Who comes to Italy for the beer? Sure, Italy was once a beer backwater. Vines grew well; who needed beer? Oh a hot day, hard working Sardinians mixed the local Industrial suds with lemon soda so they could slug it down to re-hydrate without fear of drunkenness.

Today there is an explosion of craft beer in Italy. You can’t swing a cat without hitting someone heading for a pub.

A couple of years ago Katie Parla wrote:

“While most would agree that the Italian craft beer industry was born in 1996 when Teo Musso founded the prolific and influential Baladin brewing company, things have really got moving nationwide in the past 4-5 years.” ~ Why the Italian craft beer scene is so exciting

Our merry band of “travel bloggers” had a meeting with Simone, the brewmaster at Birrificio Mazapégul. It was to be held at the Barbeer in the Romagna town of Forli. We had to walk. Past this:

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Forli: The Castle

Italy is a wondrous place. Castles everywhere. And now good beer with odd names can be found in pubs and restaurants.

Ever lust after the taste of a beer named 1000 flies? Have no fear, Mazapégul Millemosche is a tasty golden ale. The name is based on a book written for children, Millemosche e la fine del mondo (A Thousand Flies and the End of the World) by a trio of authors: Tonino Guerra, Luigi Malerba, and Adriano Zannino.

It’s good, sound beer, light in alcohol. Perhaps hard working Sardinians would go bonkers with such a brew on a hot day. But I liked:

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Bale Burdeli Beer from Birrificio Mazapégul

Balè Burdeli is a little higher in alcohol and was inspired by American craft ales. It’s named after a traditional Romagna orchestra piece. You can hear it on YouTube

So who’s behind all these beers? The brewmaster was kind enough to provide us with Barbeer fried tidbits perfect for munching with his beer. He’s Simone, not only clever beer evangelist but a delight to yack with over a brew.

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Simone, the Brewmaster at Birrificio Mazapégul

Simone has a degree in food science and liked to play around with making beer in his garage before being called to duty at Birrificio Mazapégul. It’s obvious he likes his job, and is very passionate about beer and seeing people enjoy the brews he produces.

How hard is it to make and sell beer in Italy? Lots of people complain about the cost of Italian craft beers, but you may fix the blame squarely on the Italian sin tax that has stifled some of the growth already. Craft brewers evidently pay the same excise duty as larger industrial producers. This amounts to about 2,500 euros in peak months, according to figures I’ve seen, and that’s a huge burden per bottle if you don’t crank the stuff out in bulk.

Despite the cost, Italian beer creators have succeeded in delivering distinctively Italian style beers to their customers. Birrificio Mazapégul does a very nice job in its niche.

So look for the distinctive bottles when you are in Italy, or, if you happen to be in the town of Forli, check out Barbeer. The food is great; Italians have a way with fried things that go wonderfully with beer. Yes, there are even burgers.

Why would you go to Forli? Well, you could use it as a base to visit Mussolini’s birthplace in Predappio, or visit the world’s largest ceramics museum, the International Ceramics Museum in Faenza.

Or—you could just hang around drinking beer.


Disclosure: This post was a part of Buonvivere Blog Tour, organized by Settimana del Buonvivere in collaboration with 21grammy

Craft Beer in Italy originally appeared on WanderingItaly.com Nov 05, 2015, © James Martin.

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There is lots to see and do in Padua, a city in the Veneto region often overlooked by tourists. Padua, or Padova, is on the Milan to Venice train Line between Venice and Vicenza.

But what’s more, there are many things to discover about this center for arts and education. The symbiotic tension between the church and University students prepared the city for the Renaissance, and Padua was at the forefront in modernizing education and medicine.

Let’s look at the trail.

Every visitor to Padua should visit Giotto’s fresco cycle inside the Scrovegni Chapel, consecrated in 1305. Like the better known Sistine chapel, the interior space is covered in frescoes, from a fantastic view of hell to slabs of faux marble. The space is temperature and humidity controlled and each tourist group is given 15 minutes inside. Tickets are required, and you can’t purchase one on the date you want to visit, so buy them in advance. No pictures are permitted and, unlike the Sistine chapel, we witnessed no scofflaws taking cell phone pics while we visited. You can purchase tickets via Select Italy, which is where we got ours.

Enrico Scrovegni was a banker like his father, a known usurer. But at the time, being a rich tightwad was evidently the larger sin. Camel, meet eye of needle. The chapel Enrico built was conceived to get him a first-class place in heaven, despite the basic sins of the family. So he spent lavishly and thus presented the modern tourist with a rather bombastic attraction.

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Entrance to the Palazzo del Bò in Padova

Padua’s University was established in 1222 after a group of students and teachers decided to come to Padua from Bologna where the church had a great deal of control over what could be taught.

Galileo lectured here. During the 16th and 17th centuries Padua was the leading university of the world, first and foremost for its school of medicine. This, in fact, was where modern medicine began.

You can take a 45 minute tour that shows you the innovation in medicine that took place in Padova. You start your tour in the Aula Magna, the Great Hall, where the students orally present their thesis before a panel of professors for graduation from the University.

During the inquisition in the 16th century, human bodies for dissection were hard to come by, but you could will one to be used in research. Thus the sculls in the Great Hall are those of (quite long) past professors who willed their used bodies to their students.

Then you are ready to see the very famous anatomical theater. Fabrizio D’Acquapendente built it in 1594. 300 students could stand and watch a body being taken apart. The theater was built over a canal, so that bodies could be delivered via barge—and returned quickly if the Papal Police were on their way. It also prompted a new form of music as a lute was played to calm the students watching a dissection.

Then it’s on to the Room of Forty, where frescoes depict 40 of the most famous foreign students who went on to spread the new medicine to their homelands. You’ll also see the “desk”, a podium which students cobbled together to allow the great numbers of students to hear the lectures he gave here between 1592-1610.

Your tour ends before a statue of Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia (1646-1684), the first woman to graduate from a University.

The tour is highly recommended. See University Tours

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Pedrocchi Café, Padova

Across from the entrance to the Palazzo Bo, where you entered for the University tour, is a very famous coffee house. What would a revolutionary city be without a coffee house? Caffè Pedrocchi, which dates from 1831, has always attracted intellectuals, academics and students, and played a major role in the 1848 riots against the Habsburg monarchy.

The Museo del Risorgimento e Contemporanea dell’Età occupies the upper floor, and is now a museum you can visit. You can see pictures on the web site.

And the coffee is very, very good, although expensive if you sit at a table in the “big” room. Follow the locals. Brunch is served on Sunday.

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MUSME - Museo di Storia della Medicina

The pious couple Baldo and Sibilla dei Bonafaris’ bequests funded San Francesco Grande, one of the first hospitals whose specific purpose was to cure diseases. Today you can visit MUSME, the museum of medicine and health inside the old hospital building. It’s interactive. Knock on the “door” and a historical figure floats into view and explains how medicine evolved during the period, and how hospitals changed to include bedside visits from doctors, when once they were merely hospitality for pilgrims and the poor. Your kids will love it—and you’ll discover the background to what you saw at the University.

Thus the dei Bonafaris’ pious contributions contributed to the modern idea that disease was caused by something physical or organic in nature and not caused by sin or by bad humors.

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Palazzo della Ragione

Between the market squares of piazza delle Erbe and the piazza dei Frutti, the Palazzo della Ragione is the symbol of Padova. It was begun in 1172 and finished in 1219. The walls are covered in frescors and a walk around the Loggia offers good views of Padova and the markets below.

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Padova's covered market, a salumeria

On the lower floors of the Palazzo della Ragione you’ll find the covered market, with stalls for food and meat. The butcher shops (Macellerie) are only open in the morning, but the general food stores (cheese, wine, bread, etc.) are open again in the afternoon. If you’ve never seen an Italian covered market, you will be amazed.

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Pontifical Basilica of Saint Anthony of Padua

The Basilica of Saint Anthony of Padua is an amazing complex. Construction started around 1232, a year or so after Saint Antonio’s death. There are four cloisters, which you can see on a map of the complex. You can find information, pictures and video on its web site

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Prato delle Valle, Padova, Italy

The Prato delle Valle is the largest public square in Italy and one of the largest in Europe. It looks like a stadium on the map. 78 statues ring the elliptical canal. It’s close to the Basilica of Saint Anthony and the Basilica of Santa Giustina.

On the outside there are restaurants, shops and bars…and a very interesting museum: The Museum of Pre-Cinema. Yes, everything people did to make moving pictures before film as we know it. They have an interesting You Tube page if you want to take a virtual tour.

Map of Padua Attractions

Where to Stay

Research for this article was done at a very fine apartment neat the University. Garden Apartment had reliable wi-fi, a good kitchen and was very spacious. It is located in a quiet neighborhood near the canter and there were great, non-touristy restaurants within walking distance. Staying in an apartment allows you to actually try all that good food you can purchase as you stroll through the market.

If you prefer a hotel, compare prices on Hotels in Padua.

What to Discover in Padua originally appeared on WanderingItaly.com Oct 30, 2015, © James Martin.

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Italy has many little ghost towns, cities abandoned by virtue of earth movement or social movement. Some crumbled villages are brought back to life by artists and other crazies; people for whom stacked rock walls and light have a value that the rest of society refuses to recognize.

Craco tilts toward nowhere in particular. In relatively recent times it fell down, then was abandoned. What remains are scenes so compelling that even sugary beverage companies have used the ruins as a background. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, forget the sugar, you’ll die anyway—as you must.

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Craco Cracked

As you approach Craco, a hill town crowned by a Norman tower comes into view. It all seems so normal. But you can’t enter the town. It’s blocked off. You need to find the office and get a guide and pay the entrance fees. Then you need to put on a hard hat. Serious stuff.

So what happened here? Our guide, William, pulls no punches. In perfect English he lays it out plain and simple, insisting you understand.

“Look here. See what this says?” William asks, pointing to a sheet of paper giving a concise history of the area. “Earthquakes, landslides, year after year it goes on, but the town remains. Then, look at this, the last time, 1963, there was a landslide—and it took out half the town.”

What was different? The old part of town was built on bedrock, like most hill towns. The ancients might have been crazy, but they new a good foundation when they saw it. Then, when it came time to think of expansion, folks in charge decided to plant houses on the clay that sat over the slippery slope of rock like a wad of gum stuck to a handrail in the train station. Bad idea. But still, the place was stable for quite a while.

Yes, everything seemed to be in a rather precarious balance when the local government decided that the roads should be modernized and instead of each house having its own cistern, there would be a humongous water-holding tank built to distribute water to the “new city” built smack atop the clay.

Water is heavy. Lots of water in the cistern and the added weight of modern roads put an immense pressure on the big field of clay precariously stuck to the side of the slope. A bit of torrential downpour and down she came. Half the town—gone. Nobody had even looked at the geomorphology. It was just a place that looked ok to build upon. Luigi and Federico, they can do it…

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Craco: Here's Where It Cracked
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Craco Church with Majolica Dome

The church, siting pretty on bedrock, doesn’t seem in such bad shape. The Majolica dome needs a bit of restoration, as William points out.

The landscape, called “badlands” by some, could have been taken right out of Northern California.

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Craco: The Ghost Town

So there’s all this horrible beauty, this graceful decay Italy is known for and full of. And then, last of all, they take you into this little chapel.

Wow. It’s so, um, real. The detail!

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Craco: The Mummy

This is the hand of San Vincenzo Martire, said to be a Roman soldier and martyr. The holy relic of San Vincenzo came to Craco on June 4, 1792 and has been celebrated ever since. According to Wikipedia:

Traditionally, the feast in Craco celebrating San Vincenzo began nine days before the fourth Sunday in October with the recitation of solemn afternoon novenas. On one of those evenings, a small procession took place, with a statue representing the upright figure of the relic, starting from the Chapel and moving around the “Cross”, then located at the entrance to the town. On Friday evening, after the novena, the statue of the saint was brought into the Chiesa Madre [Church of San Nicola] located in the heart of the old town. On Saturday evening, before the feast day, the statue was carried in procession back to the chapel that served as its home. All celebrations culminated on Sunday with the Mass at the Friary and the procession that crossed the entire town. That evening, in front of the Palazzo Rigirone, there were bright fireworks displays.

So there you have it. A town that has been in many movies, films and commercials, including the hanging of Judas scene in The Passion of the Christ and some scenes in Quantum of Solace. A town with a really old relic. A town that is extraordinarily photogenic. Craco has been included in the watch list of the World Monuments Fund. What are you waiting for? It needs visiting. Don’t wait until the cruise ships decide to dock nearby and unleash thousands upon this tiny bit of real estate.

For more, see the official site with files to download in English.

You’re not going to go all the way down to Basilicata just to see a ghost town, so why not set up camp in Bernalda and go to the places in the article, which also offers lodging advice.

I can’t resist posting one more picture. It’s an odd picture. Oddly beautiful to me, even though it violates every composition rule they might have taught in art school.

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Craco and Sky

Craco: A Ghost Town in Basilicata originally appeared on WanderingItaly.com Oct 23, 2015, © James Martin.

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Genoa is a city in Liguria. You may never have heard of Liguria, even if you’ve been to the Ligurian trophy towns of the Cinque Terre. Many people think the five tiny villages are in Tuscany because clever Tuscan entrepreneurs like to tell people how close the Cinque Terre is to their hotels and restaurants.

Genoa, then, is a port town along the Italian Riviera. It was once celebrated as the birthplace of Christopher Columbus, so Americans dutifully made the pilgrimage to the port city. Then Mr. Columbus fell out of favor and now the new, more fearful American traveler doesn’t go there any more.

It’s a shame, but a blessing, too. The Cinque Terre is being crushed under the weight of the tourists, especially now that the new tourist port in La Spezia has increased the tourist load immensely. But Genoa remains Genoa, a town of contrasts, town of light and dark the Italians call chiaroscuro. The darkness discourages the scardy-cats who desire the whitewashing of their destinations. The light is the light at the end of the tunnel we crave to see. There is no light without darkness, no good without evil.


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Genoa Chiaroscuro

When the well-connected travel planners Anna and Emanuela at Beautiful Liguria asked us what we wanted to see in their home city, we didn’t hesitate to choose Genoa’s underbelly, the narrow alleyways called caruggi that make up the checkerboard heart and soul of the city. We never tire of them.

Why? In narrow alleyways whose cobbles have seldom been touched by the sun, fluid light flows from windows over fish, over vegetables, over artisan carvings, over the tempting thighs of a whore gossiping with another.

You like well-lit places, primary colors, precise directions, informative street signs. You also like surprises; Roman columns propping up the ceiling of a shoe store, an old woman selling lush peaches from a basket. Your soul craves the same contrast, the same chiaroscuro, like it or not.

Walk the dark streets and glance nervously at the “new” pharmacy of Maddale with its murky marble signage:

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Nuova Farmacia della Maddale

Expecting medicine, what do you find? Surprise! Artisan carved, wooden iPhone cases!

The darkness likes when we play with it. Genoa’s alleyways make a fine canvas. Take an old barber shop, fill it with light, get a genius to make you some doors, cut some hair with class:

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A Barber Shop in Genoa

It’s not all about the cutting of hair, of course, it is about the spilling of the warm, diffracted light upon the public streets.

Look up. Artists have played with the light everywhere you look. Light and the lack of light is all the artist has to draw, paint or sculpt.

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Look Up and Genoa Will Amaze

Of course you might not be attracted to everything you see. Art is not always about pleasant things pleasingly presented.

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The Art of the Street: Genoa

Genoa is challenging. Genoa is fun. Genoa is a warm light at the end of your tunnel.

Try it—if you’re up to it. Contact Beautiful Liguria if you’re afraid to go it alone.

If you go it alone, you might be served by a good paper map of Genoa.

Genoa Chiaroscuro and the Soul of a Port City originally appeared on WanderingItaly.com Oct 22, 2015, © James Martin.

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