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The Area and its History

Mazzini 31 is located in Umbria, in the heart of the Valley of the Chiana at the border with Tuscany. Within minutes you can be marveling at the cultural richness of the most interesting regions of Italy which offer the delights of both ancient and contemporary Italian life.

Prehistoric civilizations, the Etruscans, the Romans, and the feudal wars of early and late Renaissance shaped the towns, the cities, and the endlessly enchanting landscapes. Today this complex history can be enjoyed and savored in all its charms. Beautiful vistas, archeological sites, little hamlets perched on top of hills, verdant woods and peaceful lakes, the artistic patrimony of churches and museum, the delightful food and wines, the festivals and palios, and the charming people of the area will make your stay most enjoyable and rewarding. In this section of our website you will get a glimpse of the history of towns & cities that we visited and found most delightful. Our recommendations & Itineraries will allow you to get the most of the area around Mazzini 31 and Monteleone.

For your convenience we have subdivided areas to visit into four, located north, east, south and west of the house. We do not mean to exhaust all the beautiful places that can be explored here but we want to give you a glance of what we love and think is worth visiting.

Northwest of Mazzini 31


SIENA

A unique city of narrow gothic streets lined with palaces and patrician mansions which converge on the famous Piazza del Campo. The collection of art and architecture that compose this city is astounding and unique in the world: visits to the Piazza del Campo and Town Hall are a must. The gothic Cathedral or Duomo is famous for its façade, the pavement, pulpit and stalls and the phenomenal early Renaissance art collection. The Picture Gallery or Pinacoteca boast a great collection of thirteenth and sixteenth century Sienese paintings. Great walks and great shopping as well! Here are some Recommendations for Festivals & Events:

July and August: The Palio is a world famous horse race on the Piazza del Campo where the different contrade compete for glory. A unique experience and the most famous of Italian Palios.

Throughout the month of July: Classical music concerts in medieval courtyards and palaces in the heart of Siena.

July and August: Siena Jazz Festival

PIENZA

Is the Renaissance city of architect Rossellino and Pope Pius II Piccolomini. The historic town centre is striking and a unique expression of the thoughtful planning for an ideal city that would bring together the civil and religious authorities. The Palazzo Piccolomini and the views of the Val d’Orcia from its courtyard are breathtaking in every season. The Cathedral is worth a visit and a stroll in the narrow streets of Pienza is a must. You will enjoy wonderful boutiques with local products and artifacts. Don’t forget to taste the Pecorino cheese selections that add to the fame of this delightful Tuscan town at any time of the year.

Here are some recommendations for Festivals, Events, Itineraries:

Every Friday Morning: Food market

First Sunday of September: Fiera del Cacio is a Pecorino Cheese Festival.

Usually starts the last Saturday of June and runs eight days and nights: Incontri in Terra di Siena are meetings in the Lands of Siena with a series of special musical performances that are staged on and around the estate named La Foce just south of Pienza.

Itineraries:
- Worth a stop on your way to or from Pienza is the town of Monticchiello with its beautiful cypress lined roads and a small charming medieval center.
- We also love the guided tour of the gardens of the La Foce estate with its beautiful views of Monte Amiata (only open Wednesdays from May to October!)

MONTEPULCIANO

Perched on the crest of a volcanic hill, since the sixth century, this town has numerous religious and secular buildings highly influenced by Florentine Renaissance architecture and is the birth place of the famous poet Politian. A stroll through the old town and a visit through the Piazza Grande will charm any visitor. The views of the town and its environs from the tower of the Town Hall are magnificent. The Church of the Madonna di Biagio just outside the Porta al Prato is a Renaissance masterpiece by Antonio da Sangallo and a highlight of Montepulciano. The town is also famous for its Vino Nobile, a delightful red wine that is the essence of Tuscan wines (see our blog for more info!).

Some recommendations for Festivals, Events & Itineraries:

14th & 15th August: In the main town square you can enjoy the Feast of the Assumption and the popular festival of the Bruscello tree.

Last Sunday of August: Bravio delle Botti is a competition among the contrade involving rolling barrels through the streets of the historic town.

Itineraries:
- The countryside around Montepulciano is magnificent and we recommend organizing a visit to one or 2 Vineyards in the area. Ask us for details.
- On the way to or back from Montepulciano the town of Chianciano Terme is worth a stop. Famous for its thermal facilities, it has a charming historic center.  



MONTALCINO & S. ANTIMO ABBEY

This small town is situated on a hill covered with olive groves and the famous Brunello vineyards dominating the Asso, Ombrone and Arbia valley. It is surrounded by fortified walls, topped by a pentagonal shaped fortress from 1361 and defined by beautiful Sienese style buildings and churches. The Museo Civico e Dioceo d’arte sacra boasts an impressive collection of Sienese paintings. A stroll through Montalcino’s charming streets and piazzas is a must if you want to savor Tuscany at its best. Great shops allow you to purchase some of the best wines of the region. The Abbey of S.Antimo is a jewel of medieval archituecture just outside Montalcino. and it still maintains a community of Friars who sing Gregorian chants throughout the day. It is a magical place situated in a picture perfect valley surrounded by woods and vineyards.

Some recommendations for Festivals, Events & Itineraries:  

Last Sunday of October: Feast of the Thrush is the festival that brings closure to the success or failure of the hunting party that departed amidst a festive celebration on the second Sunday in August. All residents of the city participate in this colorful combination of historic tradition, gastronomic feats of grandeur, music, and dance.

Second weekend of September:
Week of Honey Festival

Second weekend of August (usually on Sunday):
Tournaments for the opening of the Hunting Season

Itineraries:
- Endless visits and tours to vineyards are avaiable in the surrounding country side including the famous Castello Banfi. Ask us for more details.
- We recommend not to miss the Abbey of S. Antimo described above.

LUCIGNANO

Lucignano represents a remarkably conserved medieval walled hilltop village, elliptical in shape. It was strategically located between Siena and Arezzo, and between 1200 and 1500 was disputed between these cities, Florence and Perugia. The name Lucignano probably derives from the Roman family of the consul Licinio. Once the town came under the rule of Florence, construction began of the fortress, attributed to Bernardo Puccini. Worth a visit are the sanctuary of the Madonna della Querce (attributed to Vasari) in 1568, the convent of the Cappuccini, the churches of Misericordia, and della Collegiata. Of note is the elaborate reliquary made for the Franciscan church, now in the Museo Civico: Called the “L’albero della vita” it is a gilded and bejeweled tree surmounted by a crucified figure and signed by the two jewelers who made it. This town exudes charm in all its parts and in the last 10 years it went from being a quiet remote place to a vibrant small destination. The 2010 film “Certified Copy” directed by Abbas Kiarostami was set and filmed in Lucignano.

Some recommendations for Festivals, Events & Itineraries:

Last two Sunday of May: The Maggiolata is a celebratory feast that includes folk dances and processions with flower decorated charriots, street music and great local food,

Usually last wek in March: Antique Market



SARTEANO & CETONA

The town of Sarteano was a pre-Etruscan and then Roman settlement that became a wealthy medieval town. Today it still boasts a tenth century castle, the beautiful church of Francesco and many more palaces and churches worth a visit. Of special interest are also archaeological Etruscan sites and the Civic and Archaeological Museum.

Cetona sits right on the Eastern side of Mount Cetona which is one of the highest mountains in Tuscany, a National reserve and the site of some of the eraliest settlements of Central Italy. The town is built around a fortified castle from the 900 A.D. and while small and compact it is full of medieval charm and its position is wonderful, overlooking the entire Valley of the Chiana which is quintessential Tuscany. Worth a visit are the church of the Trinita’ and of San Michele Arcangelo as well as the convent of Saint Francis from 1212.

Some recommendations for Festivals, Events & Itineraries:

Every year on August 15 in Sarteano: Giostra del Saraceno is a procession in historical costume followed by a contest on horseback between ancient rivals from the five Contrade.

Northeast of Mazzini 31

AREZZO

Arezzo became an independent commune in 1384 after first having been established as an important Etruscan city and then a rich Roman one. The birth site of many famous men such as Petrarch and Giorgio Vasari, Arezzo today is a rich thriving industrial city with a well preserved historic center. Rising from the plain below it has a Medici fortress with views of Tuscany and the Arno Valley, a Roman amphitheater, splendid churches, loggias, and palaces. Of special interest are the main Piazza Grande, the Church of the Maria della Pieve and the Museum of Medieval and Modern Art. Not to be missed is the Church of San Francesco where the cycle of frescoes of “The legend of the true cross” by Piero della Francesca, are one of the greatest of the Renaissance.

Some recommendations for Festivals, Events & Itineraries:

First Sunday of the month: Antique and Flea Market is the créme de la créme of flea markets. From large furniture pieces to small objects that will fit into your suitcase this market has it all.

Last Sunday of June, first Sunday of September: Located in the main square is “The Joust of the Saracen”, a tournament featuring a parade in thirteenth century costume and a charge by mounted lancers at a representation of the Saracen enemy. It spotlights the superior horsemanship still highly valued in Tuscany from the time of the Crusades and the Age of Chivalry.



CORTONA

From a high Tuscan hill rises the ancient and noble city of Cortona. Before the city lies a vast and beautiful plain and it is flanked on either side by distant hills, valleys and Lake Trasimeno. Cortona’s ancient history is tied to that of the Etruscans and then the Romans. It became a free city in the early Renaissance as part of the religious Diocesi of Arezzo. Of special notice are the main square with its elegant palazzi, the Churches of Santa Maria del Calcinaio, Santa Margherita, Domenico, and the museum of the Etruscan Academy. Not to be missed is the Museo Diocesiano with works by Fra Angelico and Luca Signorelli.

Some recommendations for Festivals, Events & Itineraries:

Last weekend in August through the first weekend in September: Antique furniture exhibition and Market. Wonderful collection of high quality antiques in the Palazzo Casali.

October: Festival of the Grape & Celebration of the Chestnut. A day of plentiful roasted, sugared, salted, baked, and pureed chestnuts that can be washed down with the fine wines of the region. Festivities are plentiful.

First through second Sunday of September: Palio dei Rioni e delle Frazioni Cortonesi Cortonesi

August 15: Festival of the Beefsteak. A gastronomic outdoor demonstration in the pleasant gardens of Parterre, which aims to celebrate the very good meat of the Valdichiana Valley.

Third Sunday of June: Festival of the Snail. An outdoor gastronomic demonstration in the pleasant Piazza Pescaia


CHIUSI & CITTA’ DELLA PIEVE

Chiusi’s origin dates back to the first millennium before Christ and was one of the twelve most important cities in the Etruscan federation. Later it became a Roman city and in the thriteenth century was the battle field between the cities of Florence and Siena. The National Archaeological Museum has one of the finest collection of Etruscan artifacts outside of Rome. Chiusi’s old center in the upper part of town is one of the most charming in the area and the cathedral with its Romanesque interiors is worth a stop. Citta’ della PIeve is one of the up and coming towns of Umbria and boasts fortified medieval walls and bastions, charming streets and masterful fresoces and paintings from the early Renaissance artist Pietro Vannucci also called “Il Perugino”. Its is worth a visit for its beautiful views of the surrounding Valley of the Chiana and its charming and lively city center. See more under our Location page.

Some recommendations for Festivals, Events & Itineraries:

Monday morning in new part of town of Chiusi: Weekly market
Tuesday mornings in the center of Chiusi: Weekly market

First through the third Sunday of August in Citta’ della Pieve: “Palio dei Terzieri”. An old festival with competitions among the archers of the different village districts, a historical parade, and the opening of fourteenth century stalls and taverns to taste delightful local cuisine.

Fourth Sunday of every month: Exchange market of old and used articles.


PERUGIA

Perugia was one of the twelve Etruscan city-states that comprised the federation of Etruria in the seventh and sixth century B.C. Today the massive Etruscan walls and gates still define the historic center. Medieval ecclesiastical and secular buildings as well as Perugia’s famous University make this city a treat for any visitor. The Piazza 4 Novembre with its Fontana Grande and the Palazzo dei Priori are the highlight of the city. The spectacular art collection in the Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria is worth a visit. Other impressive sites are the Museo Archeologico dell’Umbria, the Church of San Pietro, and the Oratory of San Bernardino. Of particular interest is the Temple of S. Angelo just on the outskirts of the old city center, a circular church where the original pagan elements are fused with the church functions and immersed in beautiful tranquillity of its surroundings.

Some recommendations for Festivals, Events & Itineraries:

Last weekend of the month: Outdoor market. The main attraction here are ceramics, from the most precious to the most utilitarian, all colorfully decorated with patterns in use for centuries. Antique costume jewelry is another highlight. It takes place In the Palazzo della Prefettura in summer, and in the Rocca Paolina in winter.

Second Friday through the third Sunday of July: Umbria Jazz Fest. Since 1975, this vibrant, world-famous jazz fest has attracted some of the biggest names in jazz to the center of the most beautiful countryside that Italy has to offer.

Third Friday through fourth Sunday of October: EuroChocolate Festival. An annual event dedicated to cocoa sweetmeat for which this ancient Etruscan town is world famous. Some 300,000 sweet-toothed visitors devour 50 tons of the high-calorie indulgence during the nine day blow-out which includes chocolate tasting in cafes and in historical theaters, theme shows and workshops, cinematic presentations featuring sweet-toothed characters and lectures featuring nutritionists.

CASTIGLIONE DEL LAGO & LAKE TRASIMENO

Castiglione del Lago has evolved on what used to be an island - the fourth island of Lake Trasimeno. Over the centuries, as the town grew, the flat gap between the island and the shore was filled with piazze, houses, churches and other buildings. Due to its position in this hotly disputed territory, pitting Etruscans against Romans, and later Tuscans against Perugians, fortifications were erected, destroyed and rebuilt on numerous occasions and still survive today.The "Fortress of the Lion" was built right over Lake Trasimeno by Emperor Frederick II. The pentagonal-shaped castle, was completed in 1247 and features square towers at its corners and a triangular shaped bastion known as the Mastio. The Palazzo del Comune (Town Hall) was built in Renaissance style, by the architect Vignola. It is now a civic museum and gallery. and has an interesting covered corridor connecting to the castle. Renaisce era frescoes by Pandolfi, Savini and "Il Pomarancio", adorn the most interesting rooms in the palazzo. Of particular note is also the Church of Santa Maria Maddalena, done on a Greek-cross plan. The charm of this town is his beautiful position over the lake, its charming streets and Piazzas and lovely shops. Lake Trasimeno is the remnant of a shallow sea in this part of Umbria created by a depression formed by geologic fractures. The first civilization to inhabit this area was the Etruscans; three of the main Etruscan cities - Perugia, Chiusi, and Cortona - are within 20 kilometres of the lake. Today the lake is shallow, muddy and it receives water but has no outlet yet water quality is excellent and is rich in fish. Trasimeno is surrounded by hills, rich in olive orchards, vineyards, and fruit and vegetables fields. The main towns surrounding the lake are Passignano, Tuoro, Monte del Lago and are all worth a stop.

ASSISI

Assisi is the birthplace of St. Francis and home to his burial place, the enormous and beautiful Basilica of St. Francis. The construction of this impressive structure was a Medieval architectural feat and it is still considered one of the engineering marvels of the period. The walls of the lower and upper churches are decorated with remarkable frescos, the best known of which is one of Italy’s most famous works, Giotto’s Life of St. Francis. The town features many other sights and spectacular views of the Umbrian countryside from the castle. Despite some commercialization, Assisi’s delicate pinks and grays, and the rocks, olive trees, churches in the valley below still convey a gentle otherworldliness worthy of its most famous son.

Some recommendations for Festivals, Events & Itineraries:

May 1st: Calendimaggio. Song brigades serenade under the windows of the farmhouses, accompanied by handmade tambourines, At each farm, they are rewarded with eggs which are later sold to finance a joyous celebrationn and dancing in the squares.

October 3rd for 2 days: The feast of St. Francis of Assisi is the most important festival of the Franciscan calendar in Assisi. It commemorates the saint’s transition from this life to the afterlife, according to the Catholic Church. The town gets illuminated by oil lamps burning consecrated oil brought from a different Italian town each year. Solemn religious services are held in the Basilica of St. Francis and Santa Maria degli Angeli.



South of Mazzini 31

ORVIETO & CIVITA DI BAGNOREGIO

Renowned for its magnificent gothic Cathedral, its beautiful position on top of a tufa rock and its white wine, Orvieto is as charming as it gets. The façade of the Duomo is a masterpiece of colored mosaics and stone reliefs. Its interiors are rich in art and sculpture and include the famous chapel displaying the frescoes of the Apocalypse by Luca Signorelli, not to be missed, as they are said to have inspired Michelangelo’s Final Judgement in the Sistin Chapel. The Palazzo del Popolo, the Well of San Patrizio, and the old quarter are well worth a visit. Great shops and Gelato on the main Corso provide for a wonderful authentic Italian experience.

Civita di Bagnoregio is 15 minutes from Orvieto and worth a stop in the afternoon or evening. A unique gem of a town that sits on top of a tufa cliff connected to the rest of the world only by a pedestrian bridge. Getting to Civita is like stepping back in time and experiencing a different way of living. The views over the Tiber valley from the edges of town are magnificent and the main dirt piazza and its ancients streets are as charming as it gets.

Some recommendations for Festivals, Events & Itineraries:

Twice weekly in the center of Orvieto: Food market

August 14th in Orvieto: Folk and religious celebrations in honor of Our Lady of the Assumption, the patron saint of Orvieto.

Feast of Corpus Domini: With its historical authenticity and magnificence of its costumes, this parade held in Orvieto has few rivals. Hundreds of participants dressed in costumes representing all walks of medieval life participate in this solemn procession every year. There is also a Goose Palio on Corpus Domini, sixty days following the Easter holiday

Early June and early September in Civita: la Tonna is a donkey race that occurs in the main Piazza. Great fun for kids

Christmas: spanning for 3-4 days the Presepe Vivente is a live re-enactment of the Nativity complete with Roman Centurions, a mange and the holy family.


TODI & SPOLETO

Todi and Spoleto are two of the most visited towns of Umbria. Todi is the rising star of Umbrian hill towns featuring a phenomenal position above the Tiber River which goes on to flow to Rome and the sea. Like Spoleto it is originally a Roman city but its current layout is distinctly medieval and is surrounded by 12th century walls & gates. It has a matchless ensemble of Medieval palaces, an excellent museum, and a beautiful Gothic cathedral worth a visit. The main Piazza del Popolo is a masterful ensemble of gothic and medieval buildings that makes this one of the most beautiful and well preserved Piazzas of Italy. Outside the city walls you will find a jewel-like central plan church called ta Maria della Consolazione attributed to renowned Renaissance architect Bramante.

Spoleto has long been the best loved Umbrian town for international visitors. A Roman city that still has beautiful traces of its distant past like a beautiful roman amphitheatre, is situated in a beautiful natural setting at the head of a broad valley and surrounded by mountains. It has many noteworthy churches including a lovely Romanesque cathedral with a picturesque piazza, a castle worth visiting, and many beautiful medieval and Renaissance palaces. Its outstanding natural feature is a wooded gorge that you can cross via a fourteenth century bridge and acqueduct which will take you to one of the most beautiful Romanesque churches in Italy. The city is also famous for its Festival (see below).

Some recommendations for Festivals, Events & Itineraries:

Every Saturday in the center of Todi: weekly street market

Last week in March: Archery competition in costume with tours of the city, folk dances and shows.

Last week in August: Theatre Festival with national and international shows

Early June to Early July: Festival dei Due Mondi in Spoleto(Festival of the Two Worlds) is an annual summer music and opera festival that brings together American & European culture. Three weeks of music, opera, theatre in places such as piazzas, the Roman Theatre and other venues.

Every Wednesday in Spoleto: Weekly street Market


HISTORIC VILLAS & GARDENS

The historic gardens of Lazio reflect the history of Renaisce Rome, where the gardens of Ancient Rome were recreated and redesigned by Renaissance architects. It is also the history of the great Roman families who used the city’s splendid history to enhance their glory by commissioning the design of palaces and gardens in the Lazio region, private worlds of beauty which we are now privileged to share.

Villa Lante
Villa Lante, a garden with two small summer pavilions, has come down to us almost unchanged since it was completed at the end of the sixteenth century. It has been admired for 500 years as the perfect example of a Renaissance garden. Known for its symmetry and its water works, it is considered a masterpiece of proportion and perspective by the great architect Vignola. It remains as enchanting and magical today as it was at its creation.

Palazzo Farnese di Caprarola
Built on the foundations of a fortress, the architect Vignola created a great pentagon shaped villa for Cardinal Allessandro Farnese, a great patron of the arts. The beautiful Renaissance retreat is best known for its monumental staircase, beautifully frescoed Room of Maps of the World, and its south facing summer garden and north facing winter terrace. Dominating the tiny village of Caprarola, the palazzo and gardens are at once majestic and serene. Nearby you will also find Lago di Vico, a secret little lake in the crater of an ancient volcano. Here you can hike forest covered slopes or drive the Via Cimina along the crater’s summit ridges.

Sacro Bosco di Bomarzo. In a park below a still visible castello, the Orsini family created Lazio’s most extraordinary gardens: the ‘Park of Monsters’. Grotesques, moss covered sculptures, and huge, fantastic stone creatures give the effect of a sixteenth century fantasy theme park. It is an original vision of mystery and menace that stands in contrast to the restraint and elegance of Villa Lante only 8 miles away. Children will be especially enchanted by this Renaissance wonderland, but all will be fascinated by this unusual pleasure garden.

Castello Ruspoli - Vignanello
Castello Ruspoli, in the village of Vignanello, boasts the best preserved Renaissance parterre to survive anywhere in Italy. It was planted to be seen from above—directly under the windows of the Ruspoli family’s imposing fortress in the historic Cimini Hills outside of Viterbo. The pattern of the parterre, divided into twelve rectangular compartments, is exactly as it was laid out 400 years ago. To this day the castle is in the possession of the Ruspoli family who have restored and saved the garden for posterity.