the praise they can get.

The Italians part 3 — Who Are They, Really?

by Mario 18-May 2010

If instead of humans the Creator had emptied a barrel of monkeys on the Italian peninsula, would the Duomo have been built, would Dante’s Inferno have been penned and would David have been hewn from stone? No offense, but Italy with its bounty of natural beauty is so conducive to expression that must I beg the question: Are the achievements of Italy’s people due to them or the land?

"So blessed with natural beauties and riches that it is clear that when Nature formed it she took delight in accumulating all her blessings in a single spot." Pliny circa 70 ad

On the other hand, Italians scare me. Italy is a member of the G8 and one of the most advanced countries in the world. That Italy is able to maintain this position in spite of a) half of their GDP is al nero which translates to: in the black or under the table; b) creativity is stifled by an oppressive government that regardless of which side in in power, it constantly finds new ways to tax productivity and innovation and c) much of what is pilfered from the Italian people supports a massive, growing bureaucracy that enriches itself by unnecessarily complicating the lives of working people. Now imagine the full creativity of this people unshackled. While I’m sympathetic to their plight, I am equally relieved that they remain under a velvet gloved iron fist. Never mind the G8, Italians unleashed would probably dominate the whole planet in short order and where would that leave the rest of us?

For anyone who reads Italian find a copy of La Casta by Antonio Stella and Sergio Rizzo. This hard hitting book names names and completely  unmasks Italian politics. La Casta clearly demonstrates what happens to societies when citizens allow politicians to serve themselves. Surprisingly, even The New York Times wrote an interesting review on this Italian language best seller: The Caste: How Italian Politicians Became Untouchable.

Melting Pot — Italy has attracted us for a long time. In part one I mentioned the Greek hero Aeneas first setting foot on Italian soil on the heels of the Trojan war. According to legend, the first post diluvial settlement was founded by Ham, one of Noah’s three original sons, who upon spotting a verdant peak rising above the receding seas left the ark and settled there. That settlement was Cortona, mainland Italy's highest hill town. Cortona was named after Crano, another of Noah’s sons who ruled as its first king. The legends recount how Dardanus a descendant of Noah’s line eventually left Cortona and founded Troy. Many centuries later when Troy fell to the Greeks it was Aeneas, a direct descendant of the same Dardanus/Noah line that escaped to Italy and founded Rome. Cortona is known as the grandmother of Rome. During the Roman era, the Italic tribes composed of Etruscans, Umbri, Samnites and others both near and far were all assimilated. The expansion of the Empire drew in even more peoples from across the known world. All roads led to Rome. Since then everyone who could come to Italy by guile, force or fortune did. Phoenicians, Greeks, Saracens, Gauls, Normans, Vikings, Celts and a host of others who up to this very day continue to seek (and find) an earthly Nirvana in Italy.

 What eventually unites all of these diverse cultures is commonly called Campanilismo. The word roughly translates into the bond one has to the nearest bell tower. Whether that bell was Guelf or Ghibelline (papist or secular) mattered not at all. To this day, the power of Campanilismo transcends any allegiance to flag, race, religion, king or country. Unlike the French who seem to be French first, an Italian's first allegiance is to that close knit community within earshot of the hometown bell. This reality is what keeps drawing visitors to Italy time after time. No matter where you travel in Italy, the food, architecture, dialects, customs and wine all change from one valley to the next. Starting with Barolo from the north to Primitivo to the south, Italy has over 400 different varieties of wine, far more than the rest of the entire planet combined! This unceasing competition between hundreds of nominally federated city states now known as Italy is what drove Italian creativity to unsurpassed levels.

By the Middle Ages, the competitive nature of Italians perfected banking and statecraft well ahead of other cultures. Cities such as Venice and Genova were classified as empires in their own right and Macchiavelli literally wrote the book on political intrigue. Even while the superior craftsmanship of Italian armor was highly prized among Europe's elite, Italians took a different view of war. Life in the vineyards was good and Italians did not want to perish on a battlefield. Opposing Florentine and Sienese armies, during their incessant wars, would take to the field in resplendent regalia, parade around in formation, make some feints and return home in time for supper with nary a casualty. On the other hand, one might easily picture a German knight brandishing an Italian made sword declaring that he would rather die than yield. When it came to foreign invaders, barbarians who honored death more than they loved life, Italians developed another strategy: "Forgive me sir, are you the leader of this brave and mighty host? Would you care to rule here? Follow me. I'll personally lead you to our beautiful palace. Don't worry, if this throne is too small or large, my cousin is a master craftsman who will customize it to a perfect fit. If your excellence will excuse me, I must now take leave to oversee the preparation of a royal banquet in honor of your presence. Will 8:00 pm in the grand ballroom be too early, your majesty?"

 Italy assimilated both conquerors and beggars until they became indistinguishable from the Italians. No greater tribute could an outsider bestow on a culture than the adoption of its language and customs. The inverse was also true. A people who grant the unifying gift of language, art and tradition are infinitely more vibrant and resilient than a closed or separatist society. When the Black Plague reduced Europe's population by a quarter, new waves of immigrants arrived to take over scores of empty villas, farmhouses and castles all along the sunny Italian peninsula. Now those villas are for rent by descendants of foreign squatters who became fully Italian and inhabited by foreign renters who dream of staying on. Throughout history Italy has been a true melting pot. The Italians are us — the lucky ones who made it their home. The Creator, it seems, did empty a barrel of monkeys on this uniquely shaped country in the Mediterranean Sea, and did so over and over again. Some reached its shores by ark, raft or warship others crossed mountains on the backs of elephants but one way or another they all came. The Duomo was built, the Divine Comedy was written and the David was eventually freed from a block of stone.

“In the heart of every man, wherever he is born… there is one small corner which is Italian, that part which finds regimentation irksome, the dangers of war frightening, strict morality stifling, that part which loves frivolous and entertaining art, admires larger-than-life-size solitary heroes, and dreams of an impossible liberation from the strictures of a tidy existence.”
Luigi Barzini

Luigi Barzini's book The Italians is a must read for anyone interested in learning more about this collection of peoples known as Italians, their origins, accomplishments and mindset. For a more light hearted view of the Italian pysche, pick up a copy of La Bella Figura: A Field Guide to the Italian Mind by Beppe Severgnini.

The Italians part 2 — Who do they think they are?

by Mario 10-May 2010

Genius is the first operative word. Most Italians I’ve known view themselves as a highly creative lot with a nothing-is-impossible attitude. Their creativeness and adaptability is well documented in Arturo Barone’s book: Italians First — An A to Z of Everything First Achieved by Italians. The author, with whom I’ve had interesting conversations, is quick to note that he purposefully limited his research to achievements made in the last 1000 years. "If one were to document everything the Italians were responsible for since the dawn of time there would hardly be anything left for the rest of the world to claim." Tuscany alone gave law to the English, science to the Germans, taught the French how to eat — almost, and then went on to electrify the world with its art, literature and architecture. Arturo’s book is filled with startling breakthroughs by Italians in science, medicine, mathematics, economics and more. Italians do not view their excellence as limited to food, cars, fashion, art and song, and with good reason. 

Carpe diem — No one group appears as ready to seize the day with as much gusto as the Italians. Their madcap driving habits and mercurial cars exist for the sole purpose of reaching a destination quick enough to get back to the enjoyment of life. "They found a country [Italy] which is still to us, as to them, an earthly paradise; where, amid superb cathedrals and palaces and beautiful walled cities, dwelt a race that numbered life itself amongst the grand arts. The love of beauty for its own sake.” St. John Lucas  

Bella Figura — The art of looking superb is in the genes even when wearing jeans. To fully enjoy life you must not only look the part, you must possess the knowledge to be able to do so. Regardless if one is a judge or a janitor it is critical to possess proper manners, elegance, know the right people, thoroughly understand politics, sports and be a consummate connoisseur of food, wine, art and fashion. Making a brutta figura (cutting a bad figure) is akin to committing social suicide. When Italian males are first introduced they look at each other’s watch, shoes and make of car. Those three items will usually determine on which rung of Italy’s social ladder they belong. Italians can also spot each other amidst a sea of foreigners as tourists typically lack either the elegance or panache that sets Italians apart. "Everything you see I owe to spaghetti." Sophia Loren 

High DramaNessun problema and un attimo (no problem & just a moment) are common mantras. Since Italians reluctantly work in order to live — and not the other way around as in some other cultures (hint, hint)— Italians enjoy fun things first, followed by long winded meetings to posture, pontificate and preen. Work should be left to the last possible moment just before embarking on the next holiday. This modus operandi insures continuous opportunities to appear frantic. The more frenzy and drama can be carved out the more important one seems to be. When pinned down, cutting a bella figura rarely applies to work and thus a simple, evasive: no problem or it only takes a moment — never knowing when or if that moment will come — suffices to push off most deadlines for yet another day. "A man who has not been to italy is always conscious of his inferiority." Dr. Johnson 

Passion — Whether it’s about cars, the opposite sex, food, sports or something as seemingly insignificant as a simple wave of a hand, everything an Italian does must be done with passion. “When I was young, I kissed my first woman, and smoked my first cigarette on the same day. I have never had time for tobacco since.” Arturo Toscanini

Stay tuned for part 3 The Italians — Who are they, really?
Hint: “It’s not impossible to govern Italians. It is merely useless.” Benito Mussolini

The Italians part1: Who are they?

by Mario 29-Apr 2010

The true Italy is only to be found by patient observation.

— E. M. Forster 

What draws us to Italy? Is it the food, the art, the history, the wine, the natural beauty or is it more? Millions plan to visit the Great Wall, the Pyramids, the Ganges once in a lifetime. Most, when given a choice, will return to Italy over and over. Italy is such a sweet addiction. Once smitten you never shake it off or get enough. Someone aptly said: each of us is an amalgamation of three different beings: how others see us, how we see ourselves and what we truly are. Can Italy and the Italians be viewed in a similar manner? 

Fatal Attraction What we observe may lie somewhere between two well known quotes: Was in short, ever well to be elsewhere when one might be in Italy? — Edith Wharton and Italy is not technically part of the Third World, but no one has told the Italians. — P. J. O’Rourke. This discordant combination of irresistible charm and warm chaos draws us like moths to a flame. It’s far too easy to envision Italy or the Italians as a kind of suave, bad boy perpetually sweeping dainty damsels off their feet. Actually, we clamor for it. Methinks it is not quite how they appear to us but rather it’s the mesmerizing effect this place and its people have had on mankind ever since Aeneas, a hero of the Trojan war, first set foot in Italy. 


In the early nineties Frances Mayes captured our attention and heart by revealing simple day to day encounters with ordinary Italians. By the end of the decade every villa in Tuscany had dozens of copies of Under the Tuscan Sun left behind by guests who had sought and found their holy grail. In the new millennium Linda Dini Jenkins masterfully joined this illustrious cabal of writers enthralled with Italy in her most recent outing: Up at the Villa — Travels with my Husband. Most of her book is dedicated to Italy. Linda went beyond relating encounters, she infused her work with poems, images, recipes, travel tips and ultimately the passion this country and its inhabitants imbued her with. Italians, it seems, have an uncanny ability to strike hidden chords within us that both excite and soothe our spirit. This is how I believe we view them...

The charm of Italy is akin to that of being in love.

— Stendahl 

Stay tuned for part 2: The Italians — Who do they think they are?

Hint: Men of genius do most when they work least” Leonardo da Vinci

Easy Italia — Italy to Offer Nationwide Tourist Assistance Starting in May

by Mario 09-Apr 2010

Michela Vittoria Brambilla, Italy’s Minister of Tourism (above) has announced that starting on May 15, 2010 visitors to Italy in need of assistance will be able to call Easy Italia by dialing 039039 from anywhere in the country for the cost of a local call. This service, apart from the cost of the call, is free and available in six languages: English, Chinese, Russian, French, German and Spanish. Aptly named, Easy Italia promises to be able to help travelers with a number of tourism related issues including emergency services and follow each inquiry until it has been resolved. 

Italian Coffee Break part 2 — Ordering un Caffè in Italy

by Mario 08-Apr 2010

Start by never asking for latte, unless you want a glass of milk. Italians love their coffee and while most of us are familiar with cappuccino and espresso there are at least 30 ways in which Italians individualize their coffee. To preserve our collective sanity, I have cut the list down to the basic variations.

Just CoffeeUn espresso or un caffè normale is the national beverage of Italy. Espresso, meaning quick, is served in a small cup filled to less than half. The crema or coffee foam should be a third of an inch thick and if using sugar, the sugar should slowly seep through the crema without dissipating the foam. Most espresso is drunk standing at the bar and the average cost of a cup in Italy is 1 Euro or less. Sitting at a table costs more. Extravagant exceptions are fancy hotels and famous cafes such as the Florian in St. Mark’s Square in Venice topping the charts at around 5 Euros per cup. Then again, at the Florian you get to sit in Italy’s most renown square, listen to the orchestra play show tunes and watch the world stroll by. Most folks who order a Florian coffee tend to nurse the cup for at least an hour. It may be the best hour of all in Venice and 5 Euros sounds quite fair. 

Serious Italians and coffee lovers everywhere may ask for un caffè ristretto or un caffè corto (short shot). This potent brew is served in the same small cup and uses the same amount of coffee as does an espresso. The only difference is that less water is employed resulting is a more concentrated, less bitter coffee flavor. Don’t fret over the caffeine content. There is more caffeine in a cup of American style coffee than in an espresso.

If you are fretting over the caffeine content — as in you need more — order un doppio ristretto. This is a double shot of concentrated espresso. With this potion under your belt there is no need to come home by plane, you can fly right from the bar!

If fretting over caffeine content — as in you need less not more — order un caffè decaffinato (decaffeinated) or try the leading decaf brand by requesting un Caffè Hag. A European Sanka wannabe that sounds much like it tastes. If you dislike coffee, and quite a few younger Italians do, ask for a trendy alternative called orzo. Orzo means barley and that is what it’s made from. I have no clue what orzo tastes like and less desire to find out. However, orzo allows non coffee lovers to share in Italy’s favorite pastime — hanging out at the bar — and that can’t be a bad thing.

For those who crave more liquid in the cup request un caffè lungo (long). It is still served in the little cup and made with the same amount of coffee, however, the cup is more than halfway full. The final option is to breakdown and ask for un caffè Americano. A large cup is filled with espresso broth that tastes nothing like American coffee. Dunkin Donuts, found throughout Europe, tried a few locations in Italy. They eventually packed their tent and left, not before leaving a bunch of young Italians hooked on donuts.  

Coffee & Milk — Cappuccino is Italy’s breakfast drink of choice. The word cappuccino means little hood and this coffee is literally an espresso with a frothy, little hood of milk.

Caffelatte, another breakfast drink (coffee and milk), is typically served in this fashion: One large cup, one small pitcher of espresso coffee and a separate pitcher of foamed milk. Mix and and serve yourself.

While it is bad form to order either of the above anytime after noon, it is always the right moment to ask for un caffè macchiato or un marocchino. Caffè Macchiato is an espresso served in a small cup with a dollop of foamy milk. A Marocchino, is a mini cappuccino, with a hint of cocoa, usually served in a small glass.

Coffee Plus — Caffè Corretto means a correct coffee. The only way to correct coffee in Italy is with booze. The choice is yours to ask for un caffè corretto con: whisky, grappa, anice, Fernet Branca. The latter (Fernet) is a horrid, bitter digestive. I’ve seen Italian hunters in countryside bars drink these up at dawn and proceed to run out and shoot at anything that moves.

Italian Coffee Lingo — Now that you know the basics you can mix and match to suit your taste. Don’t worry, Italians do it constantly to stress their individuality. You can order anything in vetro, meaning in a see-through glass. Ask for the milk senza schiuma (without foam) a parte (served on the side) in tazza grande (in a large cup) con latte freddo (with cold milk). So let’s try un caffè doppio ristretto in tazza grande con latte freddo a parte. Got that? 

If you need it and don’t see it ask for either zucchero (sugar) or dolcificante (aspartame).

Italian Coffee Break part 1 — Paying it Forward in Naples

by Mario 07-Apr 2010

Nearly 100 years ago a unique coffee tradition began in the city of Naples. Customers of coffee shops would pay twice for one espresso, instructing the barista to log the paid but untaken beverage in an “in suspense” chart (caffè pagato or a caffè sospeso). The barista would record what the patron paid for, such as an espresso, cappuccino or even a pastry. Paid items would remain in the log book until someone less fortunate would come and inquire if there was anything paid or in suspense. The barista would check the log and say: “Yes, there is a paid cappuccino. May I serve it to you?” The beauty of this form of charity was multifaceted. Donors and recipients remained completely anonymous to one another. The recipient was always treated with dignity. Donors would compete with other donors as to who could leave more paid coffees behind and baristas all over the city took great pride in carefully recording each entry and serving it.

Following Italy’s Dolce Vita boom years of the sixties this genteel Neapolitan tradition became confined to Christmas and nearly disappeared. In the last two years, it has sparked it up again. Perhaps, it’s that global cloud of uncertainty that looms over all of us. Nonetheless, the tradition of the caffè pagato is back in Naples and spreading. In Florence nearly a dozen of that city’s most fashionable cafes are recording paid coffees.

Not all Italians are yet aware of this fad and Italians generally hate not being at the forefront of any trend. So, if you happen to remember to leave a caffè pagato or caffè sospeso the next time you are in Italy, just watching the reactions may be worth the price and some interesting conversations might ensue. Say: Vorrei lasciare un caffè pagato. You can also say caffè sospeso. The former translates into a paid coffee the latter a suspended coffee — as suspended in thin air. Both mean the same thing.

Now if only we could start something similar over here, Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts and McDonalds immediately come to mind. Perhaps we could get even more creative and leave a paid prescription behind at the pharmacy or grocery items at the supermarket.

Next we shall explore the myriad ways you can order and enjoy a coffee in Italy.

PS. While a paid espresso is always good, most Neapolitans discovered it was better to leave a paid cappuccino as the foamed milk provided the recipient with a bit of nutrition as well. 

Driving in Italy part 11 — Parking

by Mario 08-Mar 2010

Now that you’ve endured our crash course (no pun intended) on safe motoring in Italy (see the previous posts on Driving in Italy), you must be eager to get behind the wheel of that spiffy Italian number. I’ll wager that navigating from highways to cities, towns and countryside, you’ll have gassed up, followed signs, avoided speed traps, snacked all along the route and gotten lost merely once. It’s time to consider parking that tiger, stretching your legs and enjoying some of the sights on foot. 

Parking spaces in Italy are color coded. White spaces are free, blue are paid, yellow spaces are reserved for handicapped permits, taxis or official vehicles and pink spaces are the domain of expectant moms or moms traveling with infants. 

White Spaces — While free, white spaces may come with restrictions. If there are restrictions, such as days or times, these should be posted and fairly obvious. However, one of these restrictions can be a bit baffling at first.

When a street sign shows the above icon it means disco parking. No, you are not required to perform a sidewalk Macarena, although locals may find it amusing and even earn you a coin or two. Disco parking refers to a thumbwheel timer disc that all Italian cars have. It is either pasted on your windshield or somewhere in the glove compartment.

If the street sign says dalle 8.00 alle 12.30 it means you may disco park here from 8:00 am to 12:30 pm. Set the thumbwheel to the current time, leave it on the dash, if not already permanently affixed to the windshield, and be back by 12:30. Disco parking operates on the honor system and works remarkably well. 

Blue Spaces — Paid public parking comes in two flavors of blue. There’s the attendant that asks how long you intend to stay, charges you and places a stub on your dash. You always take your keys.

The most common form nowadays are area parking meters. Park between the blue stripes and seek out a machine usually within 50 yards or less. Use coins or in some cases credit cards, select the time you wish to stay and pay. Return to your car and place the stub on your dashboard before locking up and going along your merry way. Remember that the time stamped on your stub is the last possible minute to get back to your car without risking a fine, or ending up like Cinderella to find a pumpkin in place of your chariot. 

Be careful not to confuse vending machines. The one you use should have a large, blue-colored letter P. Street vending machines are quite common in Italy and we have had clients who mistakenly went to the machine selling Preservativi and ended up being bewildered by placing a package of condoms on their dashboard. P.S. For those whose diets require food prepared without preservatives, say: senza conservanti, since preservativi as mentioned above means something entirely different. 

Pink Spaces — These spaces are free and reserved for expectant mothers and moms with infants. While there is no law that fines anyone for abusing this courtesy, nor is any proof or certificate required, it is expected that everyone respect pink spaces for drivers with the most important job in the world. 

Yellow Spaces — Unlike the seemingly clever scofflaws above who will soon be towed and fined, nothing you will be driving allows parking in yellow spots, so simply forget about them. 

Garage Parking — You will often find these by following blue P signs around an area. Depending on whether the garage is public, semi-private or private expect rates to be anywhere from moderately overpriced to exorbitant. Large parking garages require that you go to a cashier with your ticket before returning to your car. In many cases the cashiers are automated and do accept credit cards. Small garages lack automation and may require leaving your keys with an attendant and possibly prepaying as well. Always check and double check closure times, especially in small garages, as larger ones tend to be open 24/7, others may not. Visit this Italian parking location guide for most major cities, airports, train stations and ports. 

Final word on parking — Would you leave your camera, pocketbook, suitcases, GPS and other valuables exposed in a car on a New York, Boston or Philadelphia street? I didn’t think so. Italy is a safe country but never tempt fate by leaving goodies or tell tale signs of being a traveler such as maps and guide books laying about. If you intend to stash items in your trunk, pull over and do so well before reaching your parking destination. Otherwise, all you have done is some inadvertent advertising. 

About this blog

Welcome to our Access Italy blog, a mosaic of eclectic, but practical, information; fascinating cultural insights; and unique commentary on a wonderful way of life only the Italians could have designed.  more....


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